The question of what I should do before finishing my studies, of how to spend my last holidays contributing to something bigger was on my mind a lot during the last few months. I longed for an experience that would not only be meaningful for me, but that would allow me to make a difference on a larger scale, to do something that would help others.
I didn’t have to look for long before I found exactly the thing I wished for: the opportunity to participate in a Global Volunteer Project. Supported by PwC, I left for India to work on SDG number 4, trying to provide Quality Education to everyone. What I found was a reality very different than the one I had left behind, and a chance to experience a culture that would leave a permanent mark on me, just as I hope I was able to leave there.
Arriving in India felt surreal. I wasn’t sure I was ready for what I had just taken on, but in order to make the most of my experience, I decided right from the beginning that I’ll do my very best to embrace the local culture and to understand all the different customs I was exposed to.
The place that allowed me to get an insight into Indian reality was the Mother Divine Public School, my place of work. The institute housed more than 5000 students from medium and low income families, ranging from 5 to 18 year-olds. My main activity during the time I spent there was teaching classes like reading and writing or maths and economics, as well as delivering workshops on the topic of SDG 4.
The purpose wasn’t to just transmit knowledge, but also to develop understanding about why education matters, to instill into their minds that being educated could allow them to accomplish anything and to go on to achieve amazing things. We created a schedule that was adapted every week in order to best meet the needs of the school.
Every single day, we proposed a different teaching method and introduced our students to various activities, in order to transform the traditional teaching system into a more interactive and participative way of delivering lessons.
Not wanting to stop at teaching, I decided to take on other activities that, in the long run, could contribute to making the school a better educational institution. I observed classes and tried to advise teachers on how they could make their lessons more interactive. With the support of the principal, we managed to develop additional projects, like creating workshops about environmental protection and educating students about reducing the quantity of trash around the school area.
Day by day, I made it my goal to make sure the place would be a better place once I left and that the reality of the children would be positively impacted by my efforts. It wasn’t just about doing things differently during the six weeks I was there, but about creating something that would have a bigger impact, that would go on to touch many other lives.
For many of my students, school was the place where they were first introduced to the English language, which meant that the first years of the study would come with many ups and downs, as they tried to make sense of a tongue very different from their own. Handling different young people with different skills and knowledge meant learning to adapt, to respect and to understand everyone’s experience in order to offer them the best possible education.
With most groups consisting of about 60 children, the responsibility to make class not only enjoyable, but also useful and enriching for every single one of them could feel scary at times. In working with the teachers, we focused on how to best use the time, skills and resources we had available in order to develop plans that would change something in how the school prepared children for the future.
It took time, it took teamwork, and most of all, it took unflinching dedication, to be able to do everything we managed to. We talk a lot about what it means to be a leader, but when you actually start incorporating your values in all that you do and decide to take action, your perspective shifts completely.
Being put in a position that allowed me to better a system and, at the end of the day, to change thousands of lives, offered me a different understanding of what it’s like to empower others, to take responsibility and actually work towards making the world a better place.
Going through an exchange experience in India made me grow more than I ever thought I would. The people I met, like the locals that made the place feel like home and the amazing volunteers I spent time with, taught me more than I could ever hope to know about diversity and connection. I learned about happiness, about having little but sharing everything you can, about being kind and honest and welcoming, no matter the hardships you might face in your day-to-day life.
I found out what kind of impact leadership can make and what reality can look like when different kinds of people with different beliefs, backgrounds and worldviews live together in peace. Most importantly, I understood that, at the end of the day, it’s always up to you how you choose to live and what you want to leave behind.
It’s hard to put into words, just what it means to be a Global Volunteer, what you find out about the world, about yourself and others. Looking back, I can only hope that I’ve managed to impact that little, beautiful corner of the world as much as it has impacted me.1