Namaste! If you have ever travelled to India you may have noticed how rich in culture and full of colour it is. Although I only had the pleasure of travelling through Rajasthan, I was absolutely blown away by the abundance of colours flooding the streets, appearing on women’s sarees, paintings on the walls and vehicles, store front displays of beautiful clothing and fresh produce. I am very eager to return to explore more of this beautiful country and meet more wonderful people. But first let me tell you about my first experience in this beloved place! I was travelling with a wonderful group of inspiring women from all over Canada and the U.S., to help repair a school back to learning conditions.
We had many projects to complete, so it was right to work! The project of priority was the kitchen. There is a program at this school that provides the children one free meal a day. For a lot of children, this meal may be the only one they get. In some families they alternate which child goes to school and gets that one meal because they can’t afford it any other way. There are many mouths to feed in most households and often they are sharing rations. Monsoon season is a tough time for many, flooding kitchens are a common issue. It is quite devastating, leaving kitchens in inadequate conditions to cook proper meals and many hungry for days on end. The stove at this school was simply a small concrete structure on the ground, with walls forming a half moon, just big enough to fit a single pan on top. There was no drainage system so the water would have to be bailed out of the kitchen by hand. The floor would take days to dry in the humid climate and the children wouldn’t get that crucial meal for days. What we did was completely demo the floor and dug approximately 2 feet into the ground, completely redoing the floors with a drainage system that would force the water to drain into the ditches along the streets.
The second priority was to build a wall to the washrooms. In some places around the world, menstruation is seen as impure and unclean. Women get treated differently while menstruating and are restricted from doing daily activities like going to the temple, working in the kitchen, going into the public and touching others, including their friends and family. In this region 45% of girls don't attend school while they are menstruating because of the lack of privacy in washrooms and the worry of their peers finding out. Building these walls were important to help provide these young women with a sense of security that would hopefully encourage them to attend school during menstruation. Another reason these walls are valuable to the school is because after hours people would come in and steal the silver sinks. Silver is valuable and can be traded for other necessities but should not be at the cost of the children’s hygiene. Our last project was demolition, ironic right? Some of the classrooms started falling apart due to water damage which caused leaking roofs and mould which is not a healthy learning environment. We used sledgehammers and chisels to take down 2 classrooms so the next groups can start building new ones. Every day at the build site we met with a local who was chief of construction. He was interested in learning some English for around the build site. So, my friends and I were happy to teach him the names for the tools and supplies we used and some safety terms that applied to our site. Although we were in his country, I found it sweet that he wanted to try and learn some of our language!
I had this really cool opportunity to be a part of "a day in a life". I got to hang out with locals and learn what life is like for them on a day to day basis. The most delicious part of the day was learning how to cook Roti, a flatbread native to India made of Atta flour and water. Similar to my experience in Kenya, I participated in a water walk. This was a very different experience and honestly a lot more comfortable on my head. We walked to a well just down the road, I had never bailed water from a well before so I found it fun! We bailed the water into these beautiful handmade terracotta pots that were then carefully placed on the top of our heads for the walk back to the houses. It was interesting to be able to experience two out of the many different ways people from around the world collect water for survival. The woman who showed us the ropes this day was very inspiring. Her husband lives away from home for work, so she raises her three children, cooks all of the meals, maintains the house, their farm and the farm animals every day. She did not speak English so we had a translator to communicate with her. My friend asked what her life goal was and she said that she wanted to put her three children through school to gain and education and learn English. She explained how she never had this opportunity and joked that if she could still go she would. Another friend of mine asked what made her happy and her response is something I still reflect on to this day. She said that she tries to find happiness in everything. It is clear that we live very different lives, I am privileged to live the life I do but I still struggle to find happiness in everything. This is something that I deliberately try to work on every day, because there is always something to be happy about. I learned so much and was inspired by all of the amazing people I was surrounded by. These trips are more than a stamp in your passport. They’re about people, connections and self-discovery - working together to make a difference in the world.