The biggest highlight of my trip was the Shoba surprise.
Shoba is a sixty-eight year old woman who was in one of my classes. She travelled every day of the week to attend class with many students who were much younger than her. Shoba lost her husband last year, her son lives with her and she works hard every day to look after him.
The Women’s Education Project, consisted of me and my fellow volunteers teaching English to the women who came to class but through activities that reinforced positive self-esteem and women’s empowerment.
One week, I got the women to tell me about their dreams and places in the world they would like to travel to. Shoba mentioned on a number of occasions, that her dream was to go visit her sister in Dubai but that she had never had enough money to go. One particular day, she had written about it in her homework book. Myself and another volunteer were so inspired by her hard work that we decided we needed to do something about it. We wanted to make her dream a reality.
At this point, we only had one week before we were leaving India to make this happen. We got on social media, explaining that we were asking for donations to send Shoba to see her sister in Dubai and that we wanted it to be a surprise. We promised everyone who donated that we would send them a video and picture when we surprised her if we were able to raise enough funds. I made a post on my Facebook, and within twelve hours, I fundraised almost $1000. The other volunteer, Andressa, managed to raise about $300 and we also got some funds from other volunteers in the house.
We were flooded with so many emotions, we had no idea that we would be able to fundraise that in such a small period of time. We couldn’t wait to surprise her.
We went to class early the following day to set up balloons and treats to celebrate the big day for Shoba. Not only could we buy her plane ticket, we could pay for her cab to the airport and back, pay for her passport and visiting visa and send her with money to do something fun while in Dubai. We brought friendship bracelets and treats for the rest of the class but this day was to celebrate Shoba. When we told Shoba what we did, she was in complete shock for about ten minutes. She couldn’t believe that people had donated all this money for her. She got very emotional and said that her miracle came true.
Shoba said she never believed this dream would ever come true for her. The rest of the class was very happy for her because they had felt so bad that she lost her husband last year. We all celebrated that class together, enjoying food and talking about her upcoming trip. We looked after getting her passport renewed while we were in India. We are still working with the local team in India surrounding her trip needs. We have been in weekly contact with them. It was definitely a highlight of the trip knowing she gets to visit her sister.
The second highlight of my trip was getting to know the women I taught.
I had two classes each day. The age gap was between twenty years old and seventy. During one of my classes on the last week, the women asked me if we could talk about where I lived, they would ask me questions about Canada and I would answer them to the best of my knowledge.
The large majority of their questions were about women’s rights in Canada, if I felt safe in Canada, if women were abused etc. Then they filled me on issues that women face in their country. It was a really special class getting to know them and more about their country from their perspective.
On the last day, they all put their money together to buy me a gift I could put into my house so that I would remember them. This was very special to me, as volunteers were always in and out of this project and this wasn’t the norm for all the volunteers to receive a gift. I felt so much love that day. They also asked me for my address so that they could send me a Christmas card, which I am really looking forward to getting.
The goal of this empowerment project was for me to teach them but sometimes I think they taught me more than I could have ever taught them. I was amazed at how much these women talked and loved their families on a deeper level that I struggle to put into words.
They weren’t afraid to be vulnerable and express how important family is. It was really inspiring and a good reminder for me that it’s important to not take advantage of the people and things we have in our life.
Travelling to India from Canada made me see how much value we place on materialistic things in Canada and that sometimes I think we prioritize the wrong things in life.
Before the trip, I considered myself to be a pretty considerate and appreciative person. But the women managed to show me a level of love, appreciation, and vulnerability that I had never seen before. So I quickly realized how much I had been taken advantage of back home without knowing. At home, I never had to worry about clean water, clean toilets, shelter, the weather, access to education, healthy food and other basic needs. But after living for a month with minimal access to these things, my heart opened up and became so much more appreciative of these things.
Another huge eye opener for me was when I visited the orphanage. I couldn’t believe how excited the children were to learn and their commitment to it. I sat for hours with three boys and did flashcards without a break. Every time they got a card right (which was almost always), I could high five them and they loved it. The entire time in my head I was thinking, I do not know one kid back home who would sit here for this long, committed to learn and be this excited about it. The energy that came from them about getting to learn was so beautiful. It was extremely inspiring to see the children and women in India commit so strongly to learning.