My name is Meg Kent-Spark and I was lucky enough to lead an amazing team to Palampur in Northern India over November/December 2017.
We were participating in the ‘Himalaya Challenge’, which meant that before we did our volunteering time in the community, my fantastic team of 8 and I were thrown into a 5-day trek through the Himalayas. This was such a great way to start our 3-week trip as it was an excellent way for us to bond as a group. We got to know each other during 6km uphill climbs, trekking through snow, attempting to sleep in -4-degree nights in our tents and eating endless amounts of dhal. Soon we were in each other’s pockets and we knew this was going to be a trip of a life time!
Despite listening to the same music playlist on repeat all day, every day, our spirits were high whether it was dead silent, or we were all chatting excitedly about every topic under the sun. The trek, led by our brilliant guide, came to a close when we all signed up to paraglide an 800m decent from Bir down to the town of Billing. Needless to say, this was both an exhilarating and nerve-racking way to end our gruelling 5 days in the Himalayas!
Tired, smelly and nervous for the next stage in India, we headed back to our accommodation in Pamaplur, quickly did our washing and left it to hang on the balcony in the sun, and then we all hopped in taxis and embarked on a 40-minute drive to McLeod Ganj, a town within Dharamshala. Here we explored the markets for hours, walking up and down the streets looking at every stall on offer, bartering with the locals and taking in the unique culture of this breathtaking town. Every corner we turned there were both male and female Tibetan monks who were often going to or coming from the beautiful Dalai Lama Temple.
As quickly as the weekend started, it was over and Sunday night came round. We gathered and had a little talk about how we were all feeling; excited and equally nervous were the main answers. The next morning we were all buzzing with excitement, bag packed and lunch boxes in hand on what felt like our own first day of school! When we arrived the entire school was waiting. Lined in perfect rows, the students welcomed us and just like that we were ushered into our own row and were encouraged to join in with the daily morning assembly. The students and teachers included us each morning for the next 2 weeks, getting us to come up to the front and ask students questions. Each day we would relate it back to what we had been working on in our classes. Whether it be chanting ‘Aussi, aussi, aussi’ with their chirpy reply of ‘oi, oi, oi’, asking them what Australian animal hops around on 2 legs, or which country was better at cricket; Australia or India, we were astounded by their enthusiasm, day in day out.
After the first week of volunteering it was really special to see how the children became more relaxed as each day progressed. The students, no matter the year level were all motivated beyond belief. Copying down everything we wrote on the chalk board, and I mean everything – you could really tell how big it was that we were teaching in their school. As the first Challenges Abroad volunteer group to be at Green View School, neither we not the school knew what to expect, but both of us were really happy with the special outcome. Not only was it rewarding creating relationships with the students, but also with the teachers. It was insightful to hear about their different teaching areas, their families and where they lived, and they were eager to hear all about life in Australia.
The people that I shared this experience with definitely make it one to remember. We had an array of skills, and each member brought a different experience for each student. We had our footy master Steph, who taught the kids AFL skills, which they took to very quickly. Mitch, our parachute expert, Joy, who let’s face it was every student’s favourite (sorry guys, but I’m sure you’ll agree) as she somehow at the end of the day either on our way home or at our nightly team debriefs would present some sort of gift a student had given her. Rebecca, who was amazing to watch in the classroom and was almost daily mistaken for Joy – which sometimes worked in her favour! Nikeisha, whose patience and motivation with the students was admirable. Morgan, who was really dedicated to make sure all the kids were engaging in the classes and benefiting in some way. And finally, Sophie, who fresh out of year 12 dove head first into a challenge that she truly flourished in. This group took volunteering to the next level and I have made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.
Whether it be going to a local wedding during our lunch break, eating samosas with the teachers or playing in the yard with the kids throughout the day, volunteering at Green View School brought was its own unique experience – one I will forever remember and be grateful for.