Helpful Tips For Doing Volunteer Programs in India.

Volunteering in India is a wonderful experience that thousands of people choose to engage in on an annual basis. Volunteer work is much needed in the country, and India as a whole makes for a fascinating place to visit.

If you are considering volunteering in India, then you’ll want to know the realities of doing so. To make the most of your time in the country, you’ll need a few insider tips from those who have experienced the volunteer experience to ensure it is as useful and enjoyable as possible.

Here are 12 great tips to help ensure that you are able to make the most of your time in the country.

#1 – Always travel with a companion when visiting unknown areas.

India has something of a reputation when it comes to safety, much of this undeserved. Nevertheless, the country is difficult to navigate if you’re inexperienced, so it makes sense to always try and double-up when venturing into unknown areas.

#2 – Carry a supply of water purification tablets.

This is especially essential if you are going to be working in rural areas, where the ability to buy bottled water may be compromised through lack of choice. The water in India is problematic, frequently containing parasites that may cause stomach problems.

The best solution to this is to drink bottled water wherever possible but, as discussed, bottled water may not always be available.

Investing in a pack of water purification tablets is the best way to ensure you’re always drinking the cleanest water possible.

It’s also beneficial to carry your own reusable water bottle if you are going to be drinking from wells; you can wash and purify the bottle, so you’re always confident it meets your cleanliness standards.

#3 – Pack a few disposable cameras if volunteering in rural areas.

While you may be accustomed to relying on your phone to take pictures, it’s worth remembering that your access to a power source may be more limited during your time in India. This is particularly likely to be a concern if you’re going to be volunteering in rural locations.

You won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take pictures, though; they’re vital memories that you will treasure for years to come. Take a few disposable cameras in your luggage to capture the moments when you don’t have access to a power source for your camera.

#4 – Plan time to travel and experience India as a tourist.

While the time you spend volunteering is important, you will have some free time during your stay. Most volunteering companies allow for weekends to do as you please, which means you will have the opportunity to travel further around the country and experience it as a tourist.

Try and plan a few weekend excursions to make the most of the country around you. You may want to do some of this planning before you leave, using internet guides to help plan a route and compile a list of places you want to see.

If you skip this step and aren’t sure where to visit when you arrive, then ask the locals for advice; they should be able to give you a few ideas that you can then explore for yourself.

#5 – Encourage yourself to try vegetarian food.

While it’s a myth that India is a vegetarian country, there’s no doubt that there are more vegetarians in India than you would usually find in the western world. Vegetarianism is common in a country where meat is often prohibitively expensive, and where certain animals — such as cows — are seen as sacred. As a result, there are plenty of vegetarian options when you’re eating out.

Many westerners shun the vegetarian options and search for meals that contain meat, but it’s worth trying the vegetarian specialties even if you’re usually an omnivore. The meals are so delicious and specialized that you won’t even notice they are meat-free, and you’ll save yourself a lot of money as well.

#6 – Be wary of carrying large amounts of cash money.

All developing countries have their issues with crime; India is far from alone in this regard. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t do what you can to protect yourself.

Pick pocketing is a particular problem in urban areas, so try and get into the habit of carrying as little cash on your person as possible. It’s also a good idea to store emergency money in a variety of different places, so if you are pick pocketed, you’ll still have enough cash to get home.

One of the best places to store emergency paper money is in your shoe, beneath the insole. Wrap the money in plastic to protect it from excess moisture and you should be good to go.

#7 – Dress according to cultural norms.

India does not have a strict dress code, but there’s no doubt that there are clothing-related cultural norms that you will want to observe during your time in the country.

You won’t get into trouble, perse, if you do break these rules, but it may be awkward or uncomfortable when interacting with locals.

As a general rule, opt to cover skin as much as possible; loose shirts and trousers are the best choice, and will help to keep air circulating around your body in the humid conditions. You may also be asked to wear a hat of some sort when visiting sacred spaces, so take one along in your bag and put it on if requested– it’s not a necessity as such, but it is polite.

#8 – Follow cultural habits on eating and drinking.

One thing that may shock you when you are volunteering in India is the hospitality and food-related cultural quirks. It is very likely that you will be invited for a meal by local citizens; this should be seen as a privilege, so accept if you feel comfortable.

You may be surprised to see that many native citizens eat with their hands rather than using cutlery.

This is completely normal in India; while you are within your rights to request cutlery if you prefer, showing an enthusiasm to try the local norms will be appreciated. 

#9 – Take your own clothesline.

One of the things that you may struggle with while volunteering is drying your own clothes. Dryers are non-existent outside of major cities, and expensive to use even if they are available.

You will therefore have to air dry your clothes after washing, and having access to your own clothesline will make this a far easier task

All you need is a length of cord or rope that you can knot around any firm post, such as a bedpost or wooden stake. This will help to ensure your clothes are always able to dry as quickly as possible, without you having to fight for space on communal clotheslines.

#10 – Hold your head up and project confidence.

Regarding the safety of travelling while in India, the single best thing you can do to protect yourself and your belongings is to project confidence. Hold your head up high, walk at a brisk pace, and generally seek to look like you know exactly where you’re going and want you’re doing.

If you are shy, nervous, or uncertain, you are (sadly) more likely to be a target for pick pocketing.

If you’re confused about where you need to go, stop and assess a map rather than aimlessly wandering until you find yourself on the right track. It’s best to be able to stride forward with purpose, moving at a decent pace, and thus helping to secure your safety when moving through both rural and urban areas.

#11 – Carry soap around in your day bag.

A small bar of soap can help to keep your hands clean throughout the day. It makes sense to have your own supply as there is no guarantee public toilets will have soap on offer, so pack a small bar in a plastic bag and store it when you’re away from your main camp.

This is particularly important if you’re going to be trying the Indian custom of eating with your hands; you’ll want to ensure your hands are as clean as can be at mealtimes.

#12 – Plan yourself some down time during your stay.

Between the work you will do volunteering and the tourist-related fun you’ll want to have on your weekends, there’s no doubt that time spent in India can whiz past.

It’s also exhausting, as many volunteers discover to their dismay; they plan so many activities and seek to get so much done that they risk burning themselves out

It’s important to plan a schedule that allows you some downtime, when you can just relax, catch up on sleep, and observe the world around you. It’s natural that you’ll want to make the most of your time in India, but don’t push yourself so hard that the entire experience flies past in a blur and you need to sleep for a week when you get back home!

To Conclude.

If you keep the tips above in mind, you should find that your volunteering experience in India is as good as you could hope for it to be.

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