Volunteering in India: My incredible experience
This time last year, after a 14-hour direct flight, I landed in India. The first person that I met at the airport was the CCS driver, Sunil. His smile and warm welcome were exactly what I needed after such a long flight! He eagerly greeted me, loaded me (and my bags) into the air-conditioned van, and we were off! I felt a rush of excitement as I stared out of the van window in wonderment: markets, farm animals, and busy people on the streets. India's beautiful chaos is something that I've tried to describe a million times to a million people, but you really just need to see it for yourself.
After our orientation in New Delhi—a history lesson and a quick taste of the urban hustle and bustle—we made our way up to Dharamsala, a beautiful town sitting in the Himalayan Mountains.
My volunteer work was deeply rewarding. I teamed up with a group of women who were designing jewelry to sell at the local markets; I worked with kids with special needs; I even taught English. Each assignment was enriching and brought me even deeper into the Indian culture and all of its complexities. I learned about gender roles, and about how religion and culture in Dharamsala are nearly one in the same.
During my time volunteering in India with CCS, I made so many friends whom I now consider family and have countless memories that I will forever keep close to my heart. Here are just a few of my favorite moments.
When I volunteered with children with disabilities, we spent part of the day playing cricket—India's national pastime. I found myself in awe of how passionate and competitive the kids were. The kids were thrilled when all of the teachers and the volunteers joined in, and everyone had an amazing day.
There's nothing like a good ol' backyard tandoor oven! The food in India was prepared daily by the CCS cooks with ingredients bought fresh from the markets each morning. One of my favorite meals was when my fellow volunteers and I had the chance to help cook tandoori chicken and naan. We all went back for seconds, some of us thirds!
When you volunteer in India, you get to wear traditional Indian clothes to your volunteer assignment. It was quite the experience to visit the market and purchase a style of clothing that I had never worn before, and it absolutely made me feel like a member of the community. It was a great way to start my volunteer experience, and now I have 3 outfits to wear on my future travels to India!
The Harmandir Sahib, informally known as the Golden Temple, is one of the holiest shrines in the the Sikh religion, and just a 5 hour drive from the CCS Home-Base in Dharamsala. And it was an experience like nothing else I've ever encountered. As I walked in, I saw spiritual pilgrims bathing in the holy water and praying. It's often considered heaven on earth by the Sikhs and for a moment, I felt as though I too was in a different world.
Last but certainly not least, my trip to the Taj Mahal. As you walk through the gateway, you're immediately struck by the Taj's symbolism, the architecture, and the sheer enormity of the palace. I spent a day exploring the beautiful structure, and I remember very clearly that as I left, I looked back over my shoulder. I wanted to see it just one last time. The rush of emotion that overtook me during that final moment overwhelmed me, and it's a feeling I'll never forget.
As you can see, my volunteer experience in India was nothing short of incredible. My time volunteering in India with Cross-Cultural Solutions challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, and the people that I met along the way encouraged me to live a more fulfilling life.