While in Chennai we, LUMS students, were given the amazing opportunity to volunteer at an organisation of our choice- either a rehabilitation centre for men with mental disabilities or at a hostel that teaches English to young girls- organised by Chennai Volunteers. Volunteering has always been something that I have wanted to do, especially abroad and especially in a school, so going to Rainbow Home Residential Hostel for Girls was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss!
On approach to the school we were surrounded by slums and squalor living conditions, hard to come to terms with when you’re faced with the modern infrastructure of Lancaster University on a daily basis. As we reached the school we began to understand that this kind of environment is so normal to those who live within it, women were smiling and laughing while sitting on street corners making necklaces from fresh flowers, men went about their day to day business selling street food as if they were Michelen Star Chefs!
The school gates opened as we drove up the dirty driveway to see around 50 young girls sat outside giggling and singing. The playground, or yard, was grimy and probably very unsafe but that didn’t stop the young girls from dancing around. Each and every girl seemed so excited to see us as though we were a completely different species! They were truly over the moon to see us arrive and couldn’t wait to talk to us when we got inside!
After removing our shoes, we all sat down on the floor of a class room with young schoolgirls fighting for a seat next to us. After a few moments of shyness, the girls soon came out of their shell and began to sing to us: “if you’re happy and you know it…” and after this it was only fair that it was our turn to sing to them, much to the children’s enjoyment and our embarrassment we stood up to teach them the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey (which obviously continued on for much longer than anticipated). Following our X-Factor worthy performance, we were asked by the teachers to help the young girls draw a greetings card for someone of their choice. This proved to be difficult due to language barriers as well as the girls being more interested in the softness of our hair and the colour of our nails! After some discussion about our beauty regime the girls got down to business, drawing flowers, butterflies, love hearts as well as writing some very good English! We also had the chance to take some photographs with the girls, who took it upon themselves to take them with our iPhones- another moment that they were truly mesmerised by something that we take for granted. At the end of our short visit, most of the young girls decided that they wanted to give the card that they had drawn to us, a sweet memory of our time at Rainbow Home.
Although it is unlikely that we will ever see those same girls again, I know, on behalf of all the other students that came, that we wish them all the best in terms of health, education and opportunity. They have been born into an environment which may not deal them the best cards in life, however with the confidence that they showed us on our short trip, we know that they can definitely go a long way! The trip itself was very humbling, it highlighted for me the true divide that exists not only in Chennai but across the globe. I saw those girls as girls just the same as me when I was their age, but they looked at each of us as though we were aliens.
We are all the same, living in the same world with the same problems happening around us. It just happens to be that some of us, due to our more individual environment, are made to be more aware of things going on in the world. After this experience I came to the conclusion that climate change, poverty, pollution are all things that require the action of everybody, however it takes us – the more aware- to kick-start that action!