I learned about Shanti Bhavan three years ago from previous volunteers, and even after our short conversation, I was hooked. I finally made arrangements to come on 28 September 2006. I am working on the second year of my master’s degree at the University of Montana and receiving credit for my volunteer service at Shanti Bhavan. I taught art, dance, and recreation classes. For my master’s project, I am filming a documentary about the school, highlighting four students’ lives.

I have had so much time to prepare for my time here, but feel humbled by how much Shanti Bhavan has taught me. I’ve written a short list for you that I hope can be helpful to you.

  1. Do not be quick to judge. Unless you and I are here day to day, hour to hour, year to year like these teachers and aunties and the whole staff, we’ll never know who they are and what amazing things they are doing. Also, there really are cultural differences.
    I am learning to understand an Indian way of communicating, working, and playing. You’ll see things you like, and things you don’t like. My respect for each of the teachers and staff at this school is beyond my capacity to describe.
  2. Read the other testimonials on this web site from the other volunteers. I read every one of them before I came, and their experience before mine was invaluable to learn from.
  3. Read Dr. George’s book. “ India Untouched”. Order it off the internet, or ask for it in the library and read it while you’re here.
    It is common sense to be able to know (as much as you can) the people you are serving, and where they have come from, and about the children’s families who you’ll only hear about. In addition, you’ll receive a million insights into Dr. George’s vision of his foundation, as well as the struggles and the victories along the way. I thought about that book every day I was here.
  4. Sit with the children at meals when you can. It’s a wonderful time to get to know them a few at a time outside of classes. When
    I first came I said to myself “Did I just drop into heaven?” I bet that happens a lot with volunteers, after seeing the children’s sweet faces and beholding their incredible obedience. The more I got to know each of them, I was more convinced that yes, there is a bit of heaven here! There are also people, adults and children alike, who have complex contemplations, worries, and delights. They have full lives of heartache and romance and tragedy and fears that a volunteer like me cannot simplify in a short three month stay. There are always two sides of the story. I realized that having spent all my time with the children, I failed to see where the aunties were coming from, their side of the story. I delight in the beauty of this family, in their strengths and frailties.
  5. If you are teaching something like art, bring some of your own supplies. They have some things, but I believe the lack of supplies was my biggest frustration. They would ADORE little canvases and acrylic paint, as well as clay modeling. They did those things once and asked and begged me to do it again with them.
  6. Enjoy your alone time! It was fantastic for me, as I was the only American volunteer my age here during my stay here. I loved it, and was able to work on several projects in my evenings.

I will remember that Shanti told me that now that I’ve been here, I am forever part of the Shanti Bhavan family. I feel honored to be a part of something of such a high caliber of standards. This is a quality foundation in every way, and I give my fullest recommendation for any volunteer to come and experience it for themselves.


Emily Potter
M.A. Intercultural Youth and Family Development
University of Montana

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