I left Australia from Melbourne travelling with a short stopover in Singapore – a 13 hour flight. Arriving in New Delhi at 6am I was picked up by the hotel in the southern suburbs (pre-arranged in Australia).
My first impressions were that the airport was modern, clean and the surrounds the same. However, as I travelled further through the city it became busy, chaotic, dirty and crowded. The hotel was clean and orderly and a relief!!! That day I arranged a taxi with the hotel (Rs 300) and did a city tour.
Next day I left on my pre-arranged tour (4 days) to the Taj Mahal in Agra and onto Jaipur. The tour consisted of a private driver, all entries, tour guides and hotels. The Taj Mahal was magnificent and as stunning as I expected it to be. The remainder of the tour was also excellent, but also a bit of information over load!!!
That evening I caught a short flight to Dehra Dun. I was collected by a taxi arranged by Raphael. It was a nightmare journey as traffic in India is nothing short of chaotic and finally reaching Raphael was a relief. I was greeted there by the other volunteers, who had saved food for me. They settled me into my room. One of volunteers showed me around early the next morning. I was concerned that if no volunteers had been there, no one would have helped me. At the same time I did expect to be a bit independent. On the tour I met some residents, but it was still too early for school and the offices. Raphael seemed like an oasis. (Note from RCA – arrangements are made for Volunteers to be welcomed who arrive out of work hours.)
I began work on the first day at the workshop with disabled students and a couple of disabled adults. We were making candles for sale for Diwali Festival on 30th October. On festival day candle lamps were lit and placed at the front of houses and there was “open house” with lots of festival food offered and a festive atmosphere.
Accommodation at Raphael was basic but clean. I had my own room. I had one episode of a very heavy cold and remained in bed. Luckily, it only lasted only 2 days. Short but quite severe. I didn’t get sick from any food anywhere!!!
On my days off I travelled with four other volunteers, to Mussouri and Rishikesh on two separate weekends. Both trips were well worth doing. Mussouri is an Indian mountain top holiday destination in the Himalayan foothills. Rishikesh is a holy city situated on both sides of the Ganges. The Ganges at Rishikesh was surprisingly clean and the whole place was magnificent.
My work in the workshop finished with Diwali. I wondered whether without the volunteers the candle making project might not have been finished!!! My next work was assisting in the special school in the classroom with students with special needs. I cared for 2 children. One child was very disruptive and the other was always crying. I felt that I did not really achieve much. The teachers were very friendly and helpful.
Along the road from Raphael was an ATM and very convenient, until the last week when the money in all the ATMs was stopped. The Indian government was trying to stamp out corruption and therefore no advance notice of this stoppage was given. I was very worried about the situation as I needed money to pay for my stay at Raphael. This cost Rs 200 or $3 per day. Bishop Charles was staying there and he was extremely helpful, managing to change money somehow. I made some wonderful friendships with the other volunteers. I could not have managed without them. Two had been before and knew the ropes. My special thanks go to Johanne, Karen, Joanne, Judy, Jamie, Bishop Charles, Esme and Olivia.
By the end of my time I was ready to leave and looking forward to going home. A 45 minute drive to Dehradun Airport then an 11 hour wait at the airport in New Delhi due to the cancellation of my afternoon flight. It was a bit frustrating as I had nothing to do and was not confident to leave the airport. I left at 11pm from New Delhi and flew back to Australia with a 2 hour stopover in Singapore. It was a great homecoming seeing my son, Mark, waiting for me at the airport.