Tag Archive: Volunteering


Katie and Jonny’s overland adventure

For anyone who followed our blog avidly, excited to hear about a trip overland to India and back, I thought I should draw to your attention that a few of our friends are doing a similar thing. Katie and Jonny are headed to India, diverging from the same route as ours by passing from Russia into Kazakhstan, then into China, Tibet, Nepal, India. They intend to volunteer in India at Navdanya, an organic farm and seed bank.

Their trip is centred on the theme of food:

“We are all in some way connected to food and it is this relationship that is, for most of us at least, the most direct and most common connection that we have with ‘the environment’. So it was with food that we felt that we would be able to explore not only the macro but also the micro, food as a topic will hopefully allow us to explore not only the political systems and structures that define and propergate the global status quo that is inequatable access to one of our most basic needs but also the local cultural relationships to food that are enacted on the personal, community and country level. We hope to explore how these relationships are shaping and can inform a more sane connection to not only what we eat but also to ‘the environment’ as a whole.”

Check out their blog at http://wildappleseeds.wordpress.com/

Welcome to Sega

So while we were at Sega I was scribbling away in my notebook making comments and illustrations, so I thought they would make a decent blog entry in themselves… In case you haven’t already realised, if you click on each image it should open in a bigger size for your pleasure. Maybe when we get home I will crop them in some cunning piece of software, but for now you’ve got the notebook, ringbinding and all.

If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.

The most dramatic change in landscape occurred in the change from the
Tibetan plains, where dust storms roam the land, to the lush greenness
of the valley below as we reached the border with Nepal.

We attempted to convince the jeep drivers in the border town to give
us a reasonable price for a lift to Kathmandu, but they stuck to their
5000Rs demand (about 50 quid). Given that the bus was only three
pounds, we went with that option. We befriended a Chinese woman and
her American husband, and we bantered our way through much of the
journey.

When we were sitting on the bus, waiting for it to fill up and leave,
some teenagers got on and asked to see our ticket (one between four of
us). We cautiously handed it over, wondering what sort of scam this
was.
‘How much you pay for this?’
‘Uh, 320 rupees.’ Is this some attempt to get us to pay again?
‘Too much. Local price 295. You get money back.’
Rather surprised, the couple we had just met were guided back to the
ticket office where the Nepali teenager argued with the ticket man
until he gave us a refund! How often does that happen?

The first time on a Nepali local bus is certainly an experience –
crammed between people’s sides, backs and crotches, hoping
desperately that your bag isn’t being surreptitiously unloaded at
every stop, as the bus jolts and judders its way alongside sheer
drops… It didn’t help that once again Lonely Planet let us down on
the timings, so we were expecting a 3-4 hour journey and we arrived 6
hours later, dehydrated, hungry and I had pretty bad stomach pains.
The unpleasantness of arriving was increased by our having turned up
in the dark in a madly busy bus park, and Josh was throwing up in a
drain out of dehydration and tiredness.

A confusing phone call with a man whose English was not very good with
my Nepali being nonexistent (fine when you’re face to face but
difficult over the phone!) later, we were met by Tej who guided our
taxi with his motorbike to Aishworya children’s home. We were met by
Ama, the woman who set up the home, who is a big, welcoming but
formidable character. She initially took in two children that she
found as orphas, having taken them to an orphanage but been appalled
at the standards there. They lived in her house, but she realised she
wanted to expand. So she gave up her job as a driving instructor, sold
off her inherited land, bought a big house and started taking in
children. I think there are about 30-40 kids there at the moment,
between the ages of 3 and 16. Pramila, Ama’s daughter, is usually also
at the home, but she was off on a mission at the border of Tibet,
trying to return children from factories back to their families.

The children were amazing – it was difficult at first to really know
how we could be of assistance as they are so self-sufficient. The big
kids look after the little kids (the smallest of whome are called the
banana bunch – they all sleep on one mattress like a bunch of
bananas). It’s quite something to see a nine year old carry two
rucksacks to school so that a five year old doesn’t have to (that’s an
obvious time when you can do something)! One girl and her big brother
were in charge of the kitchen – she would get up at 6 in the morning
to cook daal bhat. That’s the standard food for Nepali people, it is
eaten twice a day. It involves rice, lentil daal, spinach, and then
often curries and pickle. Jack gave us our Nepali names – Josh is Ram,
hero of the Ramayana, and I am Sita, reincarnation of Laxmi, wife of
Ram (I’ve always wanted to be identified as a appendage to someone
else…).

Ama told us that discipline is most important with children, and the
children certainly respected her and did many useful things in the
home. But it made me appreciate how important play is for kids,
however old they are. There were several times when we came downstairs
to find the younger kids all sitting quietly not doing anything other
than occasionally shushing one another, and the older ones seemed to
believe that they had grown out of games completely. More of them got
involved the more we played though! It took a while and some
convincing for us to be able to just be silly and play the hokey
cokey, musical statues and bumps, and ninjas. The longer we played,
the more they taught us games too. Coming to the home, we were
slightly uncertain as to how we could really be of use – we wouldn’t
be there long enough to really get to know everyone and properly help
out, and on the flip side we wouldn’t be comfortable with staying too
long as we’re not sure it’s really good for kids to form real
emotional bonds with people who then disappear from their lives never
to return… Providing an opportunity for the children to just have
fun for a bit was, I think, a good thing.

Another time when we felt like we were really helping out was when we
moved house, which was the most chaotic experience we have had for the
whole of our trip so far. Random stuff simply got moved from one house
to the front yard of the new house, where piles and piles of things
built up and up. Inside, several people were performing the ritual for
new houses, involving building a fire, reading lots of script and
making offerings (I think to Parvati, Hindu goddess of the household).
That day we had a special festival meal with pounded rice and
marzipan-like balls of sweet stuff. Eventually all the beds got moved
in, so we were as finshed as we needed to be – any remaining stuff got
put in the garage.

We only stayed at Aishworya for one week, which was a big shame. We
had hoped that being at the home could give us a sense of purpose and
something to do that wasn’t indulgent site-seeing for maybe three
weeks or more. But in the end it came down to money – we have been
trying to budget in relation to each country as I personally only had
four grand at the start of the trip to get me through nine to twelve
months. In relation to staying and eating elsewhere in Kathmandu,
staying at Aishworya was prohibitively expensive, particularly as we
had to find extra meals elsewhere to supplement the rice and thin daal
the kids have to live off. It absolutely makes sense that a poor
children’s home cannot afford to have much variety in food, or even
much food at all that isn’t rice, but we wanted to not lose loads of
weight (I don’t have much spare!) and we wanted to save money, and we
were paying to eat there. Maybe it sounds really stingy for us not to
recognise that relatively we have loads more money and maybe we could
afford a bit more, but it put us in a weird position, and that wasn’t
enjoyable. Ultimately Josh and I staying for one week paid a
considerable proportion of the month’s rent. So I guess that’s another
good thing that came out of our staying.

When Merilyn, Josh’s mum arrived, we moved out of the home to hang out
with her and go on various amazing trips.