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Bordered by the towering Himalayan Mountains to the north, an immense river system to the east, the western Thar desert, and nearly 5,000 square miles of tropical southern coast, India is unquestionably a geographic and culturally diverse nation. After declaring independence in 1947 from the United Kingdom, India has since emerged from many difficult financial and political struggles to see itself become a powerful member in the world economy.
Despite this rapid growth a large portion of India's population remains impoverished and in need of basic human necessities. 850 million people (70% of the population) still have limited access to housing and clean water. With an estimated 6 doctors for every 10,000 people, the people of India also continue to face severe public health challenges on a daily basis.
Right now international volunteers are desperately needed to help India's underprivileged population gain access to better education, healthcare, human rights, and infrastructure. Volunteer programs are located in metropolitan areas such as Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as rural villages in states including Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. These programs give volunteers the chance to simultaneously help those in need while immersing themselves in India's rich culture.
Whatever area of volunteering you'd like to be a part of, chances are that India will offer it. Depending on what you choose, you could be working in urbanized areas such as Mumbai or Bangalore, or the rural peace of somewhere like Tamil Nadu or Rajasthan. Here's a snapshot of what you could be doing:
Health: Few countries have such a polarized healthcare system as India. The rich enjoy world-class treatment while poorer inhabitants often have no access to health basics. India is home to the highest amount of AIDS and HIV cases in the world too. As a volunteer you can work in an HIV clinic and help spread awareness. Medical and dental students can also gain first-hand experience in clinics and hospitals.
Gender Equality: Many women in India fall victim to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Fortunately, there are a number of NGOs that have now been established to counteract such atrocities, and they're always on the lookout for volunteers.
Youth Development and Education: There are about 100 million street children in India and to counteract this, a large number of orphanages and shelter homes have been set up across the country. You could also help promote education by working in a primary or secondary school, teaching basic English.
Community Development: Only 75.3% of men and 53.7% of women in India are literate. Working as part of a community development program, you can help people discover their potential and make a better go of their lives.
Environmental Conservation: India's rapidly-increasing population means there has been much damage to natural surroundings by way of plastics, chemical pesticides and general high productivity. There are a number of projects in India where you can help promote sustainable farming and environmental conservation.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in India: You'll need to be up to date with a number of vaccines for India. These include typhoid, hepatitis A and diphtheria. Depending on the areas you plan to visit, you may also require jabs for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, rabies, cholera, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. These latter vaccinations often apply to more rural areas. Tap water is generally unsafe for drinking, so stick to the bottled stuff. For detailed info visit MD Travel Health.
India is not without its problems and wherever you are in the country, you should keep your wits about you, aware of such dangers as theft and reckless driving. There are certain areas of India which you are advised against traveling to altogether. These include the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir (other than Ladakh) the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan (other than at Wagah) and all travel in Manipur. More in-depth advice can be found on the U.S. Department of State and Foreign and Commonwealth Office websites.
Most visitors to India experience little or no trouble, and your volunteer agency will also be looking out for you.
Photo Credit: Children in India
Will is a freelance writer from England who has worked for the Prague Post and the Bournemouth Daily Echo. He studied Scriptwriting for Film and TV at Bournemouth University and is co-creator of comedy podcast The Chop House. He regularly writes for the Pimsleur Approach leading retailers of language learning software including Learn To Speak Brazilian Portuguese and Learn To Speak Japanese.
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