Thursday, 18 December 2014

How I Spent My Summer In India

This past summer was the best summer of my life without a doubt. In August, for just over 3 weeks, I flew to India where I volunteered in schools working with some of the kindest and most gracious children I've ever met: it is true that those who have the least give the most. I learnt so much about myself over the summer. I learnt that sometimes giving truely is better than receiving and to appreciate everything I have- even a toilet.

I went with girlguiding (or Girl Scouts if you're in America) and a group of 10 girls aged 16-18 and 3 leaders. All of us were chosen to go to represent our region at an international girl guiding event after we went through a selection process in our counties and then regions (just to see what we were like as people etc). After the event we spent our time volunteering and doing a little sightseeing of beautiful India. 

India was truly an amazing place. I love the people and the culture and the busyness. I've picked a selection of my favourite photos of my trip; I loved every second I spent there and I've got some serious holiday blues looking back at these pictures now, I could 100% go back there now. 

We flew a 10 hour flight and then 4 hours on a bus to where we were staying. But it was worth the wait. The first couple of days we spent getting used to India- there's so much of it to take in. I started off wearing my hair down but after a few trips out I couldn't handle it. People already were staring at us because we were foreigners but I got a lot of attention being ginger- like a lot, a lot. It wasn't bad attention- people were often just curious- but being a group of girls wandering around a new place, it wasn't the safest thing. But as a plus putting my hair up did safe me a lot of time on a morning.

After adapting to the culture shock we were assigned to a community project that we'd be working on for a while. I worked in a local girls secondary school and taught social sciences and English to 11 and 12 year olds, it was weird teaching others considering I'm only 16 and being taught myself, but I loved it! The girls were all so excited to see us and I genuinely got so excited to go and see them each day.

The girls were allowed to wear their primary school uniforms if they couldn't afford the secondary school uniform, that's why you see such a mix of uniforms in the photos. I probably only saw a handful of girls wearing the actual uniform while I was there. Despite the poverty, the girls came for more than to just get a free meal everyday (which is for many the only meal they get) they came to learn. They were so willing to learn because they knew it was the only way to succeed, it was a refreshing attitude.

This is the type of homes the girls came from everyday to go to school. However none of the girls wanted pity or sympathy, they wanted to know about us and our lives back home. I told them about my school and my friends and so much more. They asked me if I was engaged. They seemed to think that being 16 and engaged was the norm, many were even surprised I wasn't married already. When I told them I planned to go to university first and get a job before getting married they seemed a little inspired if I dare to say. I'd like to think whilst I was there I inspired some of the girls to aspire to more than accepting to be married off so young (some as young as 12) and to show them that they can control their lives.

Although we were pretty much working 9-4 at our community projects (and sometimes longer) we still had our nights off. A lot of the time we spent learning about the Indian culture or even watching films and swimming. One night we had a contest where we spilt into teams and fought for points in silly games, like trying not to step on obstacles on an obstacle course whilst blindfolded. After hard and sometimes emotionally draining days working in the schools, it was a bit of light hearted fun which I loved. My team went as the super swimmers by the way, hence the swimming costumes over clothes and the rubber ring etc. Also we did not win, but hey it's the taking part that counts!

After spending a week or so in Pune we moved onto Leh which is up in the Himalayas. It's that high up that the oxygen is so much thinner that we needed a day to acclimatise to the conditions. I wasn't too bad with the reduced oxygen but a lot of my group felt a little dizzy or light headed. Anyway it was a day of rest where we got to admire the beautiful views that Leh offers, it was a walkers paradise in Leh, so many treks through the beautiful landscape that I'd have loved to have tried.

Leh also offered a lot of culture and on the days that we weren't working in schools we got the opportunity to have a look at it. We visited a bunch of beautiful Buddhist temples and got to see monks praying and performing ceremonies right in front of us. We also saw prayer flags and prayer wheels which offer good health and prosperity to all that use them. I picked myself up a few prayer flags to take home hoping I could find some good luck for myself (no luck yet unfortunately I'll let you know how I get on).

We visited the Taj Mahal which was so beautiful that I could have spent all day looking at it. Whilst we were there we got photographed a lot by Indians who were visiting the Taj. It was hilarious to watch because they didn't ask to take pictures the just kind of stood in front of us, asked there friend to take a photo and then rotated till they had all had a photo with us. I got so used to being stared at and looked at that by the time I came home I was kind of sad not to have my photograph taken as I left the airport- my brief moment of stardom was over.

Even though a lot of my group didn't know each other very well before we went on the trip, we ended as really close friends. We'd experienced so much together that we couldn't not be so close. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better group of girls to travel around the world with, and our little mascot Perry the Peacock was great too (he stars in the photo below), he was on all of our uniform and we took him everywhere, the kids loved seeing him too, I guess soft toys aren't the biggest priority when you are scraping together enough food to feed the family.

India was an absolutely life changing experience and I wish everyday that I could go again.

It was 100% the best trip I've ever been on.

What's the best trip you've been on? 

Thanks for reading lovelies, 

Elish xo