After a couple of medical issues in the first two weeks, I got into the rhythm of Raphael. But it was a full month before I felt comfortable in what I was doing, getting to know the staff I had most to do with, and getting a handle on Indian names. My working week of 5 days, 9 to 3.30 was spent in the vocational workshop, mainly making and packing candles. The teacher had up to 10 students to supervise, all with specific jobs to meet orders for around 30,000 candles for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. I think I can say that, being there for this very busy period, was a benefit to the teacher. The living conditions were faultless, our cook prepared 3 meals a day if required, all good Indian food.
In order to get to know the children and residential staff quickly, I joined in the afternoon playtime, between 5 and 6pm.The sports room was opened, out came the cricket bats, frisbees and basketballs. This is a lot of fun for the volunteers. The kids particularly love cricket, and it was not unusual to be involved in 2 or three games at the one time.
Another outlet was talking to the guys in the “chronic” ward. They have had a lot of contact with volunteers over many years, people who have really cared for them. They look forward to going for walks or simply just chatting. There was never a time when one could say one had nothing to do.
After Diwali, which is also a weeks’ holiday for the staff and students, I went into the paper and Block Printing workshop. There, two teachers and 8-10 students were busy meeting orders for their craft. There was a great two-way benefit just sitting and working with them, something the Chairman emphasised at the end of my time at Raphael. It’s not just tradition, it’s the cross cultural advantage and another person to show some care for people with special needs.
I did 3 short trips to nearby towns, and a week long trip to Amritsar, a famous Sikh city, home of the Golden Temple. A must see on any traveller’s list.
My stay sadly came to an end. I treasure many memories, about living in India, not just passing through, but also, about the people I met at Raphael, about other volunteers that I met, and about the children, who took me out of my comfort zone, got me playing games, making me laugh and being inspirational.