Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ever washed your hair in the rain…

India wasn’t even on my travel list… but here I was living with an Indian family in a remote tribal village, no electricity, no running water and sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor! The idea to go India for me was crazy considering I don’t eat rice and I don’t like curry!! I’m more of a glampacker than a backpacker so how did I get here ? I was in NZ at the time, then one thing led to another and here I was volunteering for Yearoutindia at a tribal settlement with a real king in the western ghat mountain of South India....building toilets!

On the first day, the project coordinator gave an induction, handed me a sheet with pictures of dangerous snakes and what to do if you get bitten…. Hello…. Why am I here ? The next few days were great, meeting the king, locals and basically getting stuck in, from buying materials, digging the foundations, sifting sand, carrying bricks and bags of sand on your head to bricklaying and skimming!

It wasn’t long before the mannan gave me my tribal name “Perri chi”, which means chief woman – was this a refection on me?! I guess the cultural difference was the hardest for me to adapt to, I thought these guys were lazy as there was work to be done and whenever I’d mention it, I was told ‘Indian time… Indian time! It was apparent that things happened at their own pace here, if something takes longer the better for them! I guess on reflection, if the most qualified mason is only getting paid £3.50 for a whole day’s back breaking work; it puts things into perspective.

The most memorable experience was probably the only time I’ll wash my hair in the rain! The heavens had opened… everyone was scurrying around placing bowls, pans, bottles; anything that could collect water… rain water was precious, something you take for granted.

Daylight hours were closing in and darkness from the surrounding forest was upon us… still locked out of my room, and the thought of a bucket shower in the dark with just a torch was a no go… suddenly the idea came to me why not utilise the monsoon torrent which was pouring from the roof of the house everywhere… that was it. I borrowed some shampoo and hey presto… just stuck my head over the side.. and proceeded to wash my hair… what a unique experience to be showering in the rain!

I guess most would say I am a world traveler… I’ve been to more than just a few places, but my unique experience of volunteering in a tribal village in the western ghat mountains of India with YearoutIndia on a sanitation project building toilets is one that I will remember and cherish, it’s got to be up there in my top 5 once in a lifetime experiences!! One thing though… with the basic of lifestyles…the mannan people seem happy with true friendship, love and a community spirit. With the west’s focus on materialism and comfort, its refreshing to see happiness without a price tag attached to it...they say the best things in life are free and I have to totally agree!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ben & Gayle - Yearoutindia - Mannan tribe volunteering project

Kozhimala is the village up in the Western Ghat mountains in Kerala, south india, we're we spent 4 weeks living with the Mannan tribe. We we're volunteering with an NGO called Yearout India (YOI), who are a small organisation who are involved in projects in this area. The initiative that we were helping with was a sanitation project which has been running for the past couple of years. It relies on volunteers to fund and help build toilets for the mannan familes in kozhimala. There's about 100 families and most of them don't have a proper toilet, but now two more families do.

We we're staying in a house which was built by YOI for Sasi, a Mannan who made the organisation aware of some of the problems this community is facing.

Sasi's family looked after us and cooked for us everyday, cooking up salty fish fry and tapioca, much to Ben's delight!!!

It was a real insight into how difficult some people's lives are. These people have no running water, so they have to make several trips to a well each day and carry the water back to their homes in metal buckets on their heads. We tried it and it's really difficult, we got really good at spilling the conents all over us, much to the amusement of the tiny women who we're carrying two buckets on the heads with only one hand as support. They also don't have any electricity or gas, so the food they keep is limited.

It's a saddening contradiction that they live in such a beautiful area which is abundant in so many different fruits and vegetables, yet they are desperately poor.

The Mannan people used to live in the forest and we're moved out in the 70's by Indira Ghandi, the prime minister at th time. The used to live in the area which is now a wildlife reserve and some of them make a living by being tour guides around the reserve.

We spent a weekend doing some treks around the reserve and we're lucky enough to see loads of animals, we saw 3 wild elephants, boar, gaur, which are indian bison, and this cool bird, the Great Indian Hornbill, which makes a fantatstic noise with it's wings when it flies. We didn't see any tigers though, maybe if Ben had gone through with his threats of covertly attaching raw meat to me to attract them, we may have had better luck, fortunately we'll never know ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yearoutindia Volunteer Programs, Kerala, South India

I went to Kerala and took part in a Reach and Teach program with Yearoutindia. I volunteered for three weeks at a school in Adimali teaching Art and English, and helped the school prepare for Independence Day celebrations. All the local schools join in celebrating Independence Day, taking part in inter-school competitions and a show of strength in 2km march around the town, holding placards pledging allegiance to India and shouting Independence chants. It was quite a surprise for the locals to see a British citizen taking part in the celebrations of India getting independenace from Britian and the head teacher called me in the evening to say the school was on the local news!

My experience of Kerala was fantastic, it has the most verdant flora and fauna, vibrant culture and the people I met were so welcoming. Besides many teaching and renovation projects at schools that really need help and support, Yearoutindia gives you the opportunity to be involved with the local communities and make a real difference to the lives of people in rural South India. They also run link school projects with schools in UK and looking to so the same with school in France and USA. The coordinators and staff really go out of their way make sure volunteers have a great experience and that they really make a positive and direct contribution to the people and communities they work with. They only take on limited number of volunteers (usually 2-3) per project site, ensuring a personal commitment to the projects and a unique individual experience.

Yearoutindia is also a non-profit organisation who don’t advertise in print media, all their ex-volunteers who work on community development projects, conservation and environmental work, teaching in schools and orphanages act as volunteer coordinators back in their own country.

A true volunteer experience run by volunteers themselves!

England, UK