Volunteering in India

Getting to Teesta Valley

As the war on Iraq was raging in 2003, we packed our bags, boarded a flight that had to change its course in order not to fly over certain hot spots to do Karma Yoga(1). Yes we had decided to stop working and start giving back something to society, and that decision made me feel alive again.

We arrived at our destination after a long train journey from Delhi to New Jaipalguri, squatting on the train toilet with Delhi belly followed by a 3 hour hair raising trip by a jeep to Kalimpong, in the foothill of the Himalayas.

Actually, we still had another jeep trip of a few hours to our village in Teesta Valley.

(1) The 6 branches of yoga are

Raja Yoga – meditation & contemplation
Karma Yoga – selfless service
Bhakti Yoga – expanding the heart through devotion
Jnana Yoga – wisdom & knowledge
Hatha Yoga – Physical strength & health
Tantric Yoga – Rituals


Our new home

The school and the headmaster’s house was in the same building. The school was upstairs with frames for doors and windows but totally open to the elements as the finishing touches were never added. We had a room next to the kitchen and very clean room with a bed. So far so good. No electricity most of the time, toilets was a hole in the ground at the end of the garden (always sleep with your headtorch handy for those night visits) and no running water. After a few days we realised there was an old man working there who carried the water for all of us on his head every morning from down below in the valley!

Having said all this the setting was magical. We were really in another world looking way down below to the Teesta River.

The children

However hard life can be, all you have to do is look at the children’s happiness and smiles and you forget all your own hardships. Most of these kids walked for an hour each way everyday to come to school. We were teaching Classes 1, 2, 3 & 4. The ages ranged from 6 to 11 and 11 year olds kept failing and stayed in Class 1. We taught English, Science, Maths and General Knowledge. Teaching Science to class 1 was near impossible! The General knowledge was good for us, as we very quickly learned who was famous for what in India.

The most disturbing experience for us was how the kids were treated by headmaster and teachers. They were beaten for the most trivial of things. And I think if there is one thing we did teach the other teachers that there was another way and that was teaching with love. It was certainly rewarding that the other teachers started giving them rewards for doing well rather than just beating them when they do badly.

Best moment for me was when I was writing on the blackboard and felt a mist in the air and when I turned to look at my class they had disappeared in a cloud that had come in through the unfinished windows. Pretty crazy.

Author: Chaya Parme

Chemical Engineer Author

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