My very first question was: “Where’s Faridabad?” whereas everyone else was asking: “Why are you going to pay to live and work in India, and in a slum school at that?” It was true, we were paying to go to India for three months, two months would have us living in a suburb of Delhi and teaching in a slum school. Were we doing the right thing? We weren’t sure and only time would tell. What would life be like there? I guess we would have to wait and see.
Faridabad. Where’s that?
So you’ve signed up with Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) and you’re super excited. You start telling everyone you’re off to India to volunteer and people have a mixture of emotions. Then someone asks: “Where will you be living?” You reply: “Faridabad.” They look at you confused and you just shrug.
The thing is no-one has heard of Faridabad. It’s a bit like telling a foreigner where you’re from (unless it’s London). And because no-one had heard of it it’s difficult to prepare or know what you’re letting yourself in for. Luckily you don’t have to find the place on your own as PMGY will arrange an airport pickup (or in our case, as we had been travelling round India for around five weeks prior to starting on project with them) an equally easy to get to location in New Delhi (for us our hotel). The journey from Delhi to Faridabad seems to be done at high speed but don’t panic, everyone in India drives likes a 10-year-old in control of a car in Grand Theft Auto. You just need to relax into it and stop wincing every time you narrowly miss a head on collision.
Arrival may feel a little anti-climatic as by now you are just in an ordinary suburb of outer New Delhi, at a regular family home. I’m not saying they aren’t welcoming – they are very welcoming. However, you’re just another volunteer here and they come and go quite frequently. From the moment you arrive, you’re part of the family and you needn’t worry about a thing. There’s even a local market within walking distance that you can visit for everything from ATMs to a supermarket for snacks, drinks and toilet paper. You can even visit the bakery if you fancy spoiling yourself or shops where you can get clothing tailored.
Getting to and from Faridabad is easy too so don’t panic that you’ll get stranded there. Auto rickshaws (employed by PMGY) will take you to any local places you want to visit such as your project, the park, the malls, restaurants, cinema etc. If you want to go further then a short ride will drop you at the end of the violet line – part of the extensive Delhi metro. From here you can get into Delhi for around 26p in about 45 minutes to explore the capital or catch a train/bus to some far flung exotic Indian destination.
Two companies serve the projects here – PMGY which sends volunteers from the UK predominately and a French company. Generally, if you are here with PMGY you will be roomed with others from PMGY so don’t worry if you can’t speak French. That said, the French volunteers have better English than I will ever have in any language so it’s great to interact with yet another culture.
Rooming is very flexible here. We opted for a private room being a couple and staying for two months as we wanted our own space. The other rooms are split across two houses (don’t worry they are next to each other) with rooms containing from two to five single beds. The rooms can be mixed-sex or single-sex – you just have to let Vishy know what you prefer. All rooms have access to the wifi (though there are certain areas where this is stronger than others), fans to keep cool in the summer, plenty of places to charge your electronic devices, bedding and some small amount of storage to be shared. There is a nearby apartment that is used to house an overflow of volunteers at peak season but from those who have stayed it is more than adequate for the needs of a volunteer.
Rooms have nearby bathrooms with western toilets and showers, which provide cold water, but as it is hot here most of the year, it’s not that bad. However, saying that, it is nearing the end of November now and Vishy has just installed a boiler for hot water!
There are ‘lounge’ areas for you to sit and relax in as well as housing a fridge for food/drinks that are purchased. All meals are taken in Vishy’s house.
- Possible negative: it’s all vegetarian.
- Definite positive: it’s healthy, freshly-prepared and they even mix things up with pasta and noodles so don’t worry it will be curry and nothing more. The food will keep coming as long as you want it so you’ll be certain to be full too.
- If you like spice then let them know, otherwise the food will not be too spicy so don’t panic.
- Typical breakfast: toast with butter, honey, and jam (though you can buy other spreads such as Nutella at the market). Juice, tea, and water for drinks. Omelette and paratha can be added too on request. Fruit (usually bananas) also available daily.
- Typical lunch: rice, dal, vegetable dish or two including potatoes, okra, cauliflower, onions, peppers etc., chapatis and sometimes fruit/salad e.g. apple, orange, or cucumber. In addition to this you can have a sweet chapati to follow up as a dessert.
- Typical dinner: rice, curry (often egg or potato based), more vegetable dishes, soup, chapati. Again a sweet chapati makes a good dessert if required. Once a week (sometimes more) there is a non-Indian dish served instead which is usually pasta served with warm bread. Noodles can accompany the Indian food too and are lightly spiced.
- Food timings are very flexible. Breakfast involves helping yourself to the bread and toaster and letting someone know if you want an omelette cooking. Lunch is served when everyone arrives back from placement so that’s easy to remember. If you happen to be around on the weekend (most people aren’t as they’re off travelling) then they will let you know so you don’t miss out. Evening meals can be split into two sittings if there are many volunteers but again it’s flexible especially if you want to eat early before going out for ice-cream, the cinema or needing to catch a train/bus. They will even make you a small packed food parcel if you are heading out particularly early.
- If you fancy learning how to cook then just ask. You are more than welcome to join them about an hour before dinner and help to make it. I took them up on the offer and had great fun learning the Hindi names for all of the main foods we eat, learning about the main spices used in Indian food and having a go at making paratha for myself. This led to all the volunteers having Hindi food related nicknames!
Our typical week day
Below we have outlined our typical day. It is not dissimilar from other volunteers but remember that we are on the slum teaching project and other projects do differ slightly in timings. In addition, although we have not signed up to the orphanage project, the flexibility of the programmes here; the fact that we live in the same building as the orphans; and the need for volunteers; means we choose to do two projects on most/if not all, days. This is of course our choice and by no means forced upon anyone.
- 7:00 am. Get up and have a cool shower. If you are a particularly early-riser then there is a yoga class in the local park at 5 am which is free to participate in.
- 8:00 am. Breakfast of toast, omelette, fruit juice and a banana.
- 8:30 am. Get the PMGY auto-rickshaw or lift from Vishy to the slum school.
- 8:45 am. Lead the children through exercise and a few of their favourite songs.
- 9:05 am. Classes start. Anthony and I both teach the smaller children first before moving onto our longer second classes which we divide into an hour of Maths and an hour of English.
- 12:30 pm. School finished. We wait for the rest of the volunteers (as the slum medical centre and a women’s empowerment group are based on the same site) and then take the PMGY auto-rickshaw back to Vishy’s house.
- 1:15 pm. Lunch time. Following this the rest of the day is usually your own to enjoy as you want. However, as outlined above we usually support in the orphanage. This occurs after we have had a break of our own, planned our lessons for the next day or popped down into the local market.
- 4:00 pm. Head upstairs to the orphanage and see the boys who have by now got back from school, got changed out of their school uniform and woken up from their one hour afternoon nap that they have. We work with them from 4 pm on their homework which can cover English, Maths or Science.
- 5:30 pm. Park time! Usually the boys will have completed their homework by now so we often take them to the park. Without volunteers they would not be able to go and it is great for them to get out of the single room they live in. We take badminton rackets, the volleyball or just themselves. It is a 5 minute walk from the orphanage and there are two parks to choose from.
- 7:00 pm. Dinner time. Having walked the boys home, we head next door for food. After dinner some volunteers may head out to one of the other sectors for ice-cream rolls, the mall, cinema or just back to their rooms/the lounge area to chill out. Sometimes, though not every night, we may head back up to the boys and play games/jigsaws/watch a movie with them until they have their dinner at 9 pm.
- 9:00 pm. Chill out time.
As the weekends are completely free they do not follow a specific pattern. Most volunteers will head off on a Friday afternoon/evening catching a bus or train and return either Sunday or early Monday morning before projects begin (trains/buses often get in between 5 – 6:30 am so you can still go to project and then catch up on sleep if needed in the afternoon). If you want to go further afield then Vishy is really flexible and it is possible to head off earlier on a Thursday or even Wednesday if you let them know in advance. Those volunteers who are around on weekends will often take day-trips to Delhi instead where there is much to see and do.
If you want specific detailed information on any of the projects that PMGY provides then please contact them directly by going to www.planmygapyear.co.uk.