Alumni Spotlight: Sisi Liu


Sisi Liu is from Ningbo, China and currently a rising high school senior at Mahindra United World College of India in Pune, India. She loves traveling, reading and getting to know different people. She volunteered with AIM Abroad in India for one week during March 2013.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with AIM Abroad in India?

I study at an international high school in Pune, India, and my school has Travel Week for one week in March, during which we are encouraged to travel around India. Due to some personal reasons, I had to stay near Delhi during that time, so I thought it might be a good time to volunteer at a Non-Government Organization because I enjoy helping people and being with kids. I knew I would love the volunteer work.

I decided to volunteer with AIM Abroad because of the good feedback they got online. One very special thing I noticed was that instead of staying in a dormitory, volunteers of AIM Abroad stay with host families, which is very unique. Also, AIM Abroad provided volunteers with a variety of options, ranging from Medical Volunteering to Teaching Program, and you are able to try different programs out before you finally decide what you want to do. For example, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to volunteer at the orphanage or teach at the street school, so I tried out the orphanage the first afternoon and went to the street school the second day, then decided the main focus to be teaching at the street school. Since it’s a rather small organization, AIM is pretty flexible about your plan, and it is also easy to talk to Kranti, the program coordinator, about what you would like to do.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

I volunteered with AIM Abroad from March 9 to March 16, 2013. I volunteered at one of the street schools in Faridabad. The school is for families who are relatively poor and cannot afford to pay for school tuitions. The school is located in a public park, which contains just a very sandy ground, and all the kids take classes on this piece of ground. (They also have a garden nearby which serves the function of playground, a storage room next to the park to store the blackboards, chalks, mats, etc., and a small room across the street serves as school library.) The kids were divided into different classes and each class was assigned with a mat made of straws. The classes were held on that straw mat.

I usually woke up at 8 in the morning, had breakfast prepared by my host family, and went to school on a rickshaw at around 9. I got to school at around 9:30 and started teaching the kids. I had a fixed class of around 25-30 first graders. Since the kids had just finished their term, the teacher told me that I could teach whatever I'd like. I taught them different subjects, such as math, English, and painting, until around 11. Then, we played games until lunch and went back at around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. My host family would have the lunch ready by the time I got home. In the afternoon, if transportation was possible, I would go to a all girls’ orphanage and play with them.

Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?

I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that I have made a significant impact on the community because the community was pretty functional even before I went. I was there for only a week, and I don’t think I should be the one to evaluate the impact of my volunteer work. In addition, I think impact is for both sides. I made an impact on the kids, and at the same time, these kids have made a very significant impact on me. I read them short English stories and taught them how to count in English, but at the same time they taught me how to play kho kho, a traditional Indian game. I have also learned how to face difficulties in life from the kids. It’s hard to define how big of an impact can be considered significant; I just hope the kids enjoyed my classes and learned what I taught them.

What did you wish you knew before going to India?

I was in India before I volunteered with AIM Abroad, so most of what happened during my time of volunteering was not surprising to me. However, I do wish I had learned more Hindi before I volunteered because it is a very useful tool for communication.

Also, general things I wish I knew before I came to India: you need to keep a hard copy of your travel details in order to get in Indian airports, otherwise the security won’t even let you in the airport. Remember to bargain at the street shops when you shop because the shop owners might charge foreigners a lot more than the local people (they once charged me over 1000 rupees for a pair of flip-flops, which I got for 200 rupees in the end). Take your rain boots with you if you are here during monsoon season because it can rain several hours without stopping everyday. Also, for girls, wear long pants or skirts in India; Indian clothes are also a good option.

What was the best moment of the entire trip?

Overall, the experience was great. I can’t really pick my best moment of the trip. There are several moments that are very memorable. The kids were extremely nice and well-behaved. The smaller ones do not speak much English, but every morning I entered the school, I would be surrounded by kids greeting me and saying “Namaste didi”, which means hello sister. Although they were not from good families, and some of them might not even have had breakfast, everyone would be smiling to me, which made a very good start for the day and always made me happy.

Although I did not speak much Hindi, and they did not speak much English, the kids managed to teach me how to play this game (I’m not sure about the name) in which you have five stones, try to throw one up and catch it while grabbing the rest in your hand during the time in between. A girl named Rani loved playing this game with me, although I usually couldn't even get through the first round. The times I sat on the mat to play with them were definitely one of the best moments. On the last day at school, kids kept giving me flowers from the moment I entered school. I did not know how they figured out that I was leaving because I did not tell them. There were so many flowers that in the end, I used plastic bag to put all the flowers in.