Ireland is a mainstay as one of the most charitable countries on the planet (give yourself a self five). It’s no wonder then that so many Irish people decide that an adventure spent Volunteering is far more rewarding and memorable than simply lying on a beach for 2 weeks. One of those people is Kate Hagan, who’s spent last Summer teaching children in India. She’s given us her take on what makes Volunteering so special and how proud she is of immersing herself in an entirely different way of life and culture…
Looking back I still remember what it felt like sitting in the classroom in the 40+ degree heat with the sounds of children laughing, dancing and playing around me. Now reflecting on my journey – India could not feel further away. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been home from my volunteering experience and I can’t wait to get back to this majestic place full of hidden beauty. Nobody will ever be able to understand until they travel there themselves, until they see how beautiful the people, the culture, the towns and villages can be. The sights, smells, tastes, touch of India was something I never experienced before and I was proud to be part of it – to embrace it for what it was. This country was my home for three months and I honestly can say that it had been the hardest yet rewarding three months of my life.
The main reason I travelled to India was because I wanted to feel a sense of making a difference to our world, to make a small change and to experience a different culture. I wanted to experience something that was out of my comfort zone –and so I signed up to volunteer in schools that were run by NGO’s that needed resources, needed time and just needed somebody to care. My placement lasted ten weeks and there was never a dull moment. The children ranged in ages 5-14 years and they required a lot of my energy, time and empathy. The children wanted nothing more than to dance, sing, learn and play with Aunty (my title in the classroom) and to share their stories even if sometimes I couldn’t understand what they were saying!
The children and teachers could not have made me feel any more welcome. The school days filled with smiles and laughter, the evenings filled with songs and dance, there never was a dull moment. I can’t sit here and tell you everything was fantastic because then I would be lying to you and myself, there were tough times. The heat, the constant sweating, the exhaustion, the tummy bugs to name but a few but I can honestly say the triumphs outweighed these tough moments. From triumphs to defeats, I will never forget what I felt the moment I knew my time in my school was making a difference. I remember the day like it was yesterday when a child that wouldn’t engage with me did.
I could see that the child was progressing and it was down to myself not giving up and embracing the different styles of teaching and learning. The language was a difficult barrier to overcome and I had to teach in a more creative way and so I used the art of theatre to do this. Looking back it was the little moments that made my time overseas a success. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and seeing them ooze confidence by the end of my placement that’s when I knew I had made a difference even if it was a small one.
Looking back on this ten week experience my team was the greatest support for me, we always spent time together around the table drawing and laminating, exchanging anecdotes from our school days, revisiting old nursery rhymes and sharing observations of what we saw. No one will ever be able to understand or take away the pride, love and happiness we felt with the children and organisations we worked with. When people ask me what the hardest part about India was – I tell them it was saying goodbye to the children.
The knowledge, skills and values I learned was something that will be with me forever. The teamwork, the resilience, the communication skills to name but a few no college or university will ever teach. The moment you make the choice to volunteer you are adding your own little touch of magic and your stamp on the map. You are becoming more aware of how we can empower, promote equality and education for all and you will question why things are the way they are and how we can change that. Can’t you just imagine what that would be like?
Make a difference and put your foot in the water of volunteering – it’ll be the best thing you ever do.
Massive thanks to Kate Hagan for sharing her story with us. If, like us, you’re inspired to make a positive imprint on areas of the planet less fortunate then USIT run Volunteer programmes in India, Nepal, Ghana, Vietnam, Sri Lanka & Thailand. For enquiries of availability this summer get in touch with our Volunteer Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer programmes start from €619.