By Dane Holding former Volunteer coordinator
I won’t lie, I was fairly apprehensive about travelling to India for the first time. It would be the first time I’d left The United States in 24 years (save the occasional trip to the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls). I’d graduated from college recently, and was trying to evade the seeming inevitable necessity of submitting to the system in place in my country which requires me to give up all of my aspirations for the sake of a paycheck. A good friend of mine recommended that I travel to McLeod Ganj specifically to volunteer, and after a bit of research, I was able to locate Lha through The Volunteer Tibet Website.
I was picked up by Lha’s representative at Delhi international airport, and after a (rather brutal) bus trip to McLeod Ganj, I first saw the Himalayan Mountains surrounding the town. Seeing those mountains for the first time is easily one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Admittedly, I didn’t volunteer at Lha for very long before it closed down for Kolachakra. During that time I spent about a month in McLeod Ganj working with Rabsel, the volunteer coordinator, keeping up with correspondences with other incoming volunteers. During that time there was a blizzard which caused a five day long blackout in McLeod Ganj, during which time I think I did more reading than I have in my entire rest of my life combined. The town was so peaceful, though – I can remember walking around the morning of the snowstorm and not seeing any other person in the entire town. The stillness of everything was astounding.
When Lha resumed, I assumed the role of the Advanced English Teacher. I’d never taught before, and it was a little bit difficult to get my bearings at first; but one of the most rewarding parts of my volunteer experiences was easily watching my regular students learn and grow in their language skills. It was incredible how far some of them advanced in both their writing and understanding of the English language during the short month that I taught them, and how much aspects of speech which seemed to be so weak among my students become so strong.
It really was an incredibly feeling.
In early March I transitioned into the volunteer coordinator position. It was very different from my experience teaching; rather than working directly with exiles, I was now partly responsible for communicating with incoming volunteers, organizing volunteer events, and communicating between the permanent staff and the volunteer staff. Though it was rewarding, I found it to be less rewarding than working directly with the exile community.
I spent a total of four months and ten days in McLeod Ganj, and made some wonderful friends in the process, both among the exile community and among the volunteer community at Lha. I would not trade my volunteer experience for anything, and would do it over again in a heartbeat.