I am Fajer Ben Naser, a graduate from the American University of Kuwait 2015.
For as long as I remember, I have admired being a leader in volunteering and not only wanted to change the lives of people who are less fortunate, but mine, and those around me to take a step up, leave their comfort zone, and experience the real world.
Experiencing the real world doesn’t come naturally, by traveling the world, living in luxurious hotels and learning about cultures. Its living the culture, wearing their clothes, eating their food, showering with a bottle of water, not having a choice of whether to walk, hop on a tuk-tuk or a camel’s hump.
Those are the moments we refuse to forget and taught us a lesson, that what we have can be gone at any moment, and what we think we need are just “wants” that make us see life way more complicated than it is.
I have organized several trips with my university, and my aim was that after I graduate, I would see those who took part, continue and take on my path to create future youth volunteers. I successfully did. Sankalp volunteers were our starting point. After having assured everyone’s safety and good time, volunteering trips became an annual part of our university’s good cause initiative.
Sankalp Volunteers 2013, Jaipur
To sum up all of our experiences in a nutshell, the trip to Jaipur India with Sankalp Volunteers in 2014 was unforgettable; it changed each and every one of us as individuals and group leaders, and brought us close together. As most of us travelled not knowing anyone in the group, we became a close group of friends that went on several other trips representing our University after India was the first for most of us.
Flashing back through the memories, describing our experience gets me lost out of my excitement. To start off, we were a group of 20 students around the age of 18-23 both males and females. As we arrived at Jaipur’s airport early in the morning, we were very warmly welcomed by Pranay, Sankalps Director who picked us up on time with a tour bus as promised. Amita, welcomed us at the Sankalp’s housing with warm greetings and some snacks before going down to the basement to have an introductory session.
We all felt safe, as we went into the house, not knowing what to expect, it was exactly what we saw in pictures, no disappointments, three floors, and a basement. In fact it has a very cozy living room, which was our lunch area and a rooftop terrace for us to chill at night.
The volunteering programs differed. We had a choice of going to the orphanage (girls only), teaching and playing with the street kids at a local school run by Sankalp Volunteers, and lastly, teaching at government schools some English and math, all very basic, nothing to worry about. As the number of volunteers in each area varies, we divided ourselves into groups as Amita explained that once we chose a place to volunteer, we could not change it later. At first, we wanted to try volunteering in all three places and be able to rotate. But after volunteering for 10 days, we understood why that was a rule, and thankfully we sticked to it. Going to the same place and spending hours with the same kids allowed us to grow a connection between them and us that both of us needed. We learned what our weaknesses are and tried working on that, and the kids wanted some older people to look up to, and not just visitors.
Briefly, for all three areas, we woke up early in the morning where a car arranged by Sankalp took and to and from the orphanage, or Schools. After that we’d come back home where we’d find our vegetarian lunch prepared and then rest and explore the city together. Indeed, the food was very clean and healthy, no one got sick or tired as there was enough provided for everyone. One rule is to always drink from bottled water, that’s it.
The orphanage was a tough task, as the people who volunteered there wanted to take another step forward, having previous volunteering experiences before. It taught us girls how to become mothers, and appreciate our families. We went in in the morning seeing how the kids all share a few beds to sleep on, some disabled kids with no wheelchairs or aid, children crying and fighting over what clothes to wear as they shared everything. They had no sense of belonging to a place, nor a thing.
We tried to create an enjoying atmosphere. You’d think its easy to sing, dance and play, what else would make kids happier? Here, we understood the difference; the street kids and school kids were fine with those simple acts, but not the orphans. Too much emotional energy was required, but in the end we did it. After the first week, the kids began to realize that we’re not like any visitor coming for a day or two to sit around, since unfortunately, they had no official “teacher” or “guardian”. We helped them shower and change and play old school games.
If you’re looking for something very life changing and have experienced volunteering before, this is where you’d love to be. It made us stronger.
Street kids and Government schools
Here too, so much patience is required. Kids coming up to you so excited and shouting around a class of around 40 kids is hard to handle. You don’t just want to teach them and leave; you want to make sure they understand the lesson, as if you’re their teacher. Its your responsibility now. Making sure all of your group members abide to the rules and regulations of Sankalp and the school and act as adult leaders is necessary because these kids look up to us as foreigners.
During our first day at Jaipur, we went to a shopping center to buy local clothing, as it is a must to be wearing while volunteering. For the government schools, it is required by the government and for the rest; we wore it out of respect and the very different culture we were around. It also made us feel very local, and enjoy the experience. Not only that, we all felt safe while wearing local clothing, as it is advised not to wear tight or short clothes.
Clearing our minds and setting ourselves free came at the end of the day after having some rest. We went to a lot of markets around and ate a lot of good food.
Amazing experience, truly one of a kind. This is because the house was really good safe, had good food, Amita and Pranay were always a doorstep away for any help. We also met a few other volunteers who stayed at the house the same time as we did, great opportunity to make connections worldwide!
After volunteering with sankalp volunteers, Amita and Pranay kept us updated about the kids whether they got adopted or graduated from school. We truly feel like we are part of the Sankalp Family. Great efforts Amita and Pranay, well done.
Truly, a place to visit again with a group of friends, school or family.
All the best everyone.
Fajer Ben Naser