Raphael… an incredibly welcoming, warm and beautiful community on the outskirts of Dehradun, India. Five years later and the experience I had there still influences my life daily. I and two other volunteers, who at the time I had not met, spent three months living, working and making friends in Raphael and its surrounding community, through as many activities as we could embrace, interwoven with exploring the culture, beauty, noise, colour and life that India had to offer. Whilst living in our comfortable little abode in amongst the kids, we formed a friendship that even today still sees us travelling around the world together, a reunion that will last for our lifetimes, hopefully one day bringing us back to Raphael. The weekdays we spent playing with the kids, helping teach life skills such as brushing hair, doing up buttons, telling stories and playing games, with ages that ranged from 7yrs up, in early intervention, pre-school, primary level and vocational training. Through candle making, songs of “heads and toes,” music, dance, games on the oval, hand painting the schools pathways, print making and yoga, we very quickly got to know and love each child’s amazing energy and passion for life. Through all of this I learnt how language is not a barrier, with actions and expressions portraying a thousand words in any given setting. Every afternoon entailed multiple games of cricket, hours on the swing sets, or taking the elderly residents for a stroll down to the local coffee place. Come the chill of night we were graced with the company of the incredibly friendly staff and community around us. With festivals, dinners and the simple buzz of the local bazaar, there was rarely a quiet moment to be had throughout our stay.
As ambitious travellers and all new to India, on the weekends we packed our bags and went for adventures to as many areas around Dehradun as we could cram into the two day slots, with Mussoorie, Rishikesh, Chandigarh and Haridwar close by. We were regulars at theTibetan restaurant bordering the town, ate endless curries, talis (a feast of a dish), lassies, naan, bought clothes, jewellery, bangles, bindis, explored temples and danced at festivals… the incredible world of India became our playground, and it was amazing! We were lucky to be there for Diwali, the festival of sweets and lights, with fireworks exploding at every corner, and sweets at every door. With two weeks break in the middle, we went safari-ing on camels in the desert, visited rat temples in Bikaner (Rajasthan), went on yoga retreats in Rishikesh, white water rafting in Haridwar, tuk-tuking through Delhi, saw the Golden temple in Amritsar, Punjab, and soaked up the breathtaking beauties of Jaipur. With the little Hindi we knew, and our newly adopted haggling skills, we ventured to as many places as we could, making incredible friends and meeting great people along the way.
This is but a glimpse of my time there, of which I could write about all day, but instead I hope many people get the chance to share a similar experience, and are touched by such an incredible community as Raphael as I was.