Monday, July 18, 2011

June- mid July!

Khamaghani my Dear Readers,

I hope everybody is enjoying the summer and the holidays. We all do very well and want to apologize for a late update. Please find some interesting report of our volunteers below.

Shahrzad Makaremi

City: Santa Barbara, CA

University: UC Berkeley

Age: 21

Here from June 2011 through July 2011

Arriving in Jodhpur, India, after months of planning, dreaming, and many email conversations, was wonderful. The heat, dust, and warm people of Jodhpur welcomed me. Jodhpur is busy: cars, rickshaws, and people are winding in and out of each other constantly, and the sound of honking is very common. There are also many colors; outside the traditional blue that covers some of the buildings here (and makes them stand out from the dusty color of the rest), most women wear the bright colors of red, pink, orange, green, and more. Clothing is traditional and not revealing at all; and women usually cover their hair. Almost all the women I have seen wear the traditional Rajasthani garb, making the large crowds much more interesting to look at.

The Durag Niwas Guest House, where I will be staying, and where the Sambhali Trust is located, is a peaceful haven outside of the bustle of the city. Mr. Rathore’s family graciously welcomed me here, and I feel very comfortable. There is always fresh Masala Chai, and a kind smile to be found. Mr. Rathore’s family has been very informative and helpful, answering my questions about the Trust, Jodhpur, Rajasthan culture, and more.

After exploring the city, I finally got to meet the girls, and I have now been working with them for 4 days. The girls are so warm, kind, and lovely. Immediately they welcomed me, and asked me many questions about myself. They gave me a new name (Shagoon-which is easier for them to pronounce). I am slowly getting to know them, learning their names and different personalities. Each is so excited to learn, they are constantly working on their stitching and showing and seeking feedback from the sewing teacher, Tamanna. The girls that I am working with, with regard to English, are so excited to learn; when it comes time for our lessons, they tap and nudge me, making sure I don’t forget. I try to spend time with the girls as much as possible, taking lunch with them, and acting silly. I want to make these moments count, to not only get to know them but to interact with them more so that we are comfortable with each other and trust one another. I hope that through my interactions I can realize more of what might be helpful workshops and lessons for them-and to see what I can offer.

A week has flown by and I have learned so much. Everyone is always happy to answer my questions, or to lend a helping hand. I’m curious about the upcoming two months- I’m ready to engross myself in the organization. I’m excited to get to know the girls more, to learn more about the Sambhali Trust, and I hope to contribute as much as I can.

Final Report

Shahrzad Makaremi

Age 21

Volunteer June 2011-July 2011 (2 months)


In the eight weeks that I spent volunteering at Sambhali Trust I have learned a tremendous amount about the work that Sambhali does, but also about how a small NGO operates, the issues and problems that they encounter everyday.

My first month I spent working on basic English with 4 girls at the Jodhpur Empowerment Centre, and 4 girls at the Payal Empowerment Centre. I worked mainly on practicing the alphabet, and learning the sounds of each letter, and finally formulating basic words. I also worked on some administration, filling out applications as well as updating information on websites to help Sambhali locate volunteers. I also acted as a sort of public relations for the organization, and explained a little bit about Sambhali Trust,what the organization is about, and who we work with, to guests and visitors. In addition, I worked in leading a community-building workshop with both the groups from Jodhpur and Payal Empowerment Centres. Finally I wrote and sent a letter to President Obama as a means to introduce him to the organization.

During the second month, I worked almost exclusively on the administration aspect. I finished applications for funding from Open Meadows Foundation, The Oak Foundation, and the Commonwealth Club. I also continued to update information on websites to help find volunteers. In addition, I typed up a report for the Self-Defense workshops, and also created an annual syllabus for workshops. I compiled the workshop information to make it easier for staff and future volunteers to access information for leading workshops. Finally I formulated and conducted a survey from the girls, in regards to basic information to help make decisions in the trust, and have a better idea of the needs of our participants.

Since I was able to work both in administration as well as hands-on with the girls, I feel that I got a more complete view of the organization. I loved interacting with the women and girls; my experience with them was what made the work of the organization tangible and real. Getting to know the girls, visiting them in their homes, talking with them about their lives, these were the special moments of really understanding the importance of the work that Sambhali does. I got insider views of the difficulties of finding funding, and working with Western funders who might not fully understand the needs and manners of a small NGO in India. I also came to understand the complicated relationship between NGOs and the departments of the Indian Government departments.

I know that as Sambhali grows it will be important for the organization to maintain the personal and grassroots atmosphere. The relationship between the staff and participants is very important. It is this close relationship, where everyone knows the background and stories of each participant that makes Sambhali effective and special. All of the participants are here for a reason, Sambhali is not just a place for them to come to gain training and education, but a haven for them, a place to interact and share with others.

Working with Sambhali has been an amazing experience, and I have gained so much valuable experience and knowledge from my time here. Spending time in India has taught me so much about myself. Govind and his family have been incredibly generous and kind, and I have learned so much from them, I cannot be thankful enough. Though I was volunteering, I feel that I have benefited far more from my time here, and learned much more from the girls and staff of Sambhali Trust, than I could ever give with my time. I hope that the little work that I did was helpful in some way, but I am eternally grateful for what everyone has given me. I will never forget my experience, the kind and warm people that I met, and the time that I spent here in Jodhpur along with Sambhali Trust.

Karina Szuman (19)

South Africa

Sambhali Trust Volunteer (June - July 2011)

First Impressions Report

I came to India with no preconceived ideas of this vast land and that was possibly the best thing I could ever do for myself. Having no expectations I was constantly taken aback and hardly ever disappointed.

Being half Indian I found adapting to the culture and traditions easy; they were different but adaptable. Living is Setrawa was a complete lifestyle change and I found my first week the toughest. Sleeping under the stars every night is magical but the inability to communicate was frustrating. My host Mother Pushpa left after 2 days of my arrival for 17 days leaving my host sister Rakhi to take on the entire role of her mother - I really got to know her and the extended family during this time. The hospitality and kindness of the Khatri family is something I could never explain, words cannot describe such benevolence. The smallest things make the biggest differences - I truly feel as though I am home.

As homely as it felt there were many challenges within the first few weeks:

  • The language barrier was huge but the ‘thori – thori’ we each learnt along the way made things slightly easier after a week or two.
  • The comparisons between me and previous volunteers the family had made me feel as though I had huge shoes to fill and at times made my stay quite difficult but I realized that as exciting as it is for me to get to know them it worked both ways and they were just going off of what they already knew.
  • My host Mother gave me a look which to me made feel a sense of disappointment, coupled with the comparisons I really thought she didn’t like me and her going away for so long was difficult because I felt as though I already knew everyone so well and now I was thrown into the deep end again to get to know her when she arrived. I very quickly learnt that the ‘look’ was just her way of concentrating on people as they spoke, she gave that look to everyone even her family – and getting to know her literally took a few hours.

Sambhali School was nothing like I had ever imagined, I really enjoyed my first month. The children really make you feel very welcome and they all try their best to learn English – their desire for perfection and correctness in all they do is really motivational as a teacher. The afternoon class was (at the beginning) for me the least challenging as the girls command of English is very advanced and they very easy to relate to. The morning class is a little bit more challenging as they can’t speak or understand much English so just communicating is a mission on its own, but once they get to know you a little they really open up. I recommend learning the children’s names as soon as possible, I learnt all their names within a week and it made teaching and communicating much easier and more enjoyable.

Other then that, my first month has been a blast and I cannot wait to get back to Setrawa (we agreed on a 10 day holiday). I guess this Jodhpur city just doesn’t do it for me – there aren’t enough goats, cows and peacocks.

Ms. Fae Rinaldo-Langridge
Norwich, UK

I have been leading theatre workhops with another volunteer, Verena, for the past month now. Our aim was to empower women by giving them a platform for their voice; a safe place where they can be whoever they want to be where anything is possible. We did a range of games and exercises that encouraged the women to be physically and vocally expressive, and therefore improve their self-confidence. And also, through improvisations and Forum Theatre based on personal situations, we gave them the opportunity to try out different ways of dealing with conflicts and personal struggles.

It was a challenge because theatre isn't so well regarded in India. As can be the case back home, for the women we worked with and their families it is more important to have a practicial skill that brings in money. For them theatre is a luxury not a necessity and as they don't intend to become bollywood actresses I think our workshop seemed completely nonsensical to them at times. In addition, the families of the women are not always supportive of their empowerment, and in some cases, housework and marriage come first; this meant that the attendance and attitude of the women was not consistent. Alongside the cultural differences and the language barrier we had to work with the extreme shyness and cultural reservation of Indian women. At first, we misinterpreted their shyness and believed that they just didn't like our workshops. However, when we divided the group in to two (one for sewing, one for theatre) we found that it was mostly the shyest who voted to do theatre: of their own accord and without hesitation! We began to notice that they were the first to stand ready for the lesson, and their attention to detail and their focus was immaculate when miming. This was really heart-warming to see. We realise now that although theatre might have been received more enthusiastically by a younger group, these women needed it more and they really benefitted from it. By the end, they were talking more and some had even begun to share their own personal stories for the improvisations.

For future volunteers I recommend coming for at least a month because it takes a couple of weeks to get to know the women you're working with and to settle into the project, especially if you haven't done this kind of work before. The best time to come is probably between winter and spring. The heat really affected both myself and the women we worked with, and I feel our workshops would have been more productive in cooler weather. I was a little sad that I started the theatre workshop a month after Verena so I wasn't able to see their progress right from the beginning but it has been amazing nonetheless. We hope that Simi, the hindi teacher, will continue the lessons once a week after we have gone. All in all, I have had a wonderful time here! I love the women we worked with and really hope that they continue to be empowered through Sambahli. Durag Niwas, where the volunteers stay, has a been a massive relief after travelling through the bigger bustling cities in India. I have felt safe and comfortable, and the food is ridiculously good! For the first time in a month my stomach was magically healed the minute Mukta's food touched my lips! The staff are so friendly and funny, and I had a great time hanging out with the other volunteers, and with tourists passing through the guesthouse. Thank you to everyone at Sambahli, and good luck to the new volunteers!

Some appreciation letters for our work we do with Sambhali Trust
The Setrawa village head Mr. Bhika Ram Choudhary signed a letter for our work in Setrawa

A letter from Her Excellency the Queen of England
Appreciation letter from the Department of Women and Child development in Jodhpur
Self-Defense workshop of Payal and Jodhpur Empowerment center girls

Self-Defense Workshop

July 2011

Payal and Jodhpur Empowerment Center

With Mr. Singh-Raik Bagh (Park next door to Durag Niwas)


For 10 days the students at Sambhali Trust had one hour a day lessons in self-defense. Primarily using bamboo sticks, the girls learned various moves and participated in physical education.

The lesson would usually start with some warm ups, stretches, and prayer. Then exercises with the bamboo sticks. Within a week the girls moved from simple moves like twirling the stick in a hitting motion from right to left, to actually utilizing the move in stepping forward. The two main exercises that they learned was to move forward hitting back and forth, as well as moving in three steps while twirling the stick above their head. They also learned how to move the bamboo stick with one hand. A few girls were exceptionally skilled, and by the end of the week could move through the different exercises with ease and confidence.

After working with the bamboo sticks, Mr. Singh would end the class with some meditation and yoga, teaching the girls about their bodies and how to maintain health.


Mr. Singh, the teacher, was happy with the improvements the girls showed after a week. He has been working with teaching various women self-defense, and was happy to help us at Sambhali Trust. Our students were even able to meet a Judge in Jodhpur who was happy about the fact that women were partaking in self-defense.

Of course, there was a range of improvements between our students, but there was obvious improvement from the beginning of the week until the end. Initially the girls did not feel too comfortable and keen on working with Bamboo sticks, but by the end of the workshop, they were all quit comfortable with the idea of using the sticks, and were much more confident and poised. In meetings after our workshops, the girls showed confidence and happiness about how they had learned to used bamboo sticks and could defend themselves-this deferred drastically from the beginning of the week when they were a bit tired and would complain about their blisters. The most common issue that came up was the fact that the workshops took place early in the morning (7:30am), and thus a few of the girls either stopped coming or came rarely to the workshops (especially our older participants who had children, or those who lived further away). Overall though, the workshop was successful, and there were obvious improvements in the mannerism of our students.

Priyadarshini Adarsh Self Help Group project, management of Self Help Group training for three days each group in two batches. The first area 'Luni block' hopeless people and hopeless groups given to play with the reputation of our trust and work. When the department of women and child development saw that we were trying hard and their groups were not cooperating therefore they then moves us to 'Mandore Block', we are happy with the 10 new groups.

Volunteer Ms. Kerry's Kisbey-Green's impressions of her volunteering with us for six months.

Four months impression below

Four months into working with Sambhali, I have been lucky enough to work in a variety of places and fields. Originally a teacher in Setrawa, then an extra help at Jodhpur in its busiest month with event planning and internal-organization, and now the last volunteer working on administration and funding applications, I have gotten to know Sambhali extremely well. While this has made writing about it easy, it does not mean I have found Sambhali easy; it has been hard work in a culture that I admire but find hard to understand.

I was not the luckiest when I got to India- my stomach didn’t agree with the food and I was constantly on antibiotics and feeling extremely low on energy. This happens to some volunteers- I tried everything, I think it is merely luck how your body copes with the dietary change. From fevers to IV drips, this week is my first feeling normal again since I got here, and I’m so grateful for that.

My timing in Setrawa was debatably extremely unfortunate or extremely lucky- I moved into Usha’s family’s house the day before her father had an embolism and almost died. This meant that the usually absent father was home for my entire stay. While it was fascinating being with a host family, albeit hard with the language barrier, I made fast attachments to Usha, and her family, and love them dearly. However, with the father at home, I witnessed the different way Usha acted in and out of the house. At Sambhali she was confident, charismatic and talkative. At home, she barely looked up or talked; serving her family obediently and, perhaps, fearfully. I never understood it as her family were so lovely, and took it as a cultural thing. That was until the night that her father beat her. I was extremely ill and so went to bed before sunset. I assume the father thought I was in Jodhpur for the weekend, as he seemed shocked when I came rushing out after hearing Usha pleading and crying. The whole family did a double-take when they saw me; like me witnessing this was so much worse than the fact that he was hitting his children. It was an awful night, and continued into the morning. I assume he was drunk, but am still unsure. After talking to Usha, I discovered this happens often, but not when volunteers are in the house (as obviously, that would stop Sambhali sending them). Horrified, I willingly obeyed Govind’s call for me to come to Jodhpur as they needed extras help, eager to tell him what was happening. It was extremely sad that Govind already knew this, and that obviously Sambhali threatening the father had not helped. Sambhali offered Usha a home if ever she needed one, and threatened the father again. Since this, Usha is seriously considering moving into Sambhali’s accommodation and I’m so grateful. When I went to collect my stuff, the father begged for my forgiveness, crying on the floor. I was disgusted and told him to apologize to his children. Surprisingly, a very heated conversation turned into him actually apologizing to Usha, and all of us crying and hugging each other. Since then I have been welcome to their house on weekends, and go as a friend regularly to see them.

My admin work in Jodhpur for the last 2-3 months have consisted of doing all the odd-jobs, internal organization such as paper-work and simply organizing all the statistics and folders we have, as well as writing funding applications for next year. I was also exposed to the sadder side of Sambhali- the cases of women who come to Govind after being abused, or mal-treated, and in need of help. Although it’s comforting to watch Sambhali help them, I found it difficult to hear there stories without breaking down with them- I think I’ve toughened up a lot in the last few months (probably a good thing).

I’m off to Setrawa for my last month of volunteering, eager to see Usha and the kids again and do a bit more hands-on work before I leave. I’ll be sad to leave Jodhpur- I’ve watched the start of Project Aasha on Sundays with great enthusiasm and I run a dance class on Saturdays which I’ve enjoyed so much with the Jodhpur Empowerment Centre girls, but I’m looking forward to Karina arriving and heading back to Setrawa.

Six Months final impression below

It took 5 months, but I have fallen in love with India. It has shown and taught me so much- without boring future volunteers too much, I will try give tips and what to expect, while talking about the Trust.

I can honestly vouch for Sambhali’s integrity and legitimacy as a charity- I have seen the staff cry with emotion and use their own personal money at times to help beneficiaries. Sambhali currently has 13 paid employees- that’s it. It means I have gotten to know them all, and can see their passion for Women Empowerment- something that has rubbed off on me completely.

Advice: you have to have high self-confidence and self-esteem before you get here. People stare at you, talk about you in Hindi while unselfconsciously looking at you (now that I understand, it usually is good stuff!), question your culture, comment on things that would be embarrassing at home (‘Oh Kerry, you have terrible skin today!’ J ) and your body will explode with the generous food given to you at all the houses you visit. I have, on the whole, been OK, but every volunteer has struggled a bit.

I also think it’s important to come with the mind frame that no one’s going to look after you here- although of course the Trust does, you need to be independent enough to not rely on them and actually create work for other people- they’re busy enough as it is- that’s why they need you as extra help! One main issue is the language barrier- it can be easily removed if you pick up a dictionary and teach yourself.

Saying that, I also recommend you come at a point in your life where you have nothing else to worry about and can fully commit- living in another culture is hard if you’re constantly thinking of home. It also is hard for you to be inspiring to others here if you’re too busy worrying about home- you’re supposed to be looking after others here- you need to be able to look after yourself.

I know it’s hypocritical to say as I’m only 19, but I agree with Sambhali that you should be older to volunteer. If you’re like me and was just really keen- really think about it before applying. I was lucky and came at a time that I had a lot of help and care, and I was lucky to fit in Setrawa easily- but I think if it wasn’t for lucky circumstances, I would’ve actually been dead weight for Sambhali. Remember that the whole point of volunteering is to help the girls and women here- if you can’t add to the Trust; it means the Trust goes out of their way in effort to essentially benefit you, not the Trust itself. Think about whether you could make a contribution at this moment in your life, before applying. (Having said that- apply- it’s an amazing Trust)

I go away feeling like I’ve helped, hopefully for the long term, and I poured everything I had into Sambhali. I’m leaving physically and emotionally exhausted, my perception of life altered forever, and with new friends I will always treasure.

Govind- and all the staff- I really admire and respect you all. I don’t think you get thanked enough for what you do everyday. You have literally changed hundreds of lives for the better. Even when you’re not working- you’re thinking of Sambhali. I know you never feel like you’re doing enough because they’re always more people to help, but I feel like I’m about to burst with gratitude for you all- you give me, and all Sambhali’s participants hope for a better, equal future. I feel honoured to know you all.

To Corinne, Djamila, Mukta, Faye, Usha-Ji, Mool-Singh, Banti, Jinab, Mangu, Julia, Amelia, Jen, Nina, Rowan, Tamanna-Ji, Mrs Mehta, Rosemary Jnr and Snr, Ashley, Nigama, Ernestine, Heiderose, Verena, Annie and Poppy, to Govind and of course most importantly, the girls- if you are reading this, thank-you for making the last six months unforgettable.

Some more posts for July in my next post..

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