In 2003 I wrote a bucket list. Both visiting India and doing voluntary work with children abroad, featured; but somehow the timing (and finances!) to do either, never seemed right. In 2010 I was passing through a difficult time in my personal life and realized that I needed to get away from the life I knew, for a while.
I needed to find a new focus. With my dreams to visit India and to work with children abroad never far from my mind, I began to browse the ’net for options, and came across Travellers Worldwide voluntary work experiences.
After a number of emails and phone calls everything was sorted – I was to work in a primary school in the mornings and in an orphanage in the afternoons, living with other volunteers, in the city of Madurai.
For one month, I taught conversational English at an underprivileged primary school every morning; and worked at an orphanage every afternoon.
Every morning the tuk-tuk would pick me up from home. An exciting ride through traffic-infested, crowded streets, with a fusion of smells, sounds and sights; and full of smiling, staring, waving strangers would ensue.
The school day would begin with the head’s greeting and giving me the day’s timetable. Then there would be assembly, where some of the children would show off their work through which I would helpfully gain more perspective on Indian culture, traditions, history and geography.
At the school I taught 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Standards everyday. Each lesson was approximately 40 minutes long. I was allowed to teach through topics of my choice, as long as the children were taught new vocabulary and allowed to practice proper English.
I tried to make the lessons as visual and tactile as possible, to vary them from the traditional chalk-and-talk system the school used; not because my way was better, but because I wanted to bring a different experience to what the children were used to. I used to buy materials (very cheaply!) from the stationer in the road I lived in; and the supermarket close by.
I especially enjoyed topics that allowed me to introduce different cultures to them, such as the lessons on manners and customs; and lifestyles, with 4th and 5th standards; and those that allowed me to refer to India, such as the one using famous Indian people to talk about different professions.
At around 12:30 p.m., when the children and staff were having their lunch breaks, the tuk-tuk would take me back home for lunch. There I had around two hours to wash clothes, review the work done at school and prepare for my orphanage placement.