Glyn Owen lives in London, England and works as the Head of Marketing for Travelzoo, the world's most trusted publisher of travel and entertainment deals. He enjoys exploring the world, cooking, wood working and road cycling.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Rainbow Voluntours in India?
When I was looking for volunteering opportunities in India I knew that I wanted to stay in Kerala.
I'd heard from friends who'd been that it was a beautiful part of the country and I had also looked at surfing in the area, which was something I wanted to learn.
I searched on Google for volunteering opportunities in Kerala and found a program with Rainbow Voluntours. It combined two weeks volunteering in a primary school with a tour of the back waters, and that suited me just fine!
I had lots of questions about the volunteering program before I booked, which were all answered extremely well by the organisation. The communication from Rainbow Voluntours was excellent from start to finish.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
I stayed with a young couple who straight away made me feel at home and made my stay in Fort Cochin really special.
I'd get up early and go for a run on the waterfront with my host Afzal and return home to a lovely traditional breakfast cooked by his wife Jezna.
Ridhi my volunteer coordinator would sometimes join us for the run, which became a regular occurrence, or she would pop round to the house at 9 am and we'd grab a rickshaw to school.
A typical school day would start with lower kindergarten (KG), with kids between 3 and 4 years old; cheeky and adorable at the same time.
We'd learn the alphabet together or do some drawing and then play some games. I would swap between upper and lower KG for the first hour and a half and then we'd take a break.
Break times were fun, as I would sit in the staff room with the other teachers, all local women - who enjoyed the social aspect of their jobs - and we'd drink tea and have lots of good laughs.
I would then assist with one of the other classes, teaching English, Maths or Science; I would often prepare for classes the night before, choosing a topic from the text books to teach in a fun and engaging way.
Lunch was served at midday and along with the delicious food cooked for the children which we also ate, the teachers would bring various snacks they'd made at home and which I was encouraged to have several helpings of.
After a couple more lessons in the afternoon it would be time to head home. I would sometimes stop at the art shop in town to buy some materials for the next day's activities.
The afternoon would be free for me to do as I wished. I would explore the Jewish Quarter in Fort Cochin, browsing the antique shops and taking lots of pictures. I'd also spend a lot of time with Ridhi my coordinator and her friends at Oy's Cafe, which is a great place to meet other travellers.
What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?
Working for an online business I am used to living in a connected world. I donated a laptop to the school in the hope that they would be able to use it to make lesson plans and use multimedia to add value to the curriculum.
Although the school had computers, the teachers still relied on traditional teaching methods and still used slate boards in some classes.
Tell me about one person you met.
Usha was one of the teachers at the school and was such good fun. She was so interested in my life in London and always asking me a million questions - what I usually ate for lunch, why I wasn't married at 30, why didn't my parents arrange for me to get married.
After school each day she would go home and spend hours making poppadoms, which she would sell to subsidise her income. I was invited to her house one day, so I asked if we could make poppadoms together.
We spent a really funny afternoon preparing various poppadoms and other snacks with her family. I still get emails from Usha asking me how things are in my life and not to forget the "golden moments" [sic] from my time at the school.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Rainbow Voluntours created a very personalised and unique volunteering experience.
Ridhi makes very careful choices about the organisations she partners with. The school where I volunteered was full of great children and teachers.
With every volunteering program, I imagine you get out of it what you put in. With no prior teaching experience, I never felt out of my depth and felt I was able to make a considerable contribution in the two weeks I was there.
With the backwaters tour in particular I felt that I was experiencing something very unique. I went on a 34km cycling trip with three other volunteers to a small village with the most idyllic backdrop. There were no other tourists in the area we visited, which made it feel like a true Indian experience.
Our guide was really knowledgeable about the local area and culture which made the trip even more memorable. He had built two islands, a bucket of sand at a time, which were linked by walkways to the village. On the islands he had built two huts which even had flushing toilets and showers - an incredible feat which made me respect him a lot.
The location and experience were totally unique, you would not have been able to book this through the myriad of tour operators in Fort Cochin. Only through Ridhi's insider knowledge were we able to have have this one-of-a-kind experience.