'Volunteering In India'
By Rachel Giddens
In September, I once again set-off for
Tamil Nadu. This is the most southerly state in India, set beside
the well-known state
Kerala, which runs along the west coast. It is a very different
place to the pleasant Keralan countryside where lots of vegetation
and fruits grow and the beautiful Arabian Sea along it's shore.
Tamil Nadu is the hottest state in India & probably one of
the most rural with lots of poverty and in many ways is very backward.
It is very dry & had not had rainfall for two years. Whilst
I was there they had a little rain, but the other states had plenty.
Even other areas in Tamil Nadu seemed to get more rain than where
I was. It would threaten rain, but rarely did it happen. I was
based near a town called Tirunelvelli. I actually had two placements.
A rural & a town one, both within an hours drive by car of
My first placement was on the campus of three colleges
and a school for children with special needs. I was to work in
an Engineering college with students aged 17-25yrs old. This I
teaching spoken English & communication skills
to girls and boys. I would take about 5 classes a day. Initially
they gave me 60 students at a time in a normal classroom setting,
which proved impossible. So I managed to get the class split to
30 students and to hold my classes in a special room with seating
in a semi-circle, therefore was less formal and more friendly,
something they had never experienced before.
The classes were very
difficult, because although the students spoke English, I could
hardly understand them. It just sounded
like Tamil, very fast! They could not understand me either, even
speaking very slowly & clearly. Gradually we did get to understand
each other on most occasions. But there were other difficulties
too. Culture was the biggest, boys were not supposed to speak to
girls & certainly not sit beside them! I had an awful job trying
to get them to speak to each other. In fact the girls were very
reluctant to speak to me to begin with. Some never did really partake
fully. I would say that the classes of over 20yr olds were more
like 12 yr olds, as far as getting them to speak socially. They
really were very shy & unsure of themselves, especially the
However the students were great & soon made me feel
very welcome. The lecturers tried hard too, though it was very
difficult with them constantly speaking Tamil at every opportunity,
even though their subject was English. This was a problem for me
as I was the only white English speaking person on the campus and
after a few weeks I began to feel very alone. I lived on my own
too on this campus, with a girl to cook & clean for me. She
spoke no English & was very unsure of me to begin with.
time was filled by reading, yoga & spending time with
the children with special needs, at the little school. They were
great fun, spoke little or no English, but made me very welcome.
They were all gorgeous! I was not really allowed off the campus,
which was a bit of a bore. But I did escape to the nearest village
on one occasion. It was a 30 minute walk in the 40c heat, but great.
Apart from the fact that I would be constantly stared at, as people
had never seen a white person before. I did manage to get a coffee,
from a little roadside shop, which was a delight.
During my second
placement, I again taught in a college & also
was given the chance to go into a school too. This was much harder,
as I never knew who I'd be taking or what age they'd be. It ranged
from 5-16yrs!! Sometimes it was a nightmare as the children would
get so excited by my presence, that I just could not keep them
quiet. Indian children really do know how to talk when they get
going, unfortunately usually in Tamil!
The classes with the older students progressed well, but unfortunately
they had important exams and they were withdrawn from me more & more,
so in the end I came home early as there was very little to do.
ten weeks I spent in this part of India, were a real experience
of another culture. Really living within it is just so different
when you are an outsider. I have learnt a lot from my experiences
and from my lecturer friends, especially the younger women. I
do not think that I could live here. It will be nice sometime in
future to experience another part of India to compare the difference,
as I understand each area is different. The cities are much more
westernised, but it really has not reached Tamil Nadu yet!!
you would like to talk more about my or your own travels in India,
I am happy to. I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Read about Rachel's previous trip to India