“Thank you for everything you have done for us”
The entire hall echoed with applause. Every one stood up for us. We looked at each other in surprise and tears. Teachers, parents and students were facing us. We were shy, touched, humbled, excited and sad.
I watched by the sidelines as two of my friends said goodbye to the school. Their project had come to an end. It’s always a poignant moment when a volunteer says goodbye to his project. From Mexico to Romania, India to Africa, volunteers from across the world work in Poland.
Our projects range from working in schools to teach English to working in centres for the disabled. Being a volunteer, I learnt how to adapt to a different environment, people and culture. When you are far away from home, your fellow volunteers become your family and friends. From greetings to food, rooms to travel tips, we share everything. Birthdays become more special as you get greeted in over 20 languages. Sorrows become easier as you have more shoulders to lean on.
But we have fun times too. Vacations become more exciting as you learn more about an individual and how he deals with challenges and awkawrd situations. You get a taste of various recipes from around the world, or laugh at cooking disasters in the kitchen.
We share our experiences in dealing with challenges. These include a naughty child in class, how to bargain to get the best deals on clothes, learning a new language or which place offers the best and in-budget pizza.
More than just reading about a country on Wikipedia, I listened in awe about the countries from its citizens. The wildlife in Kenya, Dracula’s castle in Romania, the beaches of Spain and the streets of Vietnam; it is more real when someome who calls these countries home narrates to you about the culture and people.
Passion, commitment, sacrifice, humility, tolerance, hardwork; these are more than just inspiring words for a volunteer. These are the values by which a volunteers stands by.
For me, volunteering has broadened my knowledge of the world and made me wise. I am more capable of adapting and accepting challenges and learning from them. It has also given me the chance to meet people from all walks of life, and some who I am fortunate to call a close friends. It has also taught me more about myself, given me a definite goal in life and made me a better person.
A journey from Bengaluru to Italy via ICDE
“To travel is the experience of ceasing to be the person you are trying to be, and becoming the person you really are.”― Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light
I received a call from Mahesh (coordinator of PRATHAM) about an opportunity of Volunteering in Italy through ICDE, Bangalore, I did not believe and said “you must be joking Mahesh!”, he asked me to visit ICDE office. At the office I first met Shashikala; she said I will be going to the place where she had volunteered. Then I met Mr. Ravindar Singh, he explained me the whole process behind, with some examples of volunteers coming from Germany and working with us at PRATHAM, also by looking at pictures of ex-volunteers hung in the office I was sort of convinced.
The only part I still feel burdensome was my passport, with all the pain running from office to office for signatures, I had my Passport in Tatkaal Scheme. Ms. Shashikala and Mr. Govind were of great help in obtaining my VISA and other official paper works done.
October 2nd, 2011(on Gandhiji’s birthday) I was leaving the country, tears rushed from my eyes, since this was not just the first time ever I was leaving India also it was my first time away from home. I was confused with my emotions; was puzzled, content, excited, curious, and scared.
I arrived at Turin airport after 2 transits at Dubai and Rome, but found nobody to receive me?!?. I was looking at all big placards, I certainly was in panic. Neither had I known any Italian nor to make a call, I was so ignorant that I didn’t know how many cents make a euro, the least denomination I knew was 1 euro, but finally I found Susana with a A4 sized paper with “Chinthna Jagadeesh” on it, in the other corner who was waiting for me since 15 minutes.
We shared greetings, and finally I came to ‘Rifugio Re Carlo Alberto’, I had a welcome note from my very sweet Columbian Maria Isabel roommate, saying “Ciaoo Chinthna!! I am in Italian school you can place the clothes and other stuffs in wardrobes that are open, be comfortable and I will soon be there’’ I understood every single word on the paper except for “Ciao “.Later that night she told me that the word was Hello!!
Four days later two more volunteers Mariana from Moldova and Marta, Spanish girl came. Mariana could speak really good English but Marta didn’t. Surprisingly most of my conversations were with Marta. I remember GOOGLE TRANSLATE was my best friend then. Next day, I went out with them, everything was unusual for me, white people in their western outfits, automobiles were moving on the right side of the road, with no honking sounds of course! While I tried to cross the road the car in front of me just stopped and let me walk first. Population density was so less that actually I could count them. I discovered that Refugio was in a very scenic place, located on top of small hill, greenery everywhere with some yellow flowers; my balcony had a view of Alps Mountains with little snow on it.
Next day, I hung a poster of lord Ganesha on my wall; Maria said “so, you are Hindu?” I said, “yes, and you?”, “I don’t have any religion”, “How come? You SHOULD have one right!?!, “not necessarily”. It was Maria’s these words that actually gave me a lot questions and insight about religion and spirituality.
I joined Italian school, I can recall the funny incident at my first day, the teacher called me and said Ciao…Blah Blah Blah , and she stretched her hand towards me. I thought she wanted to shake hand and so I did, the whole class started laughing. My American friend Austin translated me that, she was actually giving me a piece of chalk to write my name on the board.
We were sent to On Arrival Camp a couple months later; I met other volunteers from around the world. I was now feeling better because I heard the names of the countries which I could barely pronounce, and I realized how bad my geography was. Meanwhile, I met Helen, a gorgeous Indian lady who had married an Italian. She took me out in weekends, to restaurants, shopping, to her home, to her parents place and made me feel comfortable till I met other friends.
To my surprise I had already transformed a lot. I was not homesick anymore; this sickness had killed my initial few months in Italy. I was independent, adapted to the western culture, now could communicate with people in Italian, ask for directions in Italian, could also cook some Italian dishes, and walk at 2 in the night to the nearest pub with my other friends, which I had never done in my country. I also had bridged sturdy emotions with my “nonni” (elderly people) at Rifugio.
We had other camps in later months, in different cities that usually taught me something new every time. I and my other friends Dhanny, Lusi, and Daniel also made trip to Amsterdam, which was a heavenly experience. I met new people with diverse experiences every time.
Guicy is a motherly figure to me, who took me and my other friends out almost every weekend and bought us slices of pizza each, also introduced me to her nephew and his girlfriend. We would get together in their home on the mountain for birthdays and other parties. I also had an e-mail account in the local website which gave me new local friends, and indeed helped me learn and speak Italian better.
One thing that would always prick my heart was old volunteer’s departures, but soon new volunteers would make me forget that sadness. Kruskaya was one such astounding personality who had travelled almost all over the world; we shared a strong bond of love. She cried on 26th of June 2012, since I was one such old volunteer who had to leave.
Like Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her Novel, ‘Eat Pray Love’, Italy is very incredible place to eat and to make friends with. Apparently, I also met my best buddy Andrea Ali, so I would rather call it ‘Eatali’ instead of Italy.
This whole experience is still cherishing. I heartily congratulate ICDE for their great effort and work also for being a platform to volunteers like me. Thank you ICDE for giving me an asset called friends, for invaluable experience, and for what I am today.