Setting off for Delhi in the early hours of a dark February morning we were full of enthusiasm and to do lists! Claire, Project Manager on the Volunteer Programme 2014, was busy arranging this year’s placements from Ireland and had scheduled meetings with each of our 7 partners during our time in India.
Arriving in Delhi we began our visits to our Delhi Partners Sakshi, Shine, Om Foundation and Pratham who will all welcome Suas volunteers over the Summer months. Each and every day of our first week in India we had the chance to witness the fantastic work of these organisations in some of the most impoverished urban slums of India. Our daily site visits gave us an insight hard to capture in a report or picture, experiencing the environment and seeing the children so happy to be in school and learning, no matter their circumstances. It was humbling to know that Suas and our volunteers are part of making that happen.
Following our week in Delhi the next stop was Kolkata. Another week of project visits, firstly to our partner Vikramshila followed by a visit to long standing partners of Suas, Development Action Society (DAS) and Sabuj Sangha. As well as providing 40 Suas volunteers each year to these two organisations; with thanks to our generous supporters here in Ireland, we also provide annual funding to deliver their education programmes.
Suas and Kolkata go way back to 2002 when the very first Volunteer Programme took place – and you can tell. From the moment we met our partners it was plain to see the appreciation and respect they have for Suas and what we are achieving together. Suas permeates through the organisations, from the Irish blessing hanging in the entrance hall of DAS to the Suas name proudly painted on walls of the schools we are funding. We were astonished to realise just how many names and faces from past programmes the staff and children remembered, evidence of the true impact all of our volunteers have had on our partners and ultimately on the children we serve.
It really struck us on our last day in Kolkata just what this impact meant. Having stayed overnight at the Sabuj Sangha School in the Sundarbans, we waited on the steps for our lift back to Kolkata. Through the gates came a little girl on her bicycle, she was maybe 9 or 10 years old and on her way to the coaching centre having come from school that morning. The minute she spotted us she was over and chatting away in fantastic English for her young age. She was full of questions and full of confidence in communicating with us. A bright and bubbly child, we complimented her on her English and she smiled and said thank you and continued taking pictures of us with our cameras she had become fascinated by. Later that evening we told Ansuman (Director of Sabuj Sangha) the story while showing him a picture of the little girl. We remarked on how good a level of English she had. Ansuman, with a big smile on his face and matching pride remarked “that’s down to the Suas Volunteers; you see she is in Class IV and has now had the volunteers for 3 summers, that’s the difference it makes”. And he was right, not only being taught to speak English but having the confidence to speak the language conversationally meant so much and the opportunities and possibilities that confidence will bring to her are endless.
Saying goodbye, as everyone knows, is always the hardest part but getting on the plane to return home we did so with a new perspective, renewed energy for our work and complete assurance of the difference Suas is making to children’s lives in India.