The Hidden Magic of Volunteering

Article published on Dec. 20, 2010
community published
Article published on Dec. 20, 2010
Author: Charlotte Buchanan

This summer I had the opportunity to spend a week’s placement at an NGO, volunteering with street children in Mumbai, India. If you had met me at the start of the summer, I would have told you that I expected this experience to be incredibly emotional, at times even upsetting. I would have also told you – in perhaps, an arrogant manner – that I was determined to try and find a way to help. I assumed that because I was educated and from a ‘developed’ nation that I was obviously in a superior position to help. However, these assumptions were based on mythical characteristics of volunteering in a developing country and consequently, my real experience was far from what I expected.

My placement was with The Vatsalya Foundation, a charity that works to help street children in Mumbai. On the first day of the placement, I was unsure as to what to expect. Nevertheless, due to my arrogant and ignorant expectations I felt prepared. Armed with tissues (for the upsetting, emotional side) and a notebook (for my plan of action) I walked through the door of the centre. Upon arrival the children were ecstatic to see me, instantly breaking any awkward, unknown boundaries that might have been present. I spent the day simply playing with the children and allowing them to show me around. My tissues were redundant as the majority of the day was spent laughing not crying and my notebook only proved useful in providing paper for some of the children to draw on. Unsurprisingly, I left after the first day feeling very confused – and very tired – as it was not at all what I had expected.+

The rest of the week continued – much to my surprise – in the same joyous vain. The children and I continued to play games, we danced, we sang, we painted, occasionally looked at their education and one day I was even permitted to partake in a religious ceremony with them. I never once used my tissues, my notebook is full of pretty drawings, not a plan of action and when I look back at the photos taken, they are full of huge grins and gleaming eyes – to say my experience surprised me is an understatement. I had expected it to be emotional and it was, although not in the negative sense that I had anticipated. On the contrary, I found the experience to be incredibly happy and by the end of the week I found the charity a truly magical place to be.

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