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Celebrating Holi in India

Holi at the Boarding Home Sambhali Trust

Rebecca discovers the most colourful way to participate in India's iconic festival. 

Volunteering has many benefits—for the organization, for the locals being helped and, of course, for yourself. Many organizations can only continue to operate with the help of volunteers, which means that the locals can only continue to benefit from the outreach if there are volunteers working. As for personal development, you learn new skills, challenge yourself and discover different cultures.

However, there is also another perk that I have just discovered—celebrating holidays in a unique way.

One of the oldest Hindu festivals of India is Holi, also known as "the festival of colours" or the "festival of love." Holi celebrates the arrival of spring by covering everyone in bright, vibrant colours. The night before Holi there are large bonfires, which symbolize the victory of good over evil. Then, in the morning, powdered and liquid colours make their appearance and the real joy of Holi begins.

Prior to the actual celebration, there is a buzz that builds around the festival. Vendors start selling powdered colours and waterguns weeks before so you can start your preparation early. Walking in the Old City of Jodhpur, you can find stall after stall selling vibrant blues, pinks, greens, reds, oranges and yellows. The newspapers start publishing articles about the benefits of using organic colours, as well as tips for protecting your hair and skin from chemically-made colours. Even mobile phone companies advertise Holi-related promotions.

When you're a tourist, there is one option for celebrating Holi—head into the main city and throw bright colours at strangers. Definitely fun, and I did something similar to that during Songkran in Thailand (Thailand's New Year or "water festival"). However, when you're volunteering, there is a second option—celebrating with the organization.

This is exactly what we did. We headed over to the boarding home, which is a home for 22 girls from poor rural backgrounds that Sambhali Trust sponsors to live in a more urban area and attend school. Without this project, these girls would not have a chance at education.

The girls were incredibly excited that volunteers had come to celebrate Holi with them. We headed up to the rooftop and the colour fest began! Initially, the scene was relatively calm as everyone grabbed a pinch of colour to wish people "Happy Holi" and smear a bit of powder on cheeks or foreheads. Once the first person doused a friend's entire head in bright pink, the chaos began. Running around, holding little bags of powder, we tried to cover each girl and each volunteer in as many colours as possible.

The boarding home supervisor made the mistake of coming to the roof in a beautiful saree. As if she thought she could escape 22 young girls holding piles of blues, greens and oranges. Disregarding her newly colored saree, she joined in on the fun and went straight to covering the girls with purple and red.

When everyone was sufficiently multi-coloured from head to toe, and the powders had run out, the girls decided it was a good idea to spray everyone with buckets of cold water. You know, so that the colours all mix together and become mud brown. Once all the girls were soaked, they started chasing the volunteers with the large buckets of water. It was definitely a mess and we were very thankful we had celebrated on the rooftop and not inside the boarding home.

When the volunteers returned to the guesthouse, we scrubbed and scrubbed until most marks of Holi were removed from our skin and hair. However, the newspaper articles hadn't adequately prepared us for what happens to blonde or light brown hair. Many of us ended up with pink and red streaks, which stayed with us for another week; evidence that we had had a wonderful time celebrating the festival of colours.

I am sure that celebrating in town would have been incredibly fun, and some of our friends had a great time doing just that. I, however, am really grateful for the chance to celebrate with friends and the boarding home girls, because the experience of being in this community made the festival truly special.

Being in India for Holi was an amazing event on its own, but volunteering and having a unique celebration was the best part. There are so many benefits of volunteering and now I get to add another one to the list!

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Rebecca Chant

Rebecca Chant’s 12-month round-the-world solo trip led her to take action against gender inequality. She currently volunteers at Sambhali Trust women’s empowerment centre in Jodhpur, India.

Website: www.femvocates.com

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