I went to Tamil Nadu in autumn 2011 to work with the Vivegam Godfrey project for 3 months. As I had been to India before, for 2 short terms, I wanted to spend a long term now - until my University Study program in Germany would start.
When I was in India the first time, I went there with a good friend of mine who introduced me to the later project leader of Vivegam Godfrey project.
In 2011 I planned to go to India for 3 months with the aim of doing some social work there kand so be able to serve a greater pupose. As I always enjoyed helping people and especially explain things or help people to use their rights, I thought, that the Vivegamgodfrey Project could be the right project for me.
Mr. E.P. Kumar introduced me to his project aims and I was especially impressed by the amount of effort he put into the whole thing personally. I also got to know, that he himself grew up in the village, the project is built now and that he himself did not grow up in a quit rich family. This was his motivation to do something for HIS own hometown now and the people living there. As I really like the "people help themselves" strategy I started liking the project and wanted to support it.
The project was pretty new at that time and the Project leaders had no experience with volunteers up to that point. But Mr. E.P. Kumar was very concerned about my welfare in the project so he (beeing in Germany that time) talked a lot with the responsible people in the village, offered the possibility to skype with the leaders in the project and gave me privat lessons on south indian culture and the Tamil language (or at least on the most common expressions - Tamil language is quite complex :-) ). After all that I felt very well prepared. There was a detailed plan on how I was to reach the village and who was to collect me from the train station. So it was really made sure, that nothing could go wrong.
My journey to the project place went very well after that without any complications and I felt very welcome and safe having reached in Chennai and beeing collected there by the project manager. He was my "House-father" kind of and very helpful. As he could speak very good English he was the one explaining to me a lot of cultural issues but as well beeing interested in my culture and my different views on things in India.
Having reached at the project place I was welcomed very warmly by all the children and staff who seemed to be extremely happy to see me and beeing able to have me as a guest. I was immediatly introduced into a bunch of games by the children and would probably have had to play with them until it was dark if it had not been to my housefather that led me to a break... :-)
I felt very welcome from the first second.
The room I was allowed to live in was kind of luxurios compared with the accomodations that normal people have in that region. I had a real bed with a matress, a big room with a small table that i could use as a desk, everthing covered in tiles - especially the bathroom, wich had a hald opened wall at the backside of the house and very high standard (european toilet, real shower, ...) Actually this was better than some Hotels I had experienced in India.
The Room and Kitchen maids of the project put all their loving care in the preparation of the food (They cooked for the children as well as for the staff.) as well as in keeping the house clean. Not to forget that they also cared with all their heart for me personally...
But now to my tasks in the project: Before I went there I had agreed with the Project leader on two introductory weeks where I could learn to know the general schedule and ask questions. Than they would give me some tasks according to my wishes and talents...
This went very well and I was introduced with very much patience and tolerance in to all events of the day. Also the staff was very flexible concerning my offers to contribute something to the Project. Sometimes I would have liked to have a little more structure but i think people there did not have so much experience in leading such programs and where probably very interested in how a foreign "teacher" leeds such thinks so they didn't want to influence me too much and left me very much free choice. (Also I think very detailed and longterm planning is not a typical indian thing - as you have to be quite flexibele everywhere in the country. An aspect that can make you quite relaxed after some time!)
So I began very early to design own "lessons" or "lectures" which I presented to the children especially in the morning.
Mainly this meant: Searching for some popular english songs for children, combining some actions with them and looking for a suiting story to tell them (the last one was translated into Tamil by one of the Staff members).
After some weeks where I only gave some lectures in the morning programm and played with the children in the evening, the time of the exams was drawing nearer and we started giving some light english lessons in the morning and repetitory lessons in general in the evening for older students. There I took one "class" (devided according to age) in the morning and one group of different students in the evening. I prepared my material mainly out of things that are already naturally there and some selfmade cards or chards allowing me to play some grammar games a.s.o.
It impressed me very much that especially the bigger children were very motivated to learn and very engaged! They came to the center after school and still they sat down to learn for school until it became dark... When I imagine to propose something like that to a 14 or 15 year old in Germany I have a hard time not to laugh...
Mainly I gave programms in the morning or in the evening i.e. before and after school. In between I could use the time to write or organize something online for the project like writing a report online in my blog ( if you want to read it contact me under [email protected]) or post some news on the Internet pages of the project.
During midday after lunch I used to have two hours to rest. I used them either for learning the Tamil language or when it was very hot (when I was there usually between 28 and 35 degrees - in high summer sometimes even between 40 - 45 degrees) for sleeping a little.
The project center has a very good internet connection and at that time had 2 (but now even more) computers. Only some hours there was a power cut, but this is something you always have to cope with in whole india. Due to that super status I could have at least 2 chats a week with each of my family members and my darling in Germany via Skype, which made me feel very comfortable and sometimes made me feel not to be very far from home.
It also helped me very much to be able to chat with the project leader (in Germany at that time) when there was any conflict or misunderstanding. As he already lived in Germany since several years hbut was born in India he was ideal to mediate between me and the people there which he did every time it was necessary.
But seen for the big difference that is between our cultures I have to admit that there were quite little problems. I would have expected more in the beginning especially because I moved to a village.
One advise though I would like to give everyone that is interested in going there is that one: Always remind your self that it is a VILLAGE where you are going. So your environement is very traditional and might seem a little old fashioned to some people maybe even boring when you are a person liking partys and getting in to touch with people easily and casually.
I think on the level of getting deeper into the real indian everyday-days live it is very exiting and adventurous but you have very long ways to the next big cities and world-famous sights. So when you are in India the first time it might be advisable to take some 2 to 4 weeks before or after you start working (or maybe in between as a holyday) to be able to travel around and learn to know different edges of the country.
To get away from Danishpet is very complicated for a foreigner because there are no signed stops for the bus (you have to ask the people). The first time I went by Taxi to Salem (the next city - for India: just a small city). But if you do that often, it will takes a lot of money you might want to use differently... So most of the times I travelled by bus because it is much more fun and you learn to know more people. (The passengers are usually very exited when they see a "white face" in the bus and try to use their little english by asking you all kinds of questions). Indian people my not understand you at that point... for them driving by bus is something for poor people and very uncomfortable. Actually they expect you to go by Taxi or Auto-Rickshaw - but you don't have to meet ALL the expectations, right?... :-)
For this kind of travelling and also for a better communication with the children you really should know at least SOME common phrases in Tamil. For a first step I can advise you the book "Kauderwelsch für Indien - Tamil - Wort für Wort" in german. I also have a language introduction in english: "Colloquial Tamil - The complete course for beginners" but there might be a better one for a short insight...
Also it is strongly advised not to travel alone in rural areas or in some parts of very big cities especially as a woman and especially in the night. I never felt in danger there, because I was always treated very nicely and with respect but I also regarded the advise to take some companion when I travelled over night. But well: There are weird people everywhere on the world and you never know when you walk across one of them so it might be helpful to have somebody you know on your side in an emergency case.
After my whole time there I was said good bye to with a very touching little event where all the children came to me and told me what they liked about me and how much they will miss me - very much tears. Also every one gave me a little present (I also had some presents for the staff and some very small ones for the children). I really had the feeling I left a big personal their in the minds of the people I got to know. And I think I did one step in helping to bring this important project forward...
So after all I left with a wet and a dry eye (can you say like this in english?). I was already missing "my" children when I sat in the train to Chennai and I was also looking forward in telling all the great stuff I had seen and experienced to my friends and family.