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.