The Bir gang

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Volunteering to teach English to Tibetan monks has been an experience of a lifetime for NEHA JAIN

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Volunteering has always been an endeavour that I have wanted to pursue, to be able to give back to the community (which is highly encouraged in my religion Jainism), and to my ancestral motherland, India. I finally got the opportunity to do so in September – October 2013, with IVHQ (International Volunteer HQ), and I have to admit that the experience was phenomenal.

My volunteer experience consisted of teaching English (grammar, vocabulary, poetry, conversation English) to monks of varying ages at a Tibetan colony in Bir, Himachal Pradesh.  In all honesty I was not sure of what to expect, but when I got there, the experience exceeded my expectations.

Despite having limited supplies, the enthusiasm for learning a third language was very clear amongst all the monks. They strived to be a part of the learning, to create a bond with the educator and they had utmost respect for all the educators (volunteers).  Their humble and respectful approach to knowledge and education touched me the most.  A clear example of this occurred on my last day of teaching; I was given a party by my students (aged 8-13) who brought snacks, serenaded and danced for me, handed me heartfelt letters and gifts of appreciation, whilst bestowing me the honour (through white scarfs) of being their teacher.  The best part about volunteering with the monks was not just that I was given the opportunity to be a part of their learning curve, but that I was imparted with words of wisdom from them, which has allowed me to grow in a positive way.

Apart from being able to educate, volunteering in Bir also helped me to forge strong friendships with my fellow volunteers as well as the adult monks, and I will forever be grateful for this. We formed such a close knit group in the four weeks that I have nicknamed us the ‘Bir gang’!

I also experienced the stunning beauty of Bir, but more importantly, I was enveloped with a sense of peace and serenity.  I became a part of a welcoming host family, enjoying their traditions, culture and their hospitality.

My volunteering experience has come to an end and I can only say that I am absolutely thankful to have had such an all-encompassing and enriching experience. Fortunately for me, the journey has not ended as I have been asked (by the principal of one of the monasteries) to create an English curriculum for new volunteers, so that there will be progression and continuation in the teaching of English therre. Being able to give back to the community in this way is just absolutely fantastic!

I recommend volunteering at any juncture of your life; it has the power to change you profoundly.