On the southeast coast of India resting pristinely on the Bay of Bengal lies Chennai, the country’s largest Southern city and an important industrial, cultural, and educational capital. Volunteering in Chennai will expose volunteers to a dense and flourishing urban life like they have never experienced – one that is both immensely culturally enriching and shockingly laden with poverty. As a volunteer in Chennai you will have the rare opportunity to contribute to a community in need while also exploring a beautiful and inspiring culture which is certain to expand your life perspective.
Projects & Placements
Most volunteer placements in Chennai will be focused on alleviating the burdens of poverty among the city’s poorest inhabitants. Since Chennai is such an important economic and industrial city, many rural villagers migrate to Chennai in search of work and are left homeless in need of basic necessities, such as food, shelter, and healthcare. There are many volunteer programs in Chennai that work closely with local volunteer organizations and NGOs, placing individuals on the ground to volunteer in community centers, orphanages, health care clinics, and other such social welfare institutions.
It is also possible to volunteer in Chennai in fields such as women’s rights and social justice. India is in the midst of broad-sweeping cultural change, and more and more women are coming to enjoy equal rights and education throughout the country. The problem of gender inequality still lingers in many traditional facets however, and those who volunteer in Chennai can work to spread awareness through women’s empowerment by teaching uneducated women valuable life skills, such as reading, computing, and speaking the English language.
There are countless volunteer opportunities in Chennai which allow volunteers to help improve the lives of overlooked communities. Placements can last anywhere from a few weeks up to a whole year, so volunteers will have much flexibility in customizing their own volunteer experience. Chennai is fairly hot and humid throughout the whole year, being in a tropical zone, so whenever you choose to go prepare to sweat.
Life in Chennai
Chennai is one of India’s largest cities and the third most popular place of residence for expats in India, trailing only New Delhi and Mumbai. It is quite industrialized, meaning that many Western commodities are available and volunteers will certainly be made comfortable. The city is a cultural hub with many museums, art galleries, and other artistic venues – it is especially famous for its classical dance shows, which are well worth attending. These attractions plus its beautiful beaches, temples, and other historical monuments make Chennai one of the most popular destinations for volunteering in India amidst a friendly environment for foreign nationals.
Yet while Chennai is a big and bustling city, it should not be overlooked that living anywhere in India will be a big adjustment for most international volunteers; poverty in the urban areas can be quite intense for first time visitors. Chennai has over 1,000 slums in its metropolitan limits, and as a volunteer in Chennai it is likely that you will be working with many individuals from these areas. Prepare yourself to join a society which, while culturally magnificent and spiritually inspiring, also carries with it a heavy burden of poverty.
The bittersweet result of this low per capita income is that living in Chennai will be extremely affordable for volunteers. You will find that the prices for food and transportation rarely exceed a few dollars at a time. Much of the city also runs in the informal economic sector, meaning that on many occasions you will find yourself bartering over prices. This can become a fun practical experience when you get good at it, but getting overcharged a few times is inevitable before you come to reach an adequate level of mastery.
Accommodation & Visas
Individuals who volunteer abroad in Chennai will usually find accommodations in an apartment or a homestay, depending on the program and length of stay. If offered, homestays are a great way to become an extended member of an Indian family. You will enjoy unparalleled Indian hospitality and likely be invited to many outside engagements, such as family get-togethers, religious festivals, and the like. Apartments are good for a more autonomous lifestyle, and many volunteer programs in Chennai will help you to organize lodging either independently or with roommates.
You will also need to obtain a visa to volunteer abroad in Chennai. What type (tourist or volunteer) will depend on the length of your stay. The visa process can take a bit of time so it is best to communicate with your program and get started early on. You will have to apply in person, and it may require the endorsement of your host organization. For information visit an Indian consulate nearest to you, check out GoAbroad’s Indian Embassy Directory to locate one.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering abroad in Chennai will be a life changing experience. India’s southernmost mega-metropolis offers a thriving cultural and industrial backdrop where volunteers can enjoy programs that offer vital services to communities in need. Deciding to volunteer in India is a big step, but one that you will forever thank yourself for taking. Spiritually enriching, earthly sobering, and all-around a fun and rewarding experience, every day of volunteer work in Chennai will be a roller coast of excitement.
Are you ready to hop on?