My teenage niece texted me, saying she’s off to do some volunteer work in India. “How do I make it amazing as it could be?” she asked me, knowing that I lived in Africa for three years and have traveled a fair bit.
First, read books like India Travel Survival Guide For Women by Shalu Sharma; learn all you can about this amazing country. This book stems out of her experiences of travelling in India and around the world. She portrays true pictures of the realities and issues facing women who travel – and doing volunteer work at an orphanage in India counts as travel! Shalu also wrote Essential India Travel Guide: Travel Tips And Practical Information.
I’ve written a few articles about living and working overseas, such as Moving to Africa? 10 Things You Need to Know. Even though you’re not moving to India, you should read as much as you can about living overseas. Doing volunteer work is very similar to having an actual job, and requires almost as much preparation.
What advice have you already received about volunteering at an orphanage in India? Please do tell – I welcome your big and little thoughts in the comments section below.
How to Make It Amazing – Volunteer Work in India
Here’s my niece’s text: “Good morning auntie! I’m not sure if you’ve been on Facebook lately but I just wanted to let you know that I got accepted into a volunteer program at an orphanage in India for 16 weeks! I’m starting next December 🙂 I know you spent some time traveling and I’m just wondering if you have any tips to make it as amazing as it could be?”
The number one tip on how to make it amazing is to be as open-minded and open-hearted as you can be. Pack your expectations in your Nike shoebox and leave them at the back of your closet at home. Go, do your volunteer work in India with the eyes of a child and the heart of a lion.
Prepare for a whole different world
You will be immersed in a world that is completely and totally foreign – but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, wrong, or scary. It’s just different.
The smells, sights, sounds, habits, clothes, foods, language, culture, and customs will be totally different than anything you’ve ever experienced.
I lived in Kenya, East Africa for three years…and I was scared most of the time. I taught at an American school for missionaries’ and ex-pats’ kids, and lived on a huge compound on the outskirts of Nairobi. I never felt totally comfortable there – because I wouldn’t let myself relax. I didn’t know how to make it amazing! I wasn’t prepared for the depth of life in Kenya.
Get emotionally and spiritually healthy
The hardest part of living in Africa was the apparent randomness of God. Why was I born white and privileged in Canada? There are millions of people living without clean water, food, health care, or opportunities to choose to be whatever they want to be in life. I was shocked and confused, and I couldn’t understand how God decides who gets to live where.
I still don’t understand how God decides stuff, but I’m more grounded now. If I’m ever blessed with the opportunity to do volunteer work in India, I will ensure that I’m walking hand-in-hand with God. This means trusting that He knows what He is doing and accepting His will not only for my life, but for the life of the people I’m working with.
If you get homesick – and you will – read 8 Tips for Overcoming Homesickness for Women Traveling Alone.
Expect to see kids in pain, yet at peace
Doing volunteer work in India – especially with children in an orphanage – may make you sad. Your heart may break for the kids you’re spending time with, especially if they’re obviously sick, malnourished, or physically disabled.
I did some volunteer work at orphanages in Africa, and my heart broke for the kids. Their faces were often dirty and crusted with stuff, their eyes runny, their clothes shabby, their bodies skinny. But oh, the joy on their faces when we came to visit! They were so happy to see us, and didn’t care what activity we did together. All they wanted was attention, love, kindness, compassion. Hugs.
The orphanage will give you ideas and guidance about what activities to do with the kids. Ask if you’re permitted to bring books, toys, or craft items with you. Bring things that you and the kids can work on together.
Learn how to make it amazing for them
Writing these tips for doing volunteer work in India made me realize that I was more focused on me than them when I was in Africa. I didn’t consider the impact I was making; I just thought about me me me me me.
To truly make it make this volunteer experience amazing for you, focus on making it amazing for the kids in the orphanage. Put aside your fears, queasiness, concerns, judgements, and perspectives. Get out of yourself. Feel how you feel, think what you think – but then shake it off. Focus on the kid in front of you, and concentrate on making your time with them deep, rich, and special.
I’m going on a medical missions trip to Haiti next month, to volunteer at an orphanage for a week. After that, I’ll write another article on how to make it amazing when you do volunteer work overseas.
A question for you
What is one word that describes how you feel about doing volunteer work in India? Tell me below. You can write more than a word if you’d like. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
You may also be interested in reading Travel Tips for People Visiting Africa – From a Canadian Ex-Pat.
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