Finally! It’s only taken me three weeks to get my act together but here it is...my first blog post. My good intentions of at least once weekly posts have been shattered so I will vow to try harder from here on in.
So, it’s been 23 days since I left cold rainy Britain and arrived in not-actually-that-hot-but-smoggy Delhi. 18 of us have joined VSO for this intake and in total will spend a month in Delhi staying at the Indian Social Institute (think Shawshank!) to learn the do’s and don’ts of life in India, a crash course in Hindi language, learn about VSO in India and, from what I’ve experienced, eat more food than you can shake a stick at!
Because I’ve been so lame at documenting my thoughts so far I’ve decided to rattle through some of the highlights so far:
1. Riding a Cycle Rickshaw! On our tour round old Delhi, possibly the coolest rickshaw driver ever bravely handed over his cycle to me and let me cycle to our next destination. It was pretty terrifying battling the Delhi traffic; dodging people, carts, animals, pomegranate sellers and, alas a parked motorbike finally got the better of me! I did, however create quite a stir. It’s all on youtube, so if you fancy a laugh check out:
2. Bi-daily Curry. We’ve been able to sample a HUGE variety of food since we’ve been here, it’s all been delicious! A few new favourites include dosas (south Indian savoury pancakes), spicy fish curries, stuffed paranthas, chicken tandoori, gut busting Thalis and yummy lassi’s to wash it all down! I’m looking forward to trying my hand at cooking when I get to Puri, so watch this space for my culinary creations.
3. Meeting some incredible people and having my eyes opened. We’ve been fortunate to be able to visit some organisations already working in Delhi. We visited a shelter for the homeless that puts a roof over 400 people every night, provides them with access to healthcare, education and offers support to help them gain identity cards and ATM cards so they can save the money they do make. We met a lovely old man who had lived there for 7 years who proudly showed off his cards that proved he had an identity...not something I have ever considered important until now. We also went to a street children’s shelter and were bowled over by the children we met. They put on a play about the rights of working children, and told us about their lives and the difficulties and dangers of living on the streets. They support each other and act as advocates for their rights. We told them about how, in our countries children aren’t allowed to work, have free access to education and are taken care of if their own parents aren’t able to. I asked them how it made them feel hearing that, and they told us how happy they were that other children were so well taken care of and were able to enjoy their childhood. It was such a humble, compassionate answer that completely blew me away. I’ve also had a great time getting to know the other volunteers here and will be sad to leave them to live on my lonesome in Puri!
And now for the not-so-highlights...
The commonly accepted number of people living with disability in India is 6%, which is about 70 million people...the entire population of the UK. Disability is a cause and consequence of poverty, only 8% of India’s disabled children are in full time education and one figure I’ve been given states that the unemployment rate for the disabled is 99%. You can see the scale of the situation just walking around in Delhi, there are a huge amount of people on the streets with incredibly severe disabilities, forced to beg as their only source of income. It’s difficult to see and makes me feel like what I will be doing will only be a drop in the ocean....but on the positive side I’ll quote Mother T...”the ocean is made of many drops.”
In 5 days time I will board my train, settle into my 2AC carriage and prepare to watch a big chunk of India go past my window while I’m whisked to my new home in Puri. I’m feeling a whole bundle of emotions about the move. I’m really excited about starting work and getting stuck into the real reason why I’ve come here. I think my organisation and the people I’ll be working with are going to teach me so much and I hope I can be of some use in return! I’ve heard many good reports about Puri from some of the other volunteers, I now have some highly over-romanticised views of me strolling across immaculate tropical beaches floating around my mind...but I’ll have to keep you posted if the reality matches up! It’s also a big leap into the unknown; I’m the first volunteer to be placed in the town and the first within the organisation. I know very little about where I’ll be living (I’ve decided to call my apartment ‘Club Tropicana!’), how easy it will be to communicate with my colleagues, what my role will be at work and the kind of disability I will face (I’m armed with a suitcase of textbooks!).
So, for now, over and out. I promise it won’ t be a month until the next post!