The reason that I wanted to take part in a program like ICS was not to go to and live in an amazing country, or to change the world, or to get to see the Taj Mahal, or to contribute to the completion of the Millenium Development Goals (I’d never even heard of them before I went on ICS) – it was, put simply, because I wanted to make some small difference to a small group of people, because I was able to. Of course, somewhere along the way I expected to achieve personal development too: increased confidence, the ability to work alongside people of a different nationality and language (a thought that terrified me at the outset), and naturally, a much-improved CV. But the most important thing for me about the whole experience was that I had the opportunity to go somewhere and have an impact on the community that I worked in, hopefully for the better.
I am privileged (we all are, really). I have a roof over my head, food on the table that I don’t particularly have to put any effort into providing (by which I mean mum does it for me), the right to education, and two parents (albeit who live in different houses) who love me. And my thought process whilst applying for ICS was along the lines that having all of this leaves me with, for want of a better word, an obligation – to do something worthwhile off the back of that privilege, for those who don’t have it so good.
It’s hard, having come back, not to go on about it constantly – and if you gave me a willing listener I could and would easily ramble on for hours about the girls we worked with and the things they said and did that made me smile, and how rewarding it is to feel like you’re doing something valuable with your time for no material gain. I could talk for hours about how little they have, and how tough their lives were, and yet how they still managed to be upbeat and happier with their lot than a lot of people I know whose problems are exponentially smaller.
I won’t talk for hours. But I did want to reiterate that this was far and away the best thing about India. The girls and kids that we worked with were so sweet and so funny and so worth every ounce of effort we put in. Rukeiya, who invited us in for chai every time we walked her home. Rukshana, who insisted on holding my hand to keep me safe when we went for a group walk to explore the outside of the community. Saiba, who on the last day simply would not let go of my arm. Vasila, who made the best (and admittedly only) chicken momos I’ve ever tasted – and naturally insisted on continuously filling up our plates with more. Raisa ji and her daughters Heena and Sana, who invited us to eat at their house on Eid, pretty much the one day a year on which they could afford to eat meat (I will admit to some trepidation at the prospect of eating goat cooked in a slum, but I can truthfully report that nothing bad came of it). Little Farhana, who was always so enthusiastic and who got accepted into a government school whilst we were there because she was so bright. Afsana and Gulbadann and Nagma and Shabana…
I could easily go on. And on. But I hope I’ve gone some way towards conveying how much they meant to me, and how much they still do. I think it’s terrible that we were (as it stands currently) the last cycle of volunteers to work in Jaipur, when there is so much still to do – they all have so much potential and are so deserving of a life other than a life spent in the service of others, of their fathers and future husbands; a life spent cooking and cleaning and washing.
I felt like they had so much hope by the time the program ended, and I don’t think that hope should be extinguished. Because I am so privileged, and they taught me so much.