Sitting here in the 40 degree heat with the sound of children’s laughter drifting towards me on the light breeze, Ireland really could not feel further away. The view from the balcony belongs in a Kipling story, the lush greens and the dense waters inviting awe. Inside, Team Sundarbans sit around the table drawing and laminating, exchanging anecdotes from their schools and revisiting old nursery rhymes long-since forgotten. A Muppets jigsaw lies unmade on the floor, Irish flags wave from the window. Markers litter the table and wet clothes of jewelled reds and emerald greens hang from every stationary post. The melodic tones of Don McClean provide the soundtrack in our room, struggling to compete with the tinny notes of the Hindi music snaking its way towards us from the nearby village.
Looking at the team sitting around the big table together, heads bowed and eyebrows furrowed in concentration, from my slightly removed position of the balcony I now know what it must be like to be a parent. The pride that swells within me when I see them interacting with the children in their schools and each other knocks the wind out of me at times. The worry about their health and their safety and their happiness has literally kept me up at night. More than once I have heard my mother’s voice escape my lips as I tell them to ‘eat up there now.’
Being a coordinator is a 24/7 job. There is no annual leave, no extended cigarette breaks, no Bank Holidays. The spectrum of the role takes in doctor, counsellor, body-guard, friend, mediator, teacher, parent, Good Cop and inevitably Bad Cop at times. Our job is quite simply to make sure that they can do their job to the best of their ability. Every day we wave them off to school, hoping that each child they meet that day will go home that little bit happier and will run back to school that little bit faster tomorrow. The volunteers are the ones who will light up the lives of these children, who will bring them the hope that for some has been so painfully absent and who will hopefully help them to dream as big as any child in the world can dream.
The coordinators are here to revel in the triumphs, comfort in the defeats and share the highs and lows that make the Volunteer Programme what it is. We were picked as leaders because of our experience and knowledge but sitting here in the middle of these eight extraordinary young people I feel quite sure that I will learn more than I will ever teach and receive more than I could ever possibly hope to give.
The journey that we are on together is sure to change each and every one of us in some way – however subtle it may be. At this moment the VP canvas is blank, waiting for each volunteer and coordinator to add their own little touch of colour. I for one can’t wait to see the vibrant tapestry that we create together.