VOLUNTEER REPORT - Rachel Wolfe
Shanti Bhavan has been a wonderful experience. From the start, I have been treated with the utmost consideration and attention. When Jean and I arrived in Bangalore , there was no one at the airport to meet us and I began to worry. Finally, a man approached us asking, “Rachel? Jean? I am Mr. Jude” After confirming that we were in fact the new volunteers, we got into the car to head out to Shanti Bhavan. It was only after a little while that I realized that this was not a driver or even a teacher, but the CEO of the George foundation. Apparently there had been a vehicle breakdown and Mr. Jude had been called at 5 in the morning to pick us up. He was nothing short of amazing.
Upon arriving, Mrs. Shanti (the facilities manger) showed us our accommodations, which far exceeded my expectations. It was large sized triple room with desk and wardrobe as well as our own bathroom (complete with western toilet and shower). The campus was equally as amazing: tree-lined drive, well manicured shrubbery and flowers that fit the curves and bends of the land, and brick paths leading to every area of campus. After arriving, they allowed us to rest and get over jet lag and were very accommodating with the food. As a girl who cannot handle spice, I was a little worried about what I would eat here; however, the food was not a problem. There were spicy dishes, but there was typically a non-spicy option. And had we wished, Mrs. Shanti would have been more than happy to give us peanut butter sandwiches or whatever we had needed. In fact, Mrs. Shanti supplied us with fresh fruit (mangos, figs, etc) and had the cooking staff prepare an egg for us each morning. I would still bring some power-bars and/or a jar of peanut butter: something for protein because the meals are vegetable and carbohydrate heavy.
Mrs. Law worked very hard to develop a schedule for me that included all the elements that I wished to do while here. I taught chemistry, singing, piano and dance. The teaching staff here is wonderful and they can adequately provide the proper academic education without the help of volunteers; however, in the English classes and all the arts and extracurricular activities, the volunteers can really useful. The teachers are also one of the highlights of this foundation. They were very welcoming and willing to help whether it was being our tour guide when we went into the city, explaining customs or foods to us, or taking time to teach us how to tie a sari. I could not have asked for better companionship while here.
Although the teachers are great, the kids are the real joy on campus. They are eager, adventuresome and above all want to learn and succeed (something that you do not see as often in American classrooms). The students listen to what you say and learn well what you choose to teach them. The piano students are amazing; they incorporate every correction and idea that you give them almost flawlessly by the next lesson. Sometimes the children can be a bit overwhelming because they are so excited about you and what you are teaching them, but it not really even a problem.
The only caveat I have is that you should not come expecting to be busy from dawn till dusk. They schedule a lot of free-time and rest-time for the volunteers which is a mixed blessing. However, you can find things to do to help fill in that free time such as reading in the library with the kids or my personal favorite of reading bedtime stories to different grades at night. Jean and I read the book Matilda to the third grade, which I think was both of our favorite experience.
If you are use to physical activity, I suggest bring sneakers and appropriate clothes. I played soccer in the morning with the older grades and then was able to run laps around the field. Granted that laps are monotonous, I was glad that I had packed running shoes and clothes. In terms of clothes in general, I would pack things that you do not mind getting stained and not well washed. Although the school washes your clothes for you daily, the clothes just do not get machine-washed clean (that is not to say that the washing they do is futile, you can tell the clothes have been washed). As long as you cover your shoulders and knees, anything is fine. It is not as hot as you would expect for India , so I would be sure to bring at least one long sleeve shirt (especially for walking around at night with the mosquitoes).
Overall, my experience has been positive. The principal, Mrs. Law, is a true gem and it is an honor to work with her. The teaching staff is inclusive and friendly, and the children are of course wonderful. Although Shanti Bhavan is in a remote area, I had little trouble communicating with my family and friends. The staff will help you procure a phone card to call home (don't bring one from the states, it probably won't work) and the connection is not great, but very usable. I was able to check my email each Sunday and communicate that way as well.
As a pre-med student, I had come planning to spend most of my time at the Medical clinic (Baldev) but found that working on the campus with the children was far more rewarding and fun. I cannot say that I did not enjoy the times that I was allowed to go to the clinic and villages, but they are nothing in comparison to the time I got to spend teaching and playing with the children. You cannot help but realize, the more time you spend here, just how incredible this school and Dr. George's vision is. It's been a blessing to teach and to learn here at Shanti Bhavan.
14th July, 2005