Gabrielle Wray - 2016 Program Participant
What motivated you to apply for an international program?
For one, I love traveling. I find it exhilarating to live in a world that I know little to nothing about. I feel that the best way to learn about new cultures and to meet new people is to immerse yourself in their world without any regrets. What's the point of traveling if you are not going to take advantage of all that a country can offer? I also love taking chances. Although I am not usually a nervous or scared type of person, I do get a moment of intimidation when arriving in another country. I feel that it's important to take chances and do things that are out of the ordinary- such as traveling abroad.
Why did you choose Sankalp Volunteer?
I decided to choose Sankalp Volunteer because, after reading about it, it seemed to offer so much. Not only did I get to experience life in India, but I was able to be a part of something bigger than myself. I knew I wanted to join a volunteer program where I not only would lend a helping hand, but also a place where I could build relationships.
I read up on Sankalp and saw that they offered a few different options, depending on what the volunteers were interested in. I decided to teach in a school and also care for children in a government run orphanage. All though I had done some teaching and tutoring in the past, I had never taught children whose first language was something other than English, so I thought it would be a challenge and an opportunity where I could really make a difference.
I decided to work in the orphanage because I had never experienced anything like caring for children who don't have parents or can't experience a world outside of the orphanage. I knew it would be an emotional roller coaster, and I was ready to do it. I wanted to make a serious difference in these children's lives, even if that only meant giving them my time and energy. Now that my time in these programs are over, I'm not sure if I did more for the kids or if they did more for me. I completely fell in love with the children and I now realize that had one of the biggest impacts on my life.
What was your favorite part about living in Jaipur?
My favorite part about the location of Sankalp was the living area the volunteers lived in. We lived together like college students live in dorms. It was a perfect setting for a group of people who were all here doing the same thing. We were able to make bonds and learn so much about one another, that it made the experience that much better. We also always had access to someone who worked for the program because we had a host mom/sister/friend who was available to us at all times.
Outside of the house, I loved that I chose to stay in Jaipur, India. The program offers a few different locations throughout India, but I decided on Jaipur based on the programs Sankalp offered. Jaipur gives you both the touristy feel and the locally feel. The city center is a major tourist spot, so a lot of the volunteers and I would do shopping there or eat out at the restaurants. What I liked even more was that Jaipur is still not as touristy as other major cities in India. Our house was located in the most middle-class area I believe Jaipur has, and is also in such a spot that we were the only non-Indian people in the area. I felt that I got more out of my program because we really felt what it was like to live there versus simply visiting.
Some of the volunteers in the house
What sets Sankalp Volunteer apart from similar programs?
I can't say that my program had a uniqueness that others programs do not. I only say this because this is the first type of international program I have ever volunteered with. All I can say is that the relationships I built with the other volunteers and also the children I worked with can not be described. There is no exact word or phrase I could say to explain to anyone what happens when I spent just one moment with one of the children in the school or orphanage. That is something I will cherish forever and something strong enough to bring me back to India and experience all over again.
How helpful was the local staff in Jaipur?
The local staff was completely supportive throughout my entire stay in India. They were always available when we needed them and answered any questions we had to the best of their knowledge. They were emotionally supportive as well. Not everyone knows of or goes through what these kids lived in every day of their lives, so I can only speak for myself when I say that the staff who offer this program did their best in trying to make me understand why things were happening and how there is only so much we could do to help. Also, even if I couldn't give the kids everything I wanted to, simply being there is enough for many of the kids.
How was a typical day for you as a Sankalp Volunteer?
Monday through Friday, I woke up around 7 a.m. so I had time to eat, get dressed, and brush my teeth before our tuk-tuk driver picked us up at 8 a.m. It took about a half an hour to get to the orphanage and when we got there, work started right away. After spending a few hours caring and loving on the children, our tuk-tuk driver was ready to pick us up at 11:30 a.m. to bring us back to our house.
A couple of the children at the orphanage
After we got back home, everyone was free to do as they pleased. For us, we had lunch and dinner prepared for everyday as long as we were home. Lunch was served at 1 p.m. and dinner was served at 7 p.m. After lunch, many of the volunteers would sit on the roof for a little bit and read, play cards, listen to music, and so on. We would also do some shopping at our local markets or the bigger markets closer to the city center...or just explore. By the time dinner was ready, most of us were back at the house. After dinner, there was a lot of socializing and then there were lights out by 10 p.m.
On the weekends, we had a little more freedom since there wasn't any work. We could take a train or bus to another city or hang out locally. Most of us would travel to another city on the weekends to experience more of India.
What did you enjoy doing most outside of your volunteer work?
My favorite activity outside of my day-to-day schedule was definitely traveling to other cities. A group of us usually took a train or car to another city so we could take advantage of more that India could offer. We were only able to get out for a couple days, but it was definitely worth it.
To what extent have your experiences volunteering abroad “followed” you home?
Now that I'm home, I can not stop thinking about my experience abroad. I feel that this program really changed the way I look at life and the things I want to pursue for myself. I want to keep making positive differences in the world, even if I'm not sure exactly how I will go about doing that. I feel that there are important steps everyone needs to take or situations everyone should go through in their lives, and this was one of those steps for me.
I needed to know what it was like to do something so important that I actually may have changed someone's life. I needed to know how it felt to love someone more than myself or my family who has been a part of me since day one. I needed that kind of change and effect on myself in order to feel whole, and like I can actually make a change in the world, whether big or small.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
The only thing I wish I could have done differently is planning to stay longer. When my trip came to an end, I was not ready to leave some of the kids I met. I would go back in a heartbeat if I could.