I have recently returned from a month in India, where I spent just 20 days in the most spectacular looking place I have ever been to. Despite the remoteness of this small town, the people are humble, friendly, spiritual, and energetic. The beauty of this place definitely makes up for the long cramped train ride, and the bumpy, unbearably long and squishy car ride. Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh state of India, is spectacular. I would go back there in a heart beat. But only if I am not paying for the journey, so i can fly to Guwahati and then take the relaxing helicopter into the town. Even though the journey was also beautiful, it was very long and arduous, If I did the trip on my own, it would be broken up by a lot of stops to explore the small towns along the way, I would have to stop to talk to people about how long they had lived in these places, because they are the type of towns where generations of families would live and would have such a rich history that I would love to learn about.
The purpose of my trip here was to volunteer with an organisation called Art For Cause, a not-for-profit based in Delhi. Art For Cause organise and run camps in remote northern India, they have previously held a camp in Tawang in 2014, and have also held a camp in Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir district for the last 2 years. During these camps, the core members and volunteers teach and mentor art and craft, music, photography, film making, and creative writing. They also planned to have a doctor come and give the kids free health check ups, but due to a dengue outbreak in Delhi, the doctor was not allowed to take leave to come out and visit the kids of Tawang.
My role for this camp was as an analyst to monitor and evaluate how they run their camps, how they are received and how they look after their volunteers. Art For Cause are a young organisation, reaching their second birthday whilst in Tawang, which we celebrated at the Mahabodhi home for young girls and elderly, where they put on an amazing dinner for us, which was a great surprise from the girls who cooked beautiful food for us. I wanted to join in with the volunteers on an Art For Cause camp to see how they ran things, and to see how I could help them go further with the work they were doing for the kids in Northern India. If this camp was successful I was hoping that we could start sending volunteers from New Zealand to help out on the camps in Tawang and Ladakh.
This trip to India was very educational and inspiring. Being able to meet the guys from Art For Cause face to face, and being able to hear their goals and aspirations, as well as from the other volunteers who worked very hard throughout the camp. It was great to hear other people talking so passionately about the rights and opportunities of children and how they should be encouraged to pursue any dream and passion they have, including art. In particular, seeing kids in schools that do not have art as part of their curriculum thriving using their imagination, and some of them really surprised us with their level of skill and talent. It was also great seeing their teachers interested in the materials being used, and what the volunteers were teaching them, and I really hope that they would took note of some of the stuff we were doing and will continue to teach them art once we left.
Seeing the struggles that Art For Cause face throughout the process of setting up camps, and meeting all the criteria the local government offices require to be able to go into government schools and teach the children outside of the curriculum was very informative. They came across many roadblocks along the way, with the most trying occurring on the second day of the camp. When the authorities told us that we no longer had permission to conduct the camp and that we had to stop hat we were doing, only half an hour into a class. However the principle of the school that we were teaching was very supportive of the camp and Art For Cause, and fought for the camp to continue. It was very interesting and encouraging to see the schools standing up for Art For Cause and for the camp to continue, it gave us a little bit of inspiration that what we were doing there was appreciated and wanted, despite politics coming into the fray and disrupting things.
My overall experience from the camp was a great one. I learnt a lot about running volunteer trips, coordinating volunteers, and dealing with the challenges that will come with working in India as a not-for-profit in a remote region. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Mahabodhi home for girls and elderly, I could not stop crying when we were saying goodbye to the girls. They were the most humble, positive kids I have met, and I really hope they can reach their goals and continue to work hard for what they want out of life, and continue with their singing and dancing, because they are so talented! Meeting the people throughout the town and community was magical, the smiles that welcomed us everywhere we went made it feel so much more homely than it already was. I cannot wait to return to Tawang one day, to see the breath taking views, and see the progress of the kids at the schools.
- Stacey Hitchcock is a research student of NCPACS, the University of Otago. The original blog post can be found from: https://staceyhitchcock86.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/tawang-india-volunteering-and-art-for-cause/