What? My token volunteer trip overseas includes more than just labour and hanging out with local people? This is the first volunteer trip I’ve been on, where the local people get just as much out the experience as I do. I am not labouring on a construction project the local people could do themselves. I am not teaching English to a group of people who will probably never have the opportunity to use it. I am not teaching people how to make things out of trash and in turn encouraging them to produce more waste. During this IPHD internship, I am actually utilizing my skills for a meaningful, sustainable, long-term project. I am working for Saheli Designs. As a fashion design intern, I am teaching the women the principles of pattern-making and design, as well as how to make apparel and accessories.
The internship consists of cultural workshops, development workshops, Hindi lessons and translation of services. Most interns are required to conduct a needs assessment to determine how they can use their skills to benefit the community; however, I am working from a past intern’s project and do not need to conduct a needs assessment. My job is to work with the women in the village of Bhikamkor to improve the quality of the work they are already doing, design a new product line and teach the women how to make patterns for that product line. My design skills, ideas and knowledge of textiles equipment have been an asset to the organization and my feedback always is taken seriously. We work extensive hours, and I love that my supervisor Madhu Vaishnav’s passion supersedes her exhaustion when I demand her attention and feedback late into the night.
What you put in is what you gain from this internship. We are given a project fund to use to buy materials or pay for services that are related to the project. We can fundraise our own money if we like and we can spend the project fund in any way we see fit. At the conclusion of the project, we are required to submit a project report and a financial report. This formality gives legitimacy to our project and motives the intern to continue working towards his or her project outcomes.
However, working in a village in India is not without its hurdles and challenges. Sometimes my workshops don’t go as planned. The number of women in attendance changes. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables is often financially unfeasible for some host families. Although we get Hindi lessons, communication can be troublesome. The weekend cultural excursions also sometimes don’t go to plan because we are too busy with our projects. Nevertheless, our work is so fulfilling that we tend to forget these problems and savor the progress we are creating in the village. Whilst cultural immersion and hanging out with the locals are among my favorite aspects of going overseas, working on an impactful project with IPHD makes for a uniquely satisfying and refreshing travel experience.