With the end of the first year of university emerging, I had a fair few bouts of what I called “fresher’s remorse.” There were the final year essays to panic about, but the bliss of being completely free from academics that followed. For a month I would be free to do as I pleased, but then? I’d had the best time of my life the past year and for the first time being self-sufficient (if you ignore student loans), learning how to be independent, tying my own shoe laces, cooking my own food and washing my own clothes. I’d taken my first step into adulthood and met the most colourful characters from all over the world, living life at top gear and never stopping for a moment to breathe. Once it was all said and done, I wasn’t sure what was next for me, apart from possibly moving back in with the parents and taking on a full-time job to pass the time before I got back to full-time education… this time, without the university holding my hand as a fresh first year, but a lone, seasoned veteran of the serious academic game.
So when the AROH (A Ray of Hope) Foundation in India approached my housemate for starting up a possible volunteer project in India, I jumped at the chance to get involved and use that fresher’s remorse to drive me and entice other volunteers.
The AROH foundation worked to empower oppressed and underprivileged women, build facilities for youth to grow and become the nation’s pride and support the poor, the sick and the physically challenged. A relatively young NGO, the Overseas Volunteer’s Programme they proposed would be the first of its kind in taking on volunteers from outside of India. Taking care of the India specific side of the project such as the location we would be based, efforts to raise funds for the project were left down to us.
[singlepic id=32 w=270 h=190 float=left]Campus proved to be the perfect location for all our needs in terms of finding volunteers and organising fundraising events. As a small, compact and magnified community, it contained all the prospective volunteers we needed just minutes away from one another making the process of recruitment, organising volunteers and fundraising as simple as possible without ever having to leave campus. Although the project was open to anyone, I aimed to target first year students and attract those with an ambitious and adventurous nature and passionate, enthusiastic and philantropic mindset. With a criteria for volunteers set, I planned and wrote promotional literature by tapping into my own fresher’s remorse, to speak to the students we wanted, to paint a certain picture of the project we were building and to quell any doubts about what the next few months held after the term ended.
[singlepic id=64 w=260 h=270 float=right]We recruited volunteers from a range of different cultural backgrounds ranging from Italy, France, Nigeria and Spain, academic backgrounds compromised of English literature, international relations, psychology and developmental studies to each bring a unique skillset to the project, with different approaches to fundraising and helping the community in India. We held frequent meetings with our volunteers to brainstorm ideas for fundraising, and as I recieved information on how the project plans were coming along in India from AROH, relayed this back to the volunteers and got their feedback.
[singlepic id=57 w=275 h=195 float=left]Not only was campus the perfect place to find volunteers, it was also the best place to hold fundraising events. As everyone was in such close proximity to one another, networking was a given and everyone knew everyone. The first event we planned and put into action was securing the campus club venue for one night, with all proceedings going towards the fundraising budget. By keeping our focus on campus and the student population, the night was easily marketable as the target demographic and venue were right next to one another. As most volunteers were also based on campus, word of mouth and Facebook promotions alone was enough to attract a large crowd and keep down the costs for flyers and posters.
With the addition of donation drives, film screenings about some of the issues we were set to tackle in India and clothes sales, fundraising efforts amounted to over £1500 in just two months. Having exceeded expectations of our predicted fundraising budget, I relayed important information to the volunteers from AROH including precautions to take before flying out including jabs, essentials such as mosquito nets and repellent and also scputed for and arranged the cheapest flights out to India… because we were still students at the end of the day!
Once in India and after our orientation with AROH, I managed our fundraising budget whilst negotiating with local suppliers in Noida for teaching resources and stationary before we were based in Gharbhara village for five days over four weeks. I assisted in delegating responsibilities based on the volunteers’ skillsets and areas of interest, ranging from empowering young men, women and educating children of different age groups.
[singlepic id=52 w=275 h=195 float=right]Our team responsibilities involved planning lessons, interacting with and teaching disadvantaged children basic English language skills, such as the use of verb tenses, reading, speaking, listening and writing skills, pronunciation, alphabet and anatomy through games aswell as educate the children in the conservation of natural resources in the village and educate them in hygiene awareness.
My individual responsibilities included organising and running special motivational workshops for young men aged 15 and upwards. The young men of Gharbhara were generally demotivated, had few responsibilities or hobbies and as the class was optional and did not require the men of age to attend like the schools for younger children, it was my responsibility to find out boys willing to take part in the workshops. I sought out more proficient English speakers in the village including Subash, one young man who was attending a university outside of Gharbhara to help overcome the language barriers we faced and organise the workshops.
[singlepic id=62 w=275 h=195 float=left]I designed lessons to be as engaging as possible to build relationships and trust with the young men and ensure their return the next day, as there was no guarantee that we would have anyone to teach and could possibly turn up to an empty room with only the mosquitoes to keep us company. Without wanting to come across as a strict, overbearing authority figure threatening the carefree lifestyles of the boys, I promoted a more fun enviornment to hook them into wanting to come to the workshops rather than being forced. At first, this involved activities such as drawing their favourite animals, learning how to spell and pronounce the English translation and take it on as a nickname. I saw this as starting a clean slate on a similar wavelength with the boys as if it was an exclusive organisation within the village that only they were apart of. As we built a bond with the boys, I eased into more serious topics based on what most concerned or interested the boys, including conversational skills, rolemodels and career options, developing an interest in various hobbies and cultural exchanges from music to movies. To coincide with the subjects of conservation and hygiene awareness in the village, we taught boys more advanced areas covering this to give them a sense of empowerment and responsibility for the village and its children and to pass on their skills and knowledge once the project had been completed.
[singlepic id=54 w=275 h=195 float=right]One of the most important aspects of the project outside of teaching the children, young men and women was organising events for the entire village. This included a health camp day at which we hired doctors to brief the community on hygiene awareness, how to take precautions and offer checks up to children and their parents, prescribing medicine and offering advice on ailments. Other events included plantation drives at which the children were given their own fruit bearing plants and trees to place in their gardens to further the number of natural resources in the village. As we neared the end of the project, we also organised social activities, such as adding their own mark on the community centre by painting murals, and arranging talent shows in the new and improved building at which the children could display their creative sides, such as singing, dancing and show off their drawings to the entire village.