By Sile Byrne, Michelle Cannon and Zara Hennigan
As curtains fall on our experience in India, we reflect on the whirlwind of the last 4 weeks. Leaving home on the 10th of July this day felt so far away. Now it is upon us there is an element of disappointment to be leaving, satisfaction at having achieved so much, regret and sorrow at leaving all our wonderful new friends behind, and excitement at returning to our loved ones at home. The relationships we’ve built here are for a lifetime and we’ll carry the impact of them as we return to normal life in Ireland.
Coming to India as a volunteer triggers an array of emotions, from curiosity and wonder about the stories we would hear, to enthusiasm about beginning our work and anxiety that the contributions we make may not be as meaningful as we’d hope.
Although our roles in APD centered around teaching, early intervention and therapy, we all found ourselves becoming the students. Though we shared knowledge and experience through meaningful interactions with the staff and pupils, the sense of community, strength and love that we witnessed each day is by far the most valuable aspect of the experience we will carry home with us.
As we reflect on our final week in APD we are struck by the strength of the people we have met here, they exude a joyful vitality despite the challenges, disabilities and difficulties they must overcome. This was made very evident when we travelled to the community, to the schools, to clinics and on home visits. Although these families had very little for themselves, they stretched their arms in offering to us.
APD is a community that empowers people to build on their individual strengths and become the best version of themselves, regardless of the obstacles that may impair them. The satisfaction we got from being part of this community and sharing its ethos is immeasurable.
Just as each volunteer has their own unique set and strengths and abilities, so too does each person and child with whom we crossed paths in APD. We spent time with the older children and young adults in the training centre and were humbled by the trust they placed in us. We worked on the subject of Self esteem with them and the motto they seemed to take from this was ‘I can, I will, I must.’
We hold this message with us as our experience in Bangalore comes to a close. We can empower ourselves and others to think the best of themselves, we will overcome apprehensions and fears with the help of friends, we must work as one to promote the kind of positive, inclusive atmosphere APD has shown us where ever else we may go.
We came to India with expectations of challenging times, and while we were forced to think outside the box, what we found have been challenged most are our preconceptions. Those we have met have welcomed us with warm hearts and such sincere smiles, though we were many thousand kilometers away, somehow this made us feel closer to home.