• India

Program Details

Apartment Host Family


Price Details
Volunteers can be expected to pay $100-150 a month rent for a western style room with attached bath and kitchen privileges depending on the accommodations selected. Lesser or shared accommodations of course would be less expensive. Food costs vary but should be no more than $2-5.00 a day even if one eats all meals out or is non-vegetarian. There are many restaurants serving Indian and also western food in Mamallapuram. and Indian Transportation expenses by local bus can be as little as $.25 a day up to $2.00 depending on distance traveled and while we discourage use of mopeds and motorcycles these can be rented for about $3-5.00 a day plus the cost of fuel and bicycles for much less.
Feb 05, 2020
Nov 22, 2014
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About Program

Volunteers with South Asian Village Empowerment, founded in 2005, live in Mamallapuram, Tamilnadu and work primarily in educational programs with poor socially disadvantaged women and children in any of 24 + villages from the surrounding area where we operate. Volunteers who want to work with children can serve as English, art and sports teachers in our after-school study programs and/or be placed in government or charitable schools. Volunteer opportunities also exist to work with women in sewing and handicraft programs, especially a hand embroidery, with an eye to develop a sustainable business. We also operate a health clinic and dispensary should you have a professional background in health care. Village infrastructure is an area where we have been active especially in housing, water and local school sanitation projects if you have the requisite skills. We charge no fees to volunteers who are expected to be self-supporting and self-directed. Term of service is 8 or more weeks

Program Reviews

9.86 Rating
based on 7 reviews
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  • Impact 9.4
  • Support 9.4
  • Fun 9.7
  • Value 9.1
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
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Yes, I recommend this program

Painting Houses for the Irular Tribe

In July 2013 I spent a little time working with John painting houses for the Irular Tribal people in Kazhanipakkam village, Arungkundram Panchayat, Tamilnadu.

This involved meeting at John's house (in the beautiful seaside fisherman village of Mamallapuram) in the early mornings to pack up the painting gear on the mini bus, before heading inland to paint newly built houses for the tribe. This is an experience I will not forget. The Irular people are among the kindest I have met, welcoming everyone with such gentleness and enthusiasm despite the challenges that they are faced with on a daily basis. When painting the houses, I was confronted by the living conditions people within this tribe had. Previous housing was subject to flooding in particular seasons, and attracted rodents and snakes which provided unhygienic and unsafe living conditions.

John's program, SAVE International (South Asian Village Empowerment) has served to enhance the lives of tribal people in Tamilnadu by aiming to improve the long-term social, physical and economic conditions of the rural poor and the socially disadvantaged. For the Irular tribe, this has meant the repair and rehabilitation of their water supplies which has created a safe and abundant source of water for the tribe. And the building of safe and hygienic houses, secure from flooding and unwanted pests which has bettered their health and living conditions

SAVE has also implemented many other programs such as free tuition for school children, free woman's vocational training, community centres, free primary health centres, computer and technology centres, youth sports centres, construction, and the rehabilitation of water supplies. So there are many different areas that volunteers can contribute to.

It was a very humbling to be able to experience the beautiful spirits of the Irular tribe people, even if it was for a short time, and to learn about how John and SAVE has made such a great difference within their lives as well as in other villages in the region.

John is a stand up guy with a great sense of humour, and has a strong awareness of the needs of people within this area. I have known him for over a year, and can assure that you will have a safe and rewarding time if you choose to help out in one of the programs.

11 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Helpful programme!


Well what to say.. I know John for some years know and we recently (last year) started to really work together on two programs: the clothing distribution in rural villages and (perhaps the most import one) the sponsoring program.

Last April I visited him in Mahabalipuram to see how everything was going and if our work actually meant something to the communities.

My friend and I stayed in a small penthouse on the rooftop in a safely secured appartment complex. John himself stayed in the same complex some floors down and all was well organized.

The penthouse is small but clean and big enough for one person. Even two people can stay there if you don't mind any privacy issues :)

The neighborhood is friendly and people are easy going.

The villages he works at, are extremely kind people and won't even hurt a fly if they had to.

It would be a great experience for any one to actually spend some weeks or months there to live a great adventure. Teaching English would be a great thing to do for these people and India is definitely not so scary as the media want to let you believe.

If you are considering to move to India for a while, go with his organisation because you will definitely have a great time and people will take care of you.

Good luck!

11 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Building a house for Kasturi and other projects

From March 1st to April 10th my son and I spend almost 6 weeks working as vonlunteers with Tamil Nadu Village Outreach in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, Southeast India.
This small local NGO has been founded about 10 years ago by John Degler, who since then has done an amazing job in helping the very poor people in the villages around Mamallapuram by having initiated and maintaining various projects, among them building solid houses for poor families, community buildings in the villages, wells to provide clean water, tuition schools to improve the children's education etc.
The latest project is trying to help interested women from the area to develop handicraft skills, especially hand embroidery using local designs, to enable them to set up a little business for themselves and thus support their families and gain some independence.

In spring 2013 I ran into the project by chance and was immediately interested in the work. Therefore I decided to come back and spend some time working with this NGO.
Since I have a background of professional tailoring, I most of the time worked in the women's project as handicraft instructor, helping the women to improve their embroidery and teaching them sewing skills on an electrical sewing machine provided by John.
Working with the women was a great experience for me and a lot of fun. Despite the language difficulties I feel that we developed a good relationship, and I always felt very well accepted. They were all very friendly and hospitable and even invited my son and myself to family functions.

Apart from my work with the women, I also helped in the finishing and painting of the house of one of the rural tribal families - a project my son was involved in. I had met that particular family during my previous visit to Mamallapuram in 2013 and learned about their situation, therefore I'm very happy that it was possible to actually build the house for them while we were there.

During our stay in Mamallapuram, my son and I lived in the same building as John which is located close to the main road and in about 10 min. walking distance from the beach which in Mamallapuram is fairly clean.
Each of us had a comfortable room with a fan and with an attached bathroom. In addition, John also allowed us to share the kitchen in his apartment which made it possible for us to prepare coffee in the morning and cook once in a while.

Mamallapuram itself is a nice little town about one and a half hours by bus south of Chennai. Due to the ancient temples and it's location right at the ocean it's a place well liked by tourists. And it is a safe place! I never once felt uncomfortable in any situation.

There are also various things you can do and places you can visit during your free time: for example Pondicherry, a beautiful city 90 km south of Mamallapuram is definitely worth a visit (here, public transportation works very well, there are many ECR busses passing Mamallapuram in both directions); Kanchipuram, famous for it's temples and silk manufactures; in a nearby village there is a beautiful ancient temple on a hill; north of Mamallapuram you find an artists village, a crocodile farm etc. - all within reachable distance for one- or even half-day-trips.
In Mamallapuram there are various restaurants, western and Indian style - I would definitely recommend the Indian restaurants: The food is excellent and you get huge meals for very little money - and there are also bars and cafés where you can hang out with friends in the evening.

We met quite a few very interesting people, made new friends - Indians and foreigners - and everybody was very friendly and openminded.
All in all it was a great experience which we will certainly never forget.
As for me, I would like to return at some point, if my time and situation allows it.

What would you improve about this program?
concept and structure of the embroidery and tailoring project.
11 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Building a house for Kasturi

From March 1, 2014 to April 10, 2014 I have been to Mamallapuram, Tamilnadu in Southern India to spend my time as a volunteer for Tamilnadu Village Outreach. This NGO is run by John Degler, who (for already ten years) works with and for poor people from rural villages sorrounding Mamallapuram, trying (and succeeding!) to improve their daily life. He accomplishes this by maintaining various projects, among them building houses and community centers, establishing tuition schools for children and providing clean drinking water.

My job was to help with and document the construction of a two room house for a very poor tribal family in one of the villages. I accompanied the main contractor when he buyed the necessary materials, I was in the village on working-days helping with my own hands and I created a facebook-page to inform my friends and family at home (who supported the project with donations) about the progress.
Since I never did anything similar before, I had new experiences every day an I learned a lot about life and people in foreign cultures.
Of course, with this kind of work you encounter many challanges, but this is probably the most interesting part of the deal and it certainly is always fun and rewarding!
The house was completed in time before I had to leave and I think both the villagers and I will remember these six weeks for a long time (I definately will!).

The NGO (and John Degler's house) is located in Mamallapuram on the east-coast of India between Pondicherry and Chennai. I lived in the "Penthouse"-called rooftop apartment (one room with attached bathroom) which was organized by John for the period of my stay. Mamallapuram is quite a busy place during tourist season but also in off-season there is a lot you can do. The town is right at the ocean, there is a very nice beach, also you can choose from various restaurants and bars where you can hang out and meet people. It is a very safe place, i never felt threatened by anyone or anything or even uncomfortable in any way. The people I got to know were extremely friendly and always welcoming. Food and accomodation are very cheap (like almost everywhere in India) and if you avoid the more western-style locations you can get around with very little money. Other than many other organisations John doesn't charge you thousands of Dollars to have this experience, it's really all about helping the people and not about profit.

I definitely enjoyed my stay in Mamallapuram. The indian culture is completely different from western lifestyle, there is so much to learn, see, taste, smell and so on. After the first cutural shock has passed you will learn to love this place!
Working with John's NGO gave me a much deeper look into this culture than simple travelling ever could.
I am very glad that I had this opportunity and if you want to do something like it, do it! It is definitely worth it!

10 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

My Time in India

I have spent the last 2 months volunteering with Tamilnadu Village Outreach in Mamammalapuram in Southern India. I have spent the majority of my time working at Tuition schools where TVO are operating after school programmes. I also worked at a local primary school where I was teaching standards 4 and 5. TVO has sponsored four students to attend this school. I was also involved to some extent to other projects that the TVO are undergoing, including a mobile library project, water purification centre, and an embroidery project.

I have had an absolutely amazing time in India. The work that the charity is doing is wonderful and they are really working with the poorest of the poor in the region.

So what exactly was I doing? The majority of my time I spent teaching English to primary school students in after school programmes at several tuition centres that the charity funds. The kids I found to be very eager to learn and the work was very rewarding.

Where exactly was I? The charity is based in Mamallapuram which is about an hours drive from the major city of Chennai. It is a really friendly and safe place. There is a tourist trade here for sure, so the chance to have a beer and have a social life after a solid days work is very much possible. Also it is located on the coast so you can spend your weekends on the beach taking in the local scenery.

Who was I working with? The charity is operated by John Degler from America. John has been in India for 10 years. He welcomed me into his operation with great kindness and the work he is doing is making a huge difference. He has a vast amount of local knowledge and through his work I have had an unforgettable Indian experience.

Accommodation and Getting Around: I stayed with John and Janikaraman in his place in Mamallapuram. I had my own private room with bathroom at the top of the building and even had a sea view. It was great and very conveniently located for local restaurants and shops.
In terms of getting around I used share autos (shared minivan taxis that will take you where you want to go for around 10 cent) and local buses. Transport in general is very cheap. I found it a little bit daunting at the beginning but after a week I had no problems.

When I arrived in India I knew very little of Indian culture. All I knew was I wanted to spent time in India. The day I arrived I was straight into the thick of it, visiting one of local villages where the charity were distributing some clothing. There was traditional dancing, singing, food and the welcome I received was always with a big smile. Again the people here I found to be so friendly. After 2 months here I feel very lucky to have such an amazing trip in a place so rich in culture, music, colour, and diversity.

Overall I have absolutely loved my time working with John and TVO here in Mammalpuram. The work that is being done is fantastic and is making a huge difference to many peoples lives. I have been amazed by India and have kind of fallen in love with the place. The people, the colour, the warm smiles you get every day, I have loved it all! I will really look back very fondly on my time here and I am already making plans to return. If you are reading this contemplating spending some time in this part of the world my advice would be Go for it!!!

11 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program


The people are friendly and appreciative even though for the most part they are of the lowest and poorest of the Indian 'caste' system. The children are beautiful and smiley and fun to work with. While I was there I painted some of the school buildings and the clinic. Also covered some library books for the library program enabling the books to last a long time. Each school has a 'library' that the teachers can allow the children to check books out and bring them home to read. I helped teach an English class to a school full of elementary age children. They were all very friendly and co-operative. I was even given the opportunity to help create a mural on the inside wall of one of the schools. Also helped clean up an area in one of the villiages to make room for a playground complete with equipment.

What would you improve about this program?
You are right - no program is perfect. Not sure what I would change. You must come with an open mind. India has many problems not the least of which is dirtiness. Much heat and humidity - not changeable but a consideration. After a few days I was able to get used to it and could even work in it. i will be back, just not sure when.
11 people found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

making a difference

I came twice to volunteer for SAVE organisation and each time I had a great time. The programme is aimed to help local rural people.There are different activities one can be involved with, from painting community buildings, teaching basic English to children, to being involved in a water supply project. Depending on each one skills and interests we can actually make a difference in the local area. If you choose to come to this organisation it is better if you are a self starter and a committed person.
You will be well supported by John who is running the programme for 7years.

13 people found this review helpful.

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