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Volunteers' Stories




Teaching English on a voluntary program in Madurai, India


Our main aim was to teach the pupils English grammar and pronunciation by talking and reading to them and then giving them opportunities to speak. Additionally, we would teach them about our British and European cultures.

Usually I started a lesson by asking the pupils to ask me questions. This provided the starting point for conversations about issues such as our families and friends, our life stories, our education and profession, our home, our country and its landscape and climate, and our traditions. If the pupils were reluctant to volunteer any questions, my alternative course of action was to borrow a textbook and read from it. Towards the end of our stay, the senior students asked me to talk in detail about physics and aeronautics, and I gave some very impressive lectures.

We spent Christmas in Kanyakumari, the southernmost place in India, where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet. I found it very peculiar when I became sunburnt on Christmas Eve. The countryside in Tamil Nadu was different than in Kerala: it was more mountainous and less forested and wild boars used to run loose in the streets.

After Boxing Day, we spent three days in Thampanoor, in the center of Trivandrum, where we met the Principal and his driver. On the first day we attended a sports event at a very large school in the outside of Trivandrum. The day after, we went on a boat tour on the backwaters, which became very exciting when the boat's motor stopped. Fortunately it eventually started again and we got back to dry land, after which we visited Trivandrum Zoo.

We spent the New Year in Kovalam, a popular beach resort south of Trivandrum. It was again an unusual experience when we celebrated the Millennium New Year's Eve sitting on the beach in our shirtsleeves. We went to a beachfront restaurant every night and watched the sun set over the Arabian Sea. At night, we would see faint lights on the horizon as people spent the night out at sea in their fishing boats.

We were always very popular at events such as the Christmas Function and visits from the Bishop, when we were always asked to give readings, make speeches or present awards. At the end of one day of presentations, we experienced a large thunderstorm. I suddenly heard the rain approaching, and a few seconds later our school building was caught in a torrential downpour that lasted for over an hour and flooded the nearby playing fields. Blue, white, yellow, red and lilac bolts of lightning flashed over us and preceded claps of thunder that sounded like explosions.

Most of the state was covered in coconut palm forests, even in the towns and cities. There were also numerous mango, jack fruit, papaya and pineapple trees, to name a few. The most common birds were crows, sparrows and mina birds, although we sometimes saw beautiful blue and brown kingfishers, much larger than the ones that we would see in Britain. Once, while we were sitting on the roof of the Girls' Hostel watching distant thunderstorms, I saw a green parrot flying through the trees. At night, small bats would fly around in large numbers, although I did occasionally see large ones.

One night I saw something flying towards a treetop that was the size of a crow, so I assumed it was a crow. However, as it approached one of the top branches and prepared to land, it grasped the branch and then hung underneath it. It was actually a bat, much larger than any I had ever seen before. Insects would vary from microscopic ants to three-quarter-inch ants, quarter-inch to three-inch beetles, spiders and moths of various sizes and, unfortunately, mosquitoes.

One morning, we were greeted at the breakfast table by a fast-running four-inch spider, with hairy brown legs as thick as pipe cleaner and a body about three quarters of an inch wide. Later we were told that it was not poisonous. Surprisingly, I only saw one snake.

Walking through the quiet streets near the school at night was very spooky. The rough roads were dimly lit by a few weak streetlights, and often it was not possible to see far at all. One would hear unlit cyclists ringing their bells, but one would not see them until they were very close. Loud religious music would emanate from houses hidden deep in the forests and would continue play all night, but all that one could see was the large expanse of coconut trees. The air would fill with smoke as people burned their rubbish in the evenings, bats and fireflies would fly around, and tropical birds would sing their songs all night; out of sight but not out of earshot.

During our last few days, the staff and pupils gave us numerous charming votes of appreciation and we received many beautiful presents.

Anyone planning to visit India should not expect to have a cosy time or to live in comfort. However, what one should expect is to see to and live in a completely different world, to be integrated into welcome into a warm, friendly community and to do something worthwhile for other people, for which one will be highly respected.

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Breathless Sunset in Trivandrum