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The Real Benefits of Volunteering Abroad

Math Class Katie Oldham

As Rebecca's time in India draws to a close, she reflects on what made her volunteer abroad experience worthwhile.

I found India to be rather frustrating. I know that people say you either love India or hate it, but I'm kind of in-between.

I saw a small part of the country—I only spent time in Rajasthan, which is said to be one of the more traditional states. This meant that the contrast between the India (that I saw) and home was as different as it gets. Especially working with girls from slum areas—it really can't get much different.

I went to India with the expectation of loving the chaos and the colourfulness. I never thought the highlights of my time would include students recognizing lowercase alphabet letters.

There were times where I stayed in my room just to happily work, and there were times where I stayed in my room to hibernate from my environment and recharge my batteries. There were times I would walk for blocks because I was irritated with the tuk-tuk drivers trying to scam me, and there were other times that I overpaid for a tuk-tuk so I could escape walking on the crowded streets. There were times where I craved certain Indian foods, and other times where we went out of our way to search for anything but Indian food. There were times where I swore at strangers who were harassing me and my friends and there were times where it was really refreshing to talk to locals.

There was a lot of stepping over shit—quite literally, between all the cows, dogs, goats and well, human excrement, but there were also stunning views—lakes, dessert, the blue city. There was a lot of hand-shaking and giggling with local kids saying "hello," and there were many, many, many ignored men trying to get my attention. There was a lot of anger towards the inequality of men and women but there was also a lot of love and support with my students—and that by itself was totally worth the conflicting emotions and frustrations.

I went to India with the expectation of loving the food, the chaos and the colourfulness. I never thought the highlights of my time would include students recognizing lowercase alphabet letters, or being able to describe what "half" of something is. My best memories include a room full of girls actually listening to my math explanations, or watching the same girls participate in art and drama workshops with newfound creativity and confidence.

Despite all the frustrations that came with living in this part of India and experiencing such high gender inequalities, I left with good memories and new ambitions for continuing to be socially responsible. For all the tough times that came with volunteering abroad, there is no feeling in the world like having a student tell you that you're their favourite teacher, and knowing that somehow you've managed to positively impact their life.

I encourage everyone to go out and push their comfort zones and help people in need. You never know what you will learn, whom you will impact, and how it will change both their world and yours. I know volunteering definitely changed mine.

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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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