Melissa Ford - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

For many years I was fascinated by India, the culture, the different states, and their spiritual way of life. At the time I applied to do the programme, I was looking to do volunteering work and wanted it to be in a country where I could really make a difference in people's lives. This was my first time adventuring out of England solo, my first real experience of the world beyond the typical English weather and Devon scenery that I was so used to.

Choosing to do the programme abroad made the whole trip more exciting; I was excited to meet new people from all over the world while experiencing the same journey. Nervous about stepping out of my comfort zone to a country and culture I had only seen on screen and read about in books, I was ready for a life changing journey. Not knowing who I would be experiencing it with and not knowing the language or my surroundings sounded like an adventure I wanted to discover.

View of the Himalayas in India

Himalaya camp

Why did you choose Idex? 

I chose this programme with Idex as it had everything and more of what I was looking for. It was volunteering in India in the Himalayas. The word Himalaya alone caught my eye. I did not know much about the Himalayas other than the breathtaking mountains and beautiful scenery, but after reading the itinerary, I was sure this was the programme for me. I chose the teaching volunteer work in the Himalayas for eight weeks, but even now I wish I could have stayed longer. I was overjoyed to have found such an amazing and life changing programme. Even around the time I had booked it I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on my life.

What was your favorite part about India?

After visiting the unbelievably beautiful Taj Mahal and traveling overnight on a Indian train to the Himalayas, I didn't think a sight could possibly beat it, but I was wrong. The camp was located right next to the mountains on a quiet road. Every view from the camp was just as beautiful as the next, from the snow topped mountains to a crystal clear river flowing right beside the camp surrounded by green hills and a perfect view of the sunrise and sunset everyday. Located in the heart of the Himalayas, there were many activities to do, such as trekking up to hidden temples in the nearby mountains, visiting children in local villages, and scenic walks past the tea fields to the local town of Palampur. All of these reasons are what made the location so unique to anywhere else in the world and these were all my favorite parts about the location.

What characteristic of the program makes it unique?

Firstly, what makes the programme unique is the location, to be able to live in the Himalayas and really get to know the local community that call it their home. Feeling comfortable enough in the area that you really feel apart of the place, rather than feeling like a tourist looking in.

Volunteer in India with local children

Afternoon project in the Himalayas

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

The local staff could not have been more helpful if they tried. Every one of them went out of their way to make sure everyone staying at the camp was comfortable and, of course, safe. They understand that to some it can be a complete culture and surrounding shock, therefore they made it as welcoming as possible. They dealt with any problems that accrued professionally and quickly and we're always there when needed.

The Indian roads can be off putting for any tourist thinking about visiting India, but I can say I felt very safe in the vehicles we traveled in. The drivers drove us safely on all the trips away and to our daily projects.

Our project executive was as helpful as all of the staff. She accompanied me and a few other volunteers to our afternoon project located at the top of the hill, where she helped us with our teaching, such as translating words and instructions between us and the children.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

One thing I wish I had done differently was my length of stay, so I could have made a bigger impact on the children's learning and seen them progress. I did the project for six weeks in total in the Himalayas and I extended my stay in India purely so that I could experience the south of India too, where I also volunteered with the same company. For this reason, I would like to return to the Himalayas in the near future and stay for a longer period of time, to really see what a difference it makes to the children's education and lives there.

Taj Mahal in India

The Taj Mahal

Describe a day in the life of your program.

At 7:30 a.m. it was breakfast time at the camp until 8:30 a.m. Breakfast was different everyday, from banana pancakes to cinnamon porridge, and of course, always accompanied by a steaming hot cup of traditional Indian chai tea. Between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. we would write our plan for our morning projects and get ready any materials or lesson work prepared the evening before. At 9:30 a.m. we would leave the camp to set off for our morning projects.

My morning project was at a local day care centre, which had around 12, two to four year olds. Once the children had arrived we would start the day with basic learning books, such as colours and fruits. After their prayers I had colouring sheets for them, and then we would end the lesson with fun and games and nursery songs. The project would last around three hours.

After lunch we would plan our afternoon project that was located high on a hill, a small village where we taught around 30 children from the ages of three to 14. The volunteers split up and took different age groups to work with. We gave them work sheets and played hangman on words we had learnt that day (we found this was a very useful way for them to learn). After teaching we played games and outdoor activities, such as badminton and skipping. At the end of every project each day we would dance with the children; this was a favorite memory. To see the children and volunteers so happy dancing together, I have never witnessed a more happier moment than this one.

What activities did you enjoy participating in outside of your normal daily schedule?

There were many wonderful and memorable activities that we did outside of the day-to-day schedule, but if I had to pick one it would be the weekend trek we ventured on. The trek is situated in Dharamshala, a beautiful town high up in the mountains with quirky streets that is home to the Tibetan monks, which makes it a tourist destination. The trek itself took six hours upwards. It was worth every step when reaching our camping spot at the top. There were continuous views of mountain after mountain as far as the eye could see. The views were even more breathtaking when the sun was setting and the mountains changed from bright orange to dark pink before the sky turned black and the stars appeared. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience to see the stars at night whilst camping high in the mountains.

Silhouette of monkeys near the Himalayas in India

Bedroom view from camp

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

The accommodation was better than expected. It was a four story building with big-sized rooms on the ground and top floor in between many furnished bedrooms. The rooms had no more than two bunk beds, which were comfortable to sleep in, enough wardrobe space, and Western style bathrooms.

The best thing about the accommodation was the bedroom views. When drawing back the curtains you had incredible scenery of the nearby mountains surrounded by hills and trees, better than most 5-star hotel views. If the bedroom view wasn't eye opening enough, on a regular basis monkeys would climb up around the balconies and windows. This is how close we were to nature.

There was plenty of space within the camp, on the top floor there is a spacious chill out area to read or watch TV. The ground floor’s main room is where everyone eats, with plenty of seating areas along with another chill out area. Before coming to India, I was a little worried about what the food would be like. I am not a huge spice lover, but I needn't to worry as they were delicious mild local dishes.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

Since I have been home after this life changing trip, It has changed my career path. I am looking to study teaching so that someday I can teach in countries like India. It has made me realise how much I took life for granted before I went and how I want to carry on making an improvement to the lives of people living in poverty. I have already applied for teaching assistant jobs based in India for the end of the year. If these are unsuccessful I still plan to return to India with the Idex company to do more volunteer work for a longer period of time.

India had a bigger impact on me than I could have ever imagined. From the people to the traditions and absolutely stunning landmarks, it's a wonderful country that has so much to offer. I went there to experience and teach, and if anything, it has taught me to become a better person.