VOLUNTEER REPORT - Patrick William Fitzgibbon
My stay at Shanti Bhavan has been a wonderful and rewarding experience. The work that Dr. George is doing is nothing short of amazing. I feel very honored to play even a small role in the work of The George Foundation.
The best part of my time at Shanti Bhavan was getting to know the children. They are the most well behaved, clever, and curious children I have ever known. It is unbelievable to think of the types of living situations these children come from when you see how happy they all are at Shanti Bhavan. Of course they are not angels. They can be mischievous, moody, and even mean to each other at times, but in general I found them to be delightful. Without their parents being around I feel the teachers, house mothers and even volunteers to a degree, develop a special bond with the children and play a more important role in each others lives than would be at any other school. I actually grew much more attached to the children than I had planned on. When I saw how well they are doing and how nicely they are growing up, I wanted nothing more than to help out and push them along in whatever way I could. I will miss the children very much when I leave.
I came to Shanti Bhavan as a music volunteer. I also help out with games and sorting donated goods but my main responsibilities were teaching the piano students, singing classes and helping out with the choir, I also taught some students guitar and tabla. For a musician or music educator who wants to volunteer their talents, Shanti Bhavan is the place to be. There is currently no music teacher, so the music program is basically pushed forward by volunteers whenever they come along. However, music is still a daily part of life at Shanti Bhavan. When volunteers are not there the students still sing song all the time, there is still a choir, and the piano students still practice everyday. This is thanks to some very dedicated staff members who are not musicians but have an interest in music and can make sure the children continue practicing. Without a music teacher, any other school would have just let the music program die out. I am very thankful that Miss Ruth and Dawn are there to make sure this does not happen.
Every single student wants to learn music or at least has an interest; this makes the volunteer's job so much easier. In America I constantly deal with children who are forced to learn music. I spent very little energy motivating the children to practice, even the forth grade piano students have fairly good practice habits. I'm sure that when there is no volunteer they are not quite as enthusiastic about practicing which is expected with no music teacher, but everyone has done a good job of making the best out of the situation. I feel very lucky to have found Shanti Bhavan and was able to share what I know with the children.
As far as accommodations and food my stay was quite comfortable. I had my own room, which included a bathroom, toilet and shower. There is not much more I could ask for. The food, of course, was spicy for me at first, but I got used to it within a couple weeks. The meals were not always great, but I always had enough to eat, nothing to complain about. Also, on the farm, they grow the best bananas I have ever tasted. Another great thing about Shanti Bhavan is the campus itself. It is a beautiful place with many different types of trees and plants. After a trip to Bangalore or Hosur, you really appreciate the cleanliness of Shanti Bhavan. It is also a secure campus being completely gated and having security guards on duty around the clock.
Being a closed community, there are a number of conflicts and problems that arise, which I feel are unavoidable. All the staff members stay on campus at least five days a week, most of them far away from their families. With so many people living and working together, it is expected that there be some tension and occasional arguments. The administrators have become very good at dealing with these problems and there are plans to make the living conditions more comfortable for the staff. I think that the benefits the children receive from being raised and educated in a closed community are worth all the problems.
Another problem that Shanti Bhavan faces is that there are not enough male role models for the children. There are some new male teachers who are excellent role models but it is still a very small percentage. Also, I wish there was a music teacher, but it is so hard to find a musician willing to come and live outside the city. Volunteers can help with both these problems, but there is only so much we can do because our time is limited. I know the administrators are working on this, so in the mean time I will try to get more volunteers to come and help out in whatever way they can.
Volunteering for The George Foundation has been really good for me. It is inspiring to see Dr. George's vision coming to life, and even more so to be a part of it. I feel that in a small way I was able to make a difference and that gives me great pleasure. It has been a great part of my life and after some time I plan on paying another visit to Shanti Bhavan.
Patrick William Fitzgibbon,
31 August 2005