Saturday, October 01, 2011

September......

First impression

Marina Motylewitsch

London, UK

Volunteering at Sambhali Trust: 21.07.2011 – 02.10.2011

I arrived at Jodhpur airport on Thursday, the 21.07.2011, where I was picked up by Govind Ji and Renu Ji. Arriving at the guest house I was greeted in a traditional Indian way by Mukta, Govind’s wife. We had a nice chat in the office, where they told me more about the work they do and what is expected of me. I will mostly work with Renu and take care of the administration for Sambhali Trust.

The first thing that struck me here was the heat, which is quite difficult to get used to. At this time there should be rain but this year seems to be different. The anticipation for the rain is constantly present and I found myself waiting and hoping for it desperately too.

In the evening I met the other volunteers Sharzi and Marta, who welcomed me at Sambhali Trust.

They showed me around, explaining what to tell the Rickshaw drivers and where to get things. The next day I got to meet the girls, who are all extremely nice and seem to be happy. Of course there is the language barrier, which means I will have to learn Hindi quickly if I want to communicate with them properly. Luckily Marta is fluent in Hindi!

The life here is simple and time really doesn’t matter! I can’t say that would bother me as I was tired of the hectic and complicated life in London. So I really appreciate the way things work here. There was also no culture shock for me, as I studied the Indian culture for years and was rather well prepared. Seeing the poverty and misery on the streets can be quite overwhelming and the accompanying helplessness very frustrating but it is very important to understand that giving money to beggars will not improve their situation. We are here only for a short time and outsiders, the change has to come from the society itself, which is only so much influenced by us.

I don’t expect to have a huge impact on the girls here, as two months is way too short for expectations of this kind but I will give my best and try to learn from the women participating in this program. I try to approach my volunteering time with the thought that I shouldn’t impose my opinion on the women but rather try to understand their way of thinking and help them within those circumstances leaving aside western ideas and beliefs.

Final impression

India, the country of colors, variety and millions of gods. Every day in the year some festival is celebrated. A country where superficiality is embedded in deep tradition and where the gap between rich and poor couldn’t possibly be bigger. Where Westerners wear Indian clothes and the Indians try to look western. Where big malls are setup, surrounded by poverty and beggars, but shop keepers can hardly afford to pay the rent. Where you meet the most welcoming people and the most fascinating traditions and ceremonies. Where you have to eat at every house you go to, if you want to or not. Where you find patience that in the beginning drives you crazy but you will definitely miss at home. A country full of potential and chaos.

My two months volunteering for Sambhali Trust are over and I have to leave, hopefully leaving behind something of me with the girls I spent this time with. At least I know that I will be missed every Saturday when we used to watch movies with a projector. Almost like real cinema! I was the cinema master and would show the girls the newest and older movies, giving them a chance to see them too as they are often deprived of the possibility to go to the cinema.

As I assumed before I came here, I am taking far more with me than I am leaving behind. Getting to know the girls, their lives and opinions made me appreciate everything I have in life more. You don’t really realize what you have before you know what other people lack in their everyday life. What amazed me the most is the strength, dignity and attitude, with which the women face their lives and situations every day. You don’t expect them to be smiling and be happy but this is exactly what you will encounter when you meet them.

A lot of the stories I heard shocked me and left me feel completely helpless as I couldn’t really do anything to help besides listening. But Sambhali Trust can help and does this every day through educating the women and teaching them to fight for their rights. And this they also do every day!

In my time at Sambhali Trust I also met a lot of interesting people, other volunteers like Christa, who could easily write a thick book about her life, Marta, who is also from London and who has a lot of interests with me in common, Kim, who looks like 25 but is over 40 (and she wouldn’t tell me her secret!). I met people who felt here at home and some who shouldn’t have chosen India as their destination.

I have been taken care of here by Muktaji, who is the heart and soul of the Durag Niwas Guest House like Govindji is the heart and soul of Sambhali Trust. I would like to thank them both and say how impressed I am with the work they are doing, the effort they put in it and what they are achieving. Thank for two very interesting months. I will definitely come back to visit the Trust and will help with whatever I can to keep this project running.

Keep up the good work, stay strong and never doubt your work! And always remember: ‘’If people try to bring you down, it means you are above them!’’

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Marta Schmidt

Final Report

Two months have gone. It seems like a dream now. And reality as well. It seems the only reality now – as I have embraced Jodhpur as my home. ‘Arre 40 Rupees bhai sahib’ – spoken to the rickshaw driver. This is my reality now. The dusty streets, the cows and dogs eating rubbish and sleeping along the roads, noisy traffic, the Umaid Palace towering over one side and Mehrangarh Fort on the other; the Old Blue City with the irrigation system clogged with waste, ‘Maidam Maidam’ called at me from every side. This is my Jodhpur.

There were many things I did that I have never expected: –indeed, I got to ride a motorbike on the crazy Indian streets (only the back seat, let’s not go too crazy…); I learned how to use nun chucks and bamboo sticks; I got to play cricket and actually hit the ball with the bat; rescue two kittens and find them a new home; sit in the car with the Deputy Mayor and tell him the way in Hindi; meet with the High Court judge and crack a joke. That is the fun bit.

Now the work bit. For two months I had a privilege to work with some really amazing women and girls of Jodhpur. Because of my ability to communicate with them in Hindi, our conversations and relations were greatly enhanced. They were able to tell me what bothers them, what makes them happy, what their lives are like. There was no language barrier to block our bonding. I felt so honoured whenever they would call me a sister, when they would tie a friendship band on my wrist for the Friendship Day, or rakhi (the sister/brother bond) for the Rakshabandhan.

During my first month I taught basic English to girls who were less advanced than others, while Renu – hired English teacher conducted the class for the rest of the girls. For 3 weeks I worked with Mumtaz, who was a case of severe depression, and who, due to her trauma, had also vast learning difficulties. It was not always rewarding – most of the time the work seemed futile as she could not remember the letters of the alphabet – but she was striving, and those rare moments when she would remember would make up for everything.

At the end of my first month we had new girls coming to our centre in Jodhpur. I worked with them from the very beginning on the alphabet and I was able to excite them about classes with games where they would gain points for naming the correct letter and the winner would get a star or a high five (ok, maybe an occasional laddoo).

During the second month I took over the whole English class in the Jodhpur Empowerment Centre. The girls there, who have never been to school, had visibly more problems with retaining information and it took much more effort to be able to hold their attention for longer. But they had to put up with my crazy as well: I loved making them laugh with sentence examples like: ‘I cook ghobi parathas in the morning’, ‘I want gulab jamun[1], or ‘I love Shahrukh Khan’ (and Salman Khan [2]is ‘blah’ – which would stir a heated discussion with Shweta or Deepika).

During the two months I taught English in the Payal Empowerment Centre to all the girls there. Most of these girls do go to school in the morning and that reflects on the level of discipline and attention. After the English classes we would have dance workshops every day. Because I have been dancing Bollywood dances and classical Indian dances like Kathak and Bharatanatyam for four years now, I was able to teach some of the choreographies to the girls. I have noticed enormous changes – especially with the painfully shy girls like Sushila or Basanti, who would bloom in front of me to the music every one of them loved. Soon after two or three lessons I found that my classes at 4 o’clock were not only filled with our participants but also with all the children from their families. First day I had 3-4 children coming along, the next day I had fifteen! We had so many people we had to take turns! They all loved dancing and I think it build up their confidence and self-esteem. During this time we had three cultural exchanges with the French groups from the organization ‘Sans Frontiers’ and we practiced the dances and a puppet show with the girls to perform in front of the French teenagers (and unfortunately the ‘culture’ of France would be presented in a very unusual form – seriously, how many times can you dance to ‘Macarena’?). They also got to perform in front of the Deputy Mayor of Jodhpur for the Independence Day. Seeing my girls out there courageously on the stage made me feel very proud.

Apart from the teaching, I also worked on some administrative things. I run a Facebook Ad Campaign to promote Sambhali across Facebook users. I set a new Facebook group for Sambhali and a new Fan Page for the Sambhali Boutique. I prepared a new entry for a Shelter Project for Women in Difficult Circumstances on the Global Giving website. I helped Renu Chauhan, the new manager, with the visits to the officials of the Jodhpur Development Authority.

Indian life is like Indian food: rich in taste, never boring but very heavy to digest – too much might end with a case of a Delhi Belly. Those occasional moments of Delhi Belly for me are things that I see and would like to change – the painful hierarchy that leads to the degradation of women in the society, the poverty, the pollution, the injustice that happens to people on every corner. However, Indian food is so delicious that you just keep eating, and you want to come back and have more and more. You roam around tastes and you discover new pleasures and new pains.

I will definitely come back, I want to have my thali[3] refilled again and again. I want to know more about Indian life and definitely Sambhali Trust is the way to go. This grassroot organisation gives a perfect opportunity to bond with the participants and the teachers. The personal feeling and a small scale let volunteers and stuff know the needs of the women and girls we strive to improve lives of in a better and more humane manner. It obviously seems that the teaching goes one way, but the Sambhali girls taught me a lot about myself and challenged me all along the way. I hope that I will leave Jodhpur knowing that for a moment I made my girls’ lives a little bit better.



[1] Indian sweets

[2] Famous Bollywood actors

[3] A platter of food.

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Ms. Teena Bishnoi, participant of Payal Empowerment Center is now teaching Hindi and the Jodhpur Empowerment Center as a Hindi Teacher, we are very happy that our participants are now employees of our organization. The Empowerment of women is difficult but not impossible.




Since Simmi Singh left the project, we have a new helping hand, Ms. Reena Rathore to help us teach Basic reading and writing of English and Maths. Ms. Rathore also helps with little bit of the administrative work.

Organized seven days Bhagwat Geeta prayer at home this month for the peace and prosperity of the family.

INFORMAL SECTOR ENTERPRISE, ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT program visiting the Sambhali Trust's Sheerni Micro-finance project in Setrawa village