One of the biggest things I wanted to know before going abroad to volunteer was what exactly would I be doing.
What would I eat? Who would I live with? What should I wear? How much teaching would I do? Would I do it all by myself? Would I get to explore the area?
Those questions can never be fully answered before departure. Everyone’s experience will be different. But here is an honest account of what I experienced on a typical day volunteering.
(To give a little background before I jump straight in I was placed in a rural community with three other English volunteers for 3 months. We worked in pairs to form two teams; the health team and the livelihood team. We were also joined by two national volunteers who knew the area, the language and the general set up.)
Generally we would wake up around 9am. Morning showers were a distant dream…a bucket of cold water sufficed. On a good day this came straight through the taps but more often than not we had to take a trip to the well and haul some out. Many a bucket was lost down there before we got the hang of it/bought stronger rope!
Our national volunteers would arrive at our flat at around 10am (bus dependant). We would then go over our plan for the day (if it was a Monday, spend time time planning the weeks activities). Typically we would spend the morning planning lessons or events and visiting local leaders/teachers/health professionals etc to ask permission to carry out workshops, invite students to events and maintain our presence to build up a good working relationship. Mornings were also spent carrying out questionnaires in local villages.
After lunch we would teach in schools. We developed workshops which lasted around 3 hours. Split into our two teams we would rotate students so each class had a health and livelihood session. We would then head back to our resource centre to hold informal lessons and games with any people that turned up.
We would head home around 6pm. The evening was then spent writing up the days events, walking into the village to buy dinner, playing on the roof with the neighbours children and watching netflix (if the power was on!).
This is just at typical day, we did many one of things such as maintaining kitchen gardens, holding events, meeting with various local social groups as well as a lot of exciting things like traditional weddings and weekend trips around the region.
As someone who can’t even handle a jalapeno on a slice of pizza I was seriously worried about the food. Spice is not my thing. It hurts. But, the food was ok, even sometimes quite enjoyable! We had little/no variety day to day. For breakfast we usually fried of some eggs and toast or dosa. Lunch was my favourite meal of the day; parotas with sambar was my go to dish. Alternatively chicken biriyani was available. Evening meal tended to be veg fried rice or chapati’s. Idli is traditionally served with most meals to absorb the sauce. Only your right hand is used to eat food.
Clothing is also something to consider. Women and men have to be covered up. It seemed odd to us that women had sari’s that showed off their stomachs yet it would be rude and shameful to have your shoulders or knees exposed. All women wear saris, as a westerner, and not a girly girl, my preferred choice was shorts and a t-shirt. This did attract some looks, I suppose it looked to them like I was wearing a young boys clothes! But you can’t go wrong with some maxi skirts and loose fitting tops if you don’t want to invest in a sari. (I still can’t figure out how to put a one on).