Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Indian Adventure: Eco-Education and Environmentalism in the Himalayas

Volunteers doing yoga in a temple in the mountains – from south Korea, England, Italy, and Japan

Namaste! It didn’t take long before this greeting, accompanied by a joining of the palms, became second nature to me in India. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by a beaming smile and a ‘Namaste Madam ji!’. Not to mention the offer of a hot chai!

I have always been captivated by images, stories, and representations of India, and after hearing from friends who travelled there it quickly became my dream to visit and experience the country for myself.

Last year, I spent two weeks volunteering with kids as part of my summer spent in Italy, which turned out to be the most memorable and enjoyable part of my trip. This encouraged me to volunteer in India, to immerse myself in the local culture and offer my service within a community. I was firmly opposed to working for a profit-driven company and knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to a worthwhile cause. This led me to discover Concordia, and the rest is history!

My project was based in a village in Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous state in the Himalayas. The project, run by a local NGO, was focused on education, environmentalism, and eco-tourism. I went with an open mind, not knowing what to expect of India or the work required, and found that the project became so much more than I’d originally thought it would be…
Views of the village, Junga in the foothills of the Himalayas

I did not expect that I would learn so much in the space of two weeks, not just about India, but other cultures too: my fellow IVS volunteers were from Italy, South Korea, and Japan. By getting to know each other and sharing food, games, and tales from our home countries, I learnt about many cultures and now have friends in all corners of the world.  
I learnt about the key issues faced by the local community, which gave me perspective on the wider challenges of India as a developing country. I also learnt about Eastern spirituality, stories of the many Hindu Gods, and some bizarre local superstitions: one afternoon whilst playing cards with village kids, one warned us urgently, ‘Don’t whistle indoors, or snakes will come in!!!’.

The memories, photos, and stories that I’ve taken home with me will make me smile for years to come. Learning local ‘pahari’ (mountain) dance moves after dinnertime, having a traditional suit tailored by a local seamstress, and dancing with kids to their favourite Hindi music played through my Bluetooth speaker are among many precious moments that I will never forget. I felt very proud of the environmental murals which we painted around the village, and knowing that these will be there to spread the message for years to come gives me a fantastic sense of achievement.

I spent a total of 6 weeks in India, and although I was lucky to see some incredible sights including the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, but my first two weeks volunteering in the small mountain village will always remain special to me.

Meeting the Concordia team at the North South preparation day reassured my concerns and gave me the confidence to go to India alone, and I could not have imagined a better introduction to the country than spending a fortnight volunteering and living amongst the local people. I am still in touch with my camp leader in India, as well as many people I met whilst staying in the village. My time in India made a huge impact on me, and it is all thanks to the excellent organisation, support, and encouragement that I received from Concordia which inspired me to take the leap and go for it. I would encourage anybody who is considering it to do the same. Only one dilemma remains – when can I go back?! 

A typical evening spent playing sports with local kids from  the village – watched by an audience of course!

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