In Summer 2019 two groups of 18 students from Malmesbury left for India, We had some understanding of what we were doing and what we would get from it, but we had no idea how utterly rewarding the entire experience would be.
Perhaps the most challenging but also rewarding experience from the entire trip was our time with LHA volunteering in their on- on-one English speaking classes. We spoke to individuals of whom many were refugees from Tibet or other countries which had been occupied by China. Hearing the stories from people who had endured this hardship was both humbling and thoroughly fascinating to see how different their lives were to ours. One of the most interesting parts was hearing how many opportunities speaking English would provide and how life changing a basic understanding of English would be.
As a group we were split and sent to two different childcare facilities for children in the local area. Meeting children where the most basic of resources was clearly seen as a privilege was humbling. It was fascinating to meet people of our own age already fluent in English as a second language and with a gratefulness for their education that made us all revaluate quite how lucky we are. This was one of the most rewarding sections of the trip and we certainly felt that we were making a direct difference through the gifts we gave to the centres.
Learning about the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the effects that this had had on Tibetan people was certainly humbling, hearing people speaking about such a difficult time in their lives but still having a complete confidence in a better future despite the likely hood of a free Tibet being so tiny was astonishing and inspiring. We heard a range of different opinions including; the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, charities such as Students for a Free Tibet and individuals who had escaped Tibet themselves and although they all had different opinions regarding how the situation would resolve the overwhelming emotion from everyone we spoke to was an unwavering hope for the future. Hearing stories of people (many of whom were younger that ourselves) who are so passionate for a better future to the point where they feel self-immolation is the only way to have their opinions heard left us all speech less and humbled.
I think its fair to say the entire group were apprehensive about the trek, we all knew it was going to be challenging but the challenges we faced where often different to what we would have previously thought. Many of us were worried about being too hot on the trek, we were in India so the idea that heat would be one of our biggest challenges was not too farfetched – but how wrong we were! Heat was not an issue instead the cold damp evenings where one of the most surprising challenges. The recurring monsoon rain meant that we were all soaked through as well as freezing which was a slightly unpleasant surprise for those of us who thought we were going to be suffering from sunburn. Another surprising challenge we found was that right at the start of our trek we shared a very steep and rocky path with a herd of cows which certainly threw us right into the trek. We celebrated Emma’s birthday at this point in the trip and having a Birthday cake made whilst camping in the foothills of the Himalayas certainty made her Birthday one to never forget!
When we arrived back at Dharamsala after our trek we were looking forward to relaxing and enjoying ourselves as a team – and that we certainly did! Despite the worries of potential ghosts in our hostel (turned out to be squirrels on the roof) the last few days were bittersweet, although we knew we were going home soon we still emerged ourselves in traditional Indian culture through getting our henna done (and attempting to do it ourselves) and learning traditional Indian dances. One of my personal highlights of the trip must be the karaoke night where Mrs Haines and Mr Freer’s duet of “Summer Nights” (grease) was one not to miss!
The trip was fascinating, challenging and humbling all at the same time. Being introduced to a unique culture (the fusion of Tibetan and Indian) that was completely different to anything that any one of us had ever experienced was fascinating and the people we had met along the way left us humbled and inspired. The experience was enriching and enlightening to a completely different way of life and everyone would say they learned so much from this experience and I for one would do it again in a heartbeat.