“When I started volunteering, I thought I am doing a favour to society but that’s where I was going wrong because it is actually the other way around. You end up learning more than you had intended to learn or give back and that makes volunteering more special,” shares Swati Saxena about her volunteering experience at the Sikkim Himalayan Academy.

The Academy is a free residential school nestled on the eastern Himalayas for underprivileged children from the remote mountains.

An engineer by profession, Puja Uchil also volunteered for the same school in 2016 and is currently helping the school raise funds for the kids. But what prompted these youngsters to leave their corporate jobs and devote time to things that mattered to them the most?

“I felt a little lost in the job and that’s when I started experimenting with a lot of things — travelling, writing and volunteering and that’s when Sikkim Himalayan Academy happened,” Swati explains.

A usual day at the academy

Swati tells us that she was living with a farmer’s family there and the entire village life was very different and special. She took reading classes for Class I and II, math for class III and science for class V.

“Everyone slept and woke up very early. After the morning classes, they would take a nap, have lunch and sometimes there would be some activities planned for them like a hike in the jungle or a walk up to the monastery.”

There was a library and a TV room on the school premises to help the students learn better.

“I learnt more from the kids than what they learnt from me,”-  Swati

Experiential learning

Puja elaborated how the kids there had an insane amount of knowledge about plants and animals. “If one of the kids’ nose bled, the others knew exactly which leaf can help stop that,” she explained.

PUJA UCHIL

“We are trying to inculcate more of experiential learning than anything else,” Puja averred, explaining how the kids would get excited seeing the photos of Jammu and Kashmir which she had clicked during her mountaineering course.

“They were able to relate to it in a better way as it brought a different angle to what I was trying to teach them.”

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Anecdotes and learnings

“I learnt more from the kids than what they learnt from me,” confessed Swati.

She gave an insight into some of her experiences wherein the kids didn’t know about a lot of things which we took for granted during our childhood. “These things hit your really hard but surprisingly, that doesn’t affect them much. They are happy with how life is.”

sikkim Himalayan Academy

In terms of personal transformation, Swati said she can easily cope with a minimalist lifestyle now.

“Volunteering has given me time to just breathe and be me, without all the labels society is just bursting to put on a woman,” – Puja

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Reinforcing her belief in volunteering, Puja observed that there is a surge in the number of youngsters applying for volunteering these days.

“The best part is that the people living in the village accept the volunteers very easily in their social fabric. It gives you an authentic feel. They are hungry for love. It is an amazing feeling.”

According to Puja, quitting her job in an engineering MNC and working for a non-profit school for the underprivileged has brought new purpose to her life. She explained, “It’s also given me time to just breathe and be me, without all the labels society is just bursting to put on a woman.”

Sonali Kathuria, an alumna of Shri Ram College Of Commerce, has been working for CRY for almost a year and juggles between her office and teaching with utmost perfection.

Volunteering 2
Sonali Kathuria with a bunch of kids

“It was during my college days when the desire to do something for society grew in me,” she said. “Now when I look back, I know I had taken the right decision. It is the kids’ eagerness to learn and experience something new every time that compels me to devote my time, knowledge and resources for this,” she shared. Kahuria added that she gets only a Sunday for herself but it is the kids’ smile that compels her to keep going.

What have been your volunteering experiences? Share some with us in the comments section below.

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