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Saturday 22nd December 2007: Two very different volunteering stories - India and Ecuador

Rachael Cossar volunteered through i-to-i at a community work project in Calcutta. India is one of i-to-i’s most popular destination for volunteers, with many being attracted by it’s quite unique and fascinating culture with the chance to help out those who find themselves in a desperate situation. Rachael’s emails to home give a great insight into daily life in Calcutta, and what’s it like to volunteer through i-to-i!

31 August 2007

“True to earlier form, and to trot out a cliché early, India has again assaulted all my senses. It's an insane, frantic and exhausting place, but also extremely stimulating and very rewarding.

Calcutta, to be frank, is shabby. It's a heaving place, straining under an INTENSE humidity that appears to have stood still since Independence, at least in regards to appearances. If you use your imagination, you can see glimpses of beauty in the old buildings, but most are so thoroughly run down and battered by the weather that this is a difficult task. Together with the crowding, poverty, ludicrous transport and infrastructure issues, plus the thousands of dogs (who simply couldn't be bothered to bite anyone, but are certainly not adverse to a scrap outside my window in the very early hours of the morning), Calcutta is a confronting city.

The Mission I am working at is, amongst all this madness, an amazing oasis. For a place where women and girls come because they have been living on the streets, are domestic violence victims, or are orphans, it is probably the most consistently positive place I've ever worked and the women truly are inspirational. We start every morning with yoga, followed by prayers and singing, before the work kicks off in the various teams - tailoring, silk screen printing, canteen, jam making, etc. A few of the women speak quite good English, but most have very little; one girl's vocab is limited to 'SISTER!', which she consistently calls out to me with no ambition to take it any further, whilst others are persistent in their endeavours to practice - 'sit, sit, speaking English!'

When I'm not helping out the various work teams, I'm actually formally teaching English, an assignment that is hard (and not just because we do everything sitting on the floor), challenging, hilarious and very entertaining (my broad Australian accent - yes, yes - is proving problematic...). It is also extremely rewarding. I was probably disproportionately pumped when one of the girls understood tenses; ecstatic when I overheard one of them say 'thanks very much', rather than 'very, very thanks' and delighted when I heard one of the girls asking a customer 'would you like any help?'

Next week, I have been asked to do a presentation to the senior team on business management and marketing. They want to know how to think like a business, rather than just as an NGO. It'll be a no PowerPoint, on the floor affair with a translator, which will be more humbling for me than them. I'd suggest that it's us 'corporates' that could learn more from them rather than vice versa.”

18 September 2007

“Well, my stint in Calcutta wrapped on Saturday, and I'm now down in Goa, doing the poolside, massages, beach walks and long lunches (at a table, on a chair) gig. And it ain't half bad...

My last two weeks at Ankur Kala were both intense and amazing, to the point of me being quite emotional when I left the Mission on Friday night. For the past fortnight, I continued to teach English, whilst also helping out at various exhibitions, plus presenting, and then facilitating, new business and marketing opportunities with the management team.

Leaving on Friday was sad, but not a departure made with any regret. I leave completely assured that I am 'part of the family and not a volunteer anymore' and with a new name - Rachael-di, meaning 'older sister' - that only became part of my vernacular about two weeks ago.”

In contrast, Meghan Taylor volunteered with Global Vision International’s ‘Volunteer Work with Children in Ecuador Project’ this year.

“I originally planned to volunteer in Ecuador for only six weeks during the summer after I graduated from university. But after my first four weeks in Otavalo, working with children who had hearts so full of love for everyone they met and living with a host family that made me feel like one of their own, I decided I had no other option but to extend my stay for an extra two weeks. Never did I imagine the affect that volunteering would have on me - the children became more than just students to me, they were like family.

They taught me more than I think I taught them - about Ecuador, about being grateful for the blessings you have, about enjoying and exploring nature, and about myself. I will always remember the way the children touched my heart, and the impact of volunteering a

broad will stay with me forever. I eagerly look forward to my return visit to Otavalo and the indigenous community where I taught because these places and the people in them have become a part of who I am”


Aussie Escape is very proud to support both of these volunteer organisations. i-to-i works with over 500 volunteer projects across 34 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. To join the thousands of people that volunteer overseas each year through i-to-i, click here.

Global Vision International specialises in volunteer experiences all over the world and will ensure your travelling experience makes a difference, and there are several other testimonials from GVI Volunteers in our archives. Please use the search facility in the top right hand corner of the page to find more or just click on the logo below to go to their website.

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