Through the looking glass
People are often set in their ways. A visit to a completely different culture, with a contrasting culture, is often the best way to shatter their preconceived notions and challenge their collective mindset about a place and its people. With this aim in mind we hosted a group of intrepid people from Australia, on a journey, that according to them has opened their eyes to the world and made them sensitive to the issues the people less fortunate than them face.
On arrival our happy bunch of Aussies, were taken to their guest house. According to many of them, Mumbai’s traffic was a surreal experience that most of them had not counted on! At the guest house after they had taken some time to unwind, they were given an orientation about their itinerary and the organisations they were going to visit, volunteer and work at.
Their student’s first exposure to volunteer work was through an NGO called Magic Bus. Zeeshan and Arun took them through the journey of Magic Bus as they got familiar with the surroundings of the Malavli guest house. They did not interact with any kids, but saw some videos of children speaking about their lives and the positive impact Magic Bus had on their self-efficacy. The work the foundation does with less fortunate kids through the play and learn methodology, seemed to really resonate with our volunteers, and they really came into their own interacting and playing with the kids at the foundation.
Our group’s first tryst with rural life came the next day with a visit to the Sadhana Foundation at Dehu Road. Many of our volunteers were amazed at the economic disparity between the rich and poor, on display. Sadhana’s founder Savita Jadhav’s tireless work in promoting social equity was well appreciated and served as an inspiration to our guests, many of whom said they’d like to return and help in her crusade.
The following day’s visit to the Equal Community Foundation, Pune, brought to life the struggle Indian women have to face on a daily basis. The sensitivity training this foundation uses to teach men about gender equality, came as both a shock and pleasant surprise to many in our group. After all they said that equality as such was more of an assumed value from where they were.
The joy and surprise was palpable when our little group interacted with the founder of Chaitanya, Kalpana Pant. She held her audience in rapt attention as she very succinctly explained the work they have carried out as a community based microfinance entity. Some of our volunteers posed her questions about sustainability, economic viability and a few of Chaitanya’s success stories. This was followed by a quick visit to their information systems office where Kalpana quickly explained the workings of the NGO and introduced them to the monitoring and evaluation tools the foundation used.
Perhaps the most touching experience for most of our guests was the visit to Kayakalpa, an NGO that works with sex workers. While most of our intrepid bunch took the visit in their stride, it was quite an experience to a few others. Listening to and interacting with Kayakalpa’s volunteers though was a learning experience most of them found very enriching.
A little shocked, a little more determined, our group has experienced a side of India that they hadn’t bargained for. But there was a consensus among them, that they all returned, a little wiser, a lot more appreciative of what they had and committed to returning one day to make a contribution here, or start something back home to benefit their fellow man.