VOLUNTEER REPORT - Montserrat Casas
My flight landed at Bangalore airport very early in the morning of November 4 th 2004, and I was very excited and a little nervous for the new experience I was about to start. But there was no reason at all for any stress: from the moment I met the car driver that The George Foundation had sent for me until the end, everything ran as smoothly as I could hardly imagine. The George Foundation is an extremely professionally run NGO and all projects that I had the chance to see are not only managed in an efficient way but also planned and designed with a high sense of esthetics and beauty.
When I arrived at Shanti Bhavan I understood that I was very lucky to have been accepted by Mrs Law as a volunteer.
Shanti Bhavan is a gorgeous place with gardens, flowers, birds, and nice and very well kept buildings in a spectacular surrounding of banana plantations, a lake and Indian natural surroundings. My room was in a nice building and was comfortable, bright and very clean. From my windows I could either see the palm tree garden on the side or the Tillany Museum (like a proud and lonely ship, I always thought) on the horizon.
I enjoyed also the food very much. Indian food is lovely and very tasty and the additional advantage at Shanti Bhavan is that it is not too spicy, safe for a Western stomach and very healthy. Only breakfasts are very different to my usual coffee and croissant, but I got used to them very soon, so I still have the full pack of biscuits that I got in Bangalore intended to be my breakfast. It is admirable how Mrs Shanti and her team are able to serve 5 excellent meals a day to so many people.
I found all staff at Shanti Bhavan very helpful and kind to me all the time. Sometimes it was almost embarrassing because I only had to express a wish and shortly after, somehow, someone had organized to fulfill it. They were all fantastic.
Teachers are very professional and lovely to the children, and they make huge efforts to make learning enjoyable to them. The high level education with relatively limited resources that are given, is very demanding and costs a lot of energy to teachers. In fact, at the end of the term you could see from the teachers’ faces that they were exhausted and that their annual leave was really well deserved. I had the feeling that an improvement of the outside communication (more and better telephones, Internet access) may be helpful to the staff.
Although both staff and teachers do their best to educate the children, and they give them a lot, in some cases, specially the staff, have a way of treating children that could look not adequate or even rude to someone who comes from a different culture like me.
I am not sure if I can add anything new to what has been said already about the fantastic children of Shanti Bhavan: the are lovely, very lively, very keen to learn, respectful, disciplined, enjoy all that they do and they are healthy, both physically and mentally. I enjoyed much teaching them and their company otherwise, whether it was a picnic day or playing soccer.
At the beginning of my time at Shanti Bhavan, some reflections about all funds and resources being invested in the children went through my mind. I was thinking how many families and children of the very poor neighborhood could be helped with the same amount of money. But then I was fortunate enough to find in the school library the last book of Dr. George “India Untouched”. It helped me to understand the Foundation’s projects and the ideas and principles behind it. I was fascinated and deeply touched by his clear statements on human rights, democracy and against corruption, and I also learned a lot about India. Reading Dr. George’s book was very inspiring and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is working on international aid to development. Actually, I plan to take several copies with me for my Spanish friends.
From my experience so far, I find Indian people very gentle, warm and with a very special way of showing hospitality. Also, I have to admit that I have a weakness for the Indian way of saying yes. It is a very sweet movement of the head to the right and left side, that in Europe could be understood as “maybe” or “no”. This “yes-movement” is especially sweet if done by children, so at the beginning I sometimes asked the children at dinnertime if they were enjoying the food…just for the pleasure of seeing all children around the table saying yes at once.
I can definitely say that my 6 weeks in Shanti Bhavan were a fantastic experience that I hope I can repeat it sometime.
I would like to thank all staff, and specially Mrs. Law, Ms Beena and Mrs Shanti for their continuous help.
To the children I wish that they really do the best out of this privileged education.
This report was written by our first volunteer from Spain, Ms. Montserat Casas. Montserrat brought her special brand of Barcelona sunshine to our children. We are grateful for her music.