Unforgettable Volunteer Experience

By: Debbie McKeown.
I recently decided to spend a week on my own in McLeod Ganj before my husband would join me for two weeks of travel in India.

Valunter of lhaAlthough I knew I wanted to volunteer with the Tibetan community, I wasn’t sure what opportunities were available. A bit of research directed me to Lha, and I am so grateful that I found this wonderful organization.Almost instantly I was part of a community. By my second day, I was already being greeted in the streets of McLeodGanjby people I had met through Lha … staff, other volunteers, and the people who are served by Lha.

When I arrived, Lha staff quickly got me set up for the week with meaningful volunteer opportunities. In the mornings I tutored two women who needed help with English, and in the afternoons I lead conversational English sessions.

It’s cliché to say I got much more out of the experience than I put in, but in this case it is very true.Although we only worked together for a week, I felt that the two women I tutored made tangible progress in our time together, and this was incredibly rewarding for me. I felt inspired by the high level of commitment that both of them demonstrated, and I feel sure they will continue their English studies and thrive.

The conversational English sessions intimidated me at first as I’m normally more comfortable with one-on-one than a larger group. But Lha have good support systems in place, and I soon found myself enjoying the conversations. Typically I would have 6 or 7 participants, and there were lively conversations every time. I felt like I learned firsthand about Tibetan life and the Tibetan experience. Many of the participants escaped from Tibet recently and the stories they tell are both fascinating and heartbreaking. Often I would let them know that I was in Tibet in 2012, and this always prompted discussion.

I left McLeod Ganj feeling like I had gained a fresh perspective on Tibet’s people, and also that I had made a valuable contribution. Before travelling to India, I looked at several volunteer opportunities. Some cost a great deal of money to get involved with. Others didn’t seem well organized, asked for a lengthy time commitment, or required specialized skills. Although I do have TESOL certification and some tutoring experience, the main “skills” that I used during my time at Lha were flexibility and a willingness to contribute.

For my week of volunteering, Lha fit the bill perfectly for me on all counts. Before I arrived, their website told me almost everything I needed to know, and their staff were quick to email answers to any questions I still had. I hope to return and spend longer volunteering at Lha, and would recommend Lha to anyone as an enriching volunteer experience.