Volunteering in India is one of the most valuable, life-affirming things you can do, giving you the opportunity to make a real difference. However, it’s also a fairly rare thing to do, meaning that thousands of volunteers undertake their experience without being entirely sure of what to expect– or how to prepare themselves.
Below are 11 areas you may overlook when planning to visit India. This should help furnish you with all of the essential information, helping to ensure that the time you spend in India is as valuable and productive as it can possibly be. Avoid being the volunteer who forgets the basics by taking the time to consider the following…
#1 – Research all the different opportunities available to you.
So don’t neglect the need to fully research the different volunteering opportunities available to you– you need to know the full picture of possibilities before you sign yourself up.
#2 – Get your shots (in good time).
Many volunteers know that they will need to receive vaccinations prior to travelling to India, but they often forget just how far in advance these shots need to be planned. For full immunity, you will want to obtain your vaccinations at least six weeks before you travel, and longer if you can arrange it.
The specific vaccinations you will require depend on the area you are going to be visiting and the work you are going to be completing. You can discuss specific needs with your co-ordinator, but expect to likely need the following regardless of where you go:
If you are not sure which of these shots you may already have had, liaise with your doctor to see which you may require.
#3 – Prepare yourself mentally.
Before you sign up to volunteer in India, you have to prepare yourself for what you are going to see and experience.
It is a simple fact that India is a country of many problems, some of which may take centuries to solve. Preparing yourself for what you are going to see is essential; the emotional toll can be significant in the first few days. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to deal with it; the chances are, you won’t, at least not initially.
Just try and remember that you’re visiting the country to help and to alleviate some of the conditions that so upset you. Volunteering in India is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile, so just focus on why you are there and you should be able to withstand any emotional upheaval you face.
#4 – Thinking through the logistics of eating and drinking.
The food and drinking culture in India is very different to Western civilisation. Don’t assume that just because you’ve had a few curries in your time that you’re going to transition flawlessly! It’s helpful if you take a few digestive aids and remedies along in your luggage.
#5 – Consider whether you need a friend.
While it’s likely you will be placed in a group with other volunteers, you cannot rely on this, nor can you rely on getting on well with them. It’s worth truly thinking about whether you can handle volunteering alone. If you suspect you may find it difficult, then talk to your friends and family to see if someone might be interested in joining you.
#6 – Think about general travel concerns.
Although you’re volunteering rather than travelling, you will still need to pay attention to general travel concerns. You need to know where your passport is, ensure you have any visa issues dealt with, and be ready to pack without incurring huge excess baggage charges at the airport.
Many volunteers overlook the general travel requirements of volunteering, so avoid this by approaching the travel situation with the same methodical approach you would take when planning a vacation.
#7 – Preparing for being in a low-tech environment.
In the western world, we’ve all become accustomed to having easy access to technology and the information that tech gives us access to.
When you’re staying in India, you have to be prepared for the fact the technology infrastructure is far from what you are used to.
This is a particular concern when it comes to staying in touch with friends and family while you are away.
While you should have opportunities to send the occasional email, you may find it difficult to maintain contact as you are familiar with being able to do. It’s important to take the time to brief your friends and family on this, so they know that no contact is not necessarily a bad sign.
#8 – Learn the weather systems you should expect (and pack clothing accordingly).
Most of us think of India as a hot country and will thus plan light, simple, summer clothes. For the most part, this is reasonable, but it’s important to learn a little about the local climate you will experience.
The time of year you are travelling will also govern the items you need to take along with you.
The monsoon season lasts from July through to September, so if you’re travelling during this time, you will need to take account of the risk of high levels of rainfall.
#9 – Catering to your own healthcare needs.
If you are on regular medication, you need to think about how you are going to continue to take this during your time abroad. It’s important not to rely on local clinics or access to pharmaceutical drugs, especially if you are volunteering in the more rural areas.
You have to prioritise your own healthcare requirements and ensure you have an adequate supply of medication, as well as equipment such as asthma inhalers, at least four weeks prior to the date of your departure.
#10 – Planning things to do during your time off.
When volunteering, you won’t spend all of your time working. You will likely have weekends and evenings to yourself, so you’ll want to put together a few ideas of places you might like to go and things you want to see during this leisure time.
India is an amazing country, so it’s worth seeking out tourist-related activities to ensure you get to experience as much as possible outside of your volunteering hours.
#11 – Anticipate cultural differences.
India is a huge country with a wide range of different cultures contained within, so you can’t just expect “Indian culture”– because there’s no such thing. Culture is far more based in regional differences.
For example, rural northern India — known as Dharamsala — is an area where volunteering is much-needed, but the experience there is very different from what you might experience if you were to visit an urban centre such as Delhi. Dharamsala has a far stronger Buddhist and Tibetan influence, while southern India is generally more westernised.
You have to take the time to familiarise yourself with the specific culture you will experience prior to travelling, so you don’t find yourself facing an unexpected culture shock upon arrival.
Prepare to volunteer in India can be time-consuming and confusing. However, if you ensure you have the areas above covered, you can be confident that the time you spend in the country is as well-researched and resourced as you need it to be.
Not only does adequate preparation ensure that the time you spend in India can be productive, but also helps to keep you safe, healthy, and mentally well for the duration of your time there.
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