Volunteers' experiences

Volunteers' experiences

The children under HEAL's care, whether at the HEAL Children's Village, Paradise Village, or one of our Poverty Trap projects, always love to receive visitors. But as well as being given a warm welcome in India, our volunteers often bring with them knowledge and experience which they can impart to the children. Here, some of our volunteers talk about their stay with HEAL, the benefits to the children and the impact their visit had on their own lives.

COLIN CHARLTON

Colin, is a former senior lecturer of computer science at Liverpool University, who was CEO of his own internet company for 10 years until he retired. He volunteered at HEAL Paradise Village in February 2015. Here, he tells us about his time spent in India and his ongoing commitment to HEAL.

“BECAUSE HEAL Paradise is an English-speaking institution I was able to contribute. The children had only been speaking English for six months but their progress is remarkable. I had come with a number of projects in mind to tackle but I knew I would have to be flexible and adapt to the situation I found. Also time was going to be short as my stay was for just three weeks.

The children were the highlight of my trip. So warm, welcoming and responsive. Their eager minds devoured all you could throw at them. They are so keen to learn and grasp the wonderful opportunity that HEAL Paradise provides for them. I have a lifetime’s experience of working in and teaching IT. I was able to assist with the establishment of wi-fi throughout the academy and the setting up of a computer laboratory with 30 terminals, all running Windows. In addition, I introduced the students to using android tablets. I brought six with me and this gave me access to 10 as I had sent four more out previously.

Throughout my stay I worked with an English primary teacher who had excellent experience of teaching younger children. Together we were able to demonstrate the value of engaging teaching and show the merits of a rewards-based behaviour policy.

I had four projects in mind to do with the children:
1. Nature around us. HEAL Paradise Village is set in absolutely stunning surroundings. I wanted to exploit this natural resource for the benefit of the children. We took all the children on nature walks, with access to a pair of binoculars that I had brought with me and using the tablets as cameras they became really involved in nature. In follow-up lessons with the younger children we discussed ideas such as camouflage, environments and the five senses. They drew pictures of the birds they had seen. They helped identify some of the birds by comparing them with lists of birds on the internet and they listened to recordings of different birdsong from an iPhone app. I brought with me binoculars, bird feeders and note books. I left these in the care of a small group of students who promised me they would share their experiences with the rest of the class. I got the carpenters on the site to build a bird hide which we located close to the school buildings. Plans have been established to build five more hides and strategically place these, in different environments, around the 30-acre site.

2. The sky. The village is beautifully set in stunning countryside. There is very little pollution. This gives you stunning views of the sky; on a good night the Milky Way is very clear. I wanted to make use of this resource in my teaching. On the tablets I had put the apps ‘Solar Explorer’ and ‘Phases of the Moon’. On the internet I introduced the children to a website which showed you what the sky over your position would look like at any given time. I taught the children about our solar system and answered their questions; Why do we have day and night? What is a year? What is a month? Why do we have seasons? I brought out with me a small telescope. I appointed a small group of children to look after that and share their experiences with the rest of the class.

3. Football. I was previously involved with Liverpool Ladies FC and I’m a great believer in the value of sport supporting a healthy lifestyle. For these reasons, I wanted to introduce the children, both boys and girls, to the joy of football. I had brought with me six footballs and two sets of bibs and the promise that I would get them child-size Liverpool football kits at the end of the season. There was plenty of room for two pitches but the surface was hard, uneven and covered in stones. I organised the children to collect up and remove the stones. With all 50 of the kids helping, it took two one-hour sessions to completely remove these. Pitches were then marked out and goals constructed out of plastic piping. Although the pitches were clear of stones the surface was still very hard and uneven, so it was considered worthwhile to arrange for six loads of top soil to be spread over them. A roller was hired to provide a flat surface. The boys and girls now have a pitch each and daily games of football take place.

4. Children’s Newspaper. To give the children a means of telling people themselves what life at HEAL Paradise Village was like I thought I would introduce an online children’s newspaper in which they could write their own articles about what goes on in their daily lives. I set this up using WordPress. I launched HEAL Children’s Voice in lessons on communication that I gave them. I submitted some articles myself to get it going. In a lesson I got suggestions from the class about articles they could write and we discussed possible content. The class are now making regular submissions. Their English requires editing at the moment but soon they will be able to make submissions unaided.  At the time of writing this there were 31 articles in the paper. The paper is being moderated by someone in England.

The enjoyment of my experience there was so great that I decided that I would like to carry on teaching the children from England on my return. To facilitate this I switched my main teaching effort into communication skills. I have taught the older children about email, messaging systems, Skype and FaceTime. Rural India presents many challenges for distance learning but these are gradually being overcome and I am confident that the school will be able to be supported by this mode of teaching. I have embarked on teaching their science syllabus in this way.

Personal life at the village is very enjoyable; I spent all my spare time on going for walks. I would take an early-morning walk most days and enjoy the abundant bird life, magical mist and stunning sunrises. I felt little need to leave the village. On Sundays, facilitated by the school bus and local teachers, I took parties of children into the local city of Vijayawada for shopping. I could have visited local villages and temples, but time did not permit.

Whilst at Paradise Village I wanted for nothing; my room was well equipped with an en-suite bathroom. All staff looked after me with great care. I enjoyed eating with the children and other staff. I will definitely be returning and would recommend the experience to anyone who feels they could contribute to HEAL Paradise Village in any way, no matter how small. They themselves will gain from the experience.

The children were the highlight of my trip. So warm, welcoming and responsive. Their eager minds devoured all you could throw at them. They are so keen to learn and grasp the wonderful opportunity that HEAL Paradise provides for them.