Last September, a friend and I did the popular Triund trek together. He’d just quit his job in an ad agency, hopefully to join one of the funkier startups in Bangalore. On his way he planned to volunteer in Jharkhand with another friend, and before that he met me. I next heard from him in December, full of complaints about body aches and ‘too much work’. He kind of cursed me, in no uncertain terms, for being one of the culprits to coax him into ‘saving the world’.
Let’s face it. Volunteering isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But here I speak from my modest experience at volunteering short terms but on fairly regular basis – it all depends on the kind of volunteering work you’re signing up for. Don’t just plunge, take stock of your skills and interests first. Below are some opportunities that provide an idea of how diverse things can get.
Share creativity in Rajasthan
Ladli is one of the better known NGOs around, working with abused, orphaned and destitute children in Jaipur since 2005. You are encouraged to teach art and craft, dance and design in their schools, usually on a 5-day working week schedule. They will help you find accommodation but you pay for it.
Teach in Kashmir
It is all too easy to land up at a school in Ladakh and begin teaching in a place where you can find a caramel cheesecake after classes. Things are harder in the neighbouring valley. Haji Public School in Breswana village of J&K’s Doda district has become well-known because of its Director Sabbah Haji, who is a local legend and a regular TED speaker. She’s a charming lady with much to share. Volunteering here involves teaching primary school children and includes food and board.
Take care in Bihar
The Root Institute for Wisdom Culture in Bodhgaya is a Buddhist centre that runs community health projects and spiritual programs in rural Bihar, and where they invite you to help with either, depending on your skills. Their minimum commitment requirement is 3 months, during which you’ll be put up in a peaceful accommodation and get great veg food.
Go organic farming in Assam
Those of you interested in organic farming and keen on helping in a place that is less exotic but more in need of help, try Fertile Ground. It sees a huge number of foreign volunteers and the program has been running since 2003, helping, training and empowering small farmers and growers to switch to sustainable practises. Minimum commitment is 1 month.
Save a bird in Maharashtra
National parks in India don’t have such well-organised volunteer programs as their US counterparts, you need to really be up to date to be aware of one-off opportunities. Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra is a blessing in the Konkan region, not only for the endangered local fauna but also for wildlife enthusiasts keen on actually playing a part in saving a marine turtle or a vulture on field. In a well-organised, accessible way.
Run a zoo in Tamil Nadu
Ever fancied working at a zoo? Madras Crocodile Bank Trust & Centre for Herpetology lets you do exactly that, provided you display some respect and commitment towards the conservation of reptiles. The work is very interesting, as you not only learn how to be cool around what seem like dangerous creatures to the rest of the world, but also get to interact with and learn from biologists and researchers, and access the country’s largest reptile library. Food, accommodation plus a whole lot of knowledge included.
Teach dance in Kolkata
Founded by a sociologist and dance activist, Kolkata Sanved is a unique NGO that provides dance therapy and teaches dance to victims of trafficking and violence in not only Kolkata, but also Bangladesh and Nepal. If you can dance, go here for an enriching experience.
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