Volunteer Experience: James Brocklebank

Hi, my name is James, I’m 26 and I´m a French teacher from England. I arrived at Sristi at the start of November 2015 with my partner Annie to spend one month at Sristi Foundation. We are half way through our stay at the moment and it´s safe to say we are having an amazing experience so far.

I have been predominantly working on the land, organising activities for the members and helping out with some administrative work for Khartik. It has been amazing to get to know the members of Sristi Village and hearing some of their stories has been touching, motivating and truly inspirational.

The first week we were here was a little disjointed as Tamil Nadu was hit by a rather vicious storm on one day and it was Diwali the next day. The storm meant that we stayed away from the farm because of the adverse weather conditions and we were pretty much house-bound for the whole day with no power. Nevertheless this was the perfect opportunity for Annie and I to spend time with the other volunteers and to get to know them. We had a nice day talking, playing cards and we did venture out into the howling wind for an afternoon stroll. The affectionately named ‘Pink House’ is nice for volunteers and the atmosphere is always one of sharing and good fun!

Thankfully the storm held off for the festival of lights and Sristi´s Diwali celebrations! Khartik had hired a ‘van’ for the day and the plan was to do a house crawl, visiting different member´s families where we would eat, drink and enjoy Diwali. I’m sure Khartik won’t mind me saying that the bus that turned up was not quite what we expected, it was ideally going to be big enough to fit all 25 of us. However, an 8 seater camper van-esque bus turned up! But this is India and the party must go on! There was never any doubt that we would all fit and after all, when there is a will there is a way. I think we got 19 people in the van and another 6 on two motorbikes. We made the really fun journey to Pondicherry and some surrounding villages where the hospitality of the families and supporters of Sristi was second to none. It´s safe to say everyone enjoyed the amazing food even though we probably all ate too much. We did have a bit of a dance to try and work some of it off!

So after the excitement of the storm and Diwali we eventually settled into a routine of going to the farm or ‘the land’ to work. We have been ably directed by Tata, the lead farmer. Although it sometimes feels like Tata is barking orders at you, you soon realise that that’s his way and his singing and encouragement keep you on your toes and help you to enjoy the work even more. We are always ably assisted on the land by the members and Sendhil, Sugumar are the stand out workers but everyone gets involved. The highlight has definitely been finishing the weeding of the rice field. Probably the size of a football pitch this work has certainly made us appreciate our lunchtime and dinnertime rice more and has given us a good sense of achievement. I hope the harvest repays the village with some good rice!

Away from the field we have had fun with the members doing a range of lessons, activities, games and outings. We have enjoyed teaching some English, playing cards and chess and doing some sports including ball games, yoga and some walking. One day we took a trip to Mailam’s temple. All the members enjoyed getting the bus and then having a look round some of Mailam’s shops before climbing the hill to the temple. It was nice to see the members completing their Hindu rituals and we all enjoyed the peace of the temple as well as the spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

Overall I have had an amazing time and I have learnt so much and everyone has been so kind and generous. The members have been brilliant and we must never underestimate their capabilities and what we can learn from them.