FAQ and Suggestions

Being a volunteer in India can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Whether you’re coming for 6 weeks, 6 months, or an entire year, you are almost certain to find things that inspire, amaze, frustrate, challenge, and change you. Each year, international volunteers of all ages and backgrounds come to India for service, each with his/her own motivations, intentions, and goals. Some come looking for a cultural experience, some come hoping to build their resume through time spent in a developing country, some come looking to perform hardcore service, and still others come for spiritual/religious reasons. Whatever your reasons for choosing India and choosing voluntary service, it is important that you consider carefully your reasons for coming as a volunteer.

Before you leave for India, it is worth taking a few moments to ask yourself some questions:

1. Why have I decided to go to India as a volunteer?
2. What am I hoping to gain by serving in India?
3. What does being a volunteer mean to me?
4. What am I expecting from my upcoming experience?
5. What are my perceptions of India and how have they been formed?

The exercise of evaluating your expectations is important, when you realize that cultural peculiarities, differences, and misperceptions often make India an extremely demanding land to volunteer in. You may find that things are not always as they seem, and the same situation can appear remarkably different, based on your perspective and attitude. A positive attitude and the ability to view problems as challenges to be overcome will serve you well during your stay in India.

Before you leave, you should have established some of the following:

Make sure that you have a valid passport and Visa that will not expire while you are in India. There are several types of visas that are available for India. Consult the nearest Indian Embassy for obtaining one. The easiest Visa to get is a Tourist Visa. Your Passport must have more than six month’s validity to be eligible to obtain an Indian Visa.

• Immunizations: It is best to consult your doctor and discuss your trip to India in case you are advised to take any shots or preventive Malaria tablets.
• Food and water borne illness: To prevent infection from food and water:

- DO not drink the tap water: remember that tap water is in ice and juices.
- Hot beverages, carbonated drinks, soda are safe.
- Do not eat raw vegetable, fruits without the skin, uncooked meat and non-pasteurized dairy products.

For women long, loose-fitting clothes are more acceptable and you will also find it suitable to the Indian climate. Jeans & tee shirts are fine too. Dress code while in the programs can be casual but modest; non-exposing type of dressing. Most Indian men dress in Western-style clothing consisting of pants, a button down shirt, Jeans and tee shirts.

• Supply of medication, a small first-aid kit, insect repellent with DEET (mosquito net if possible)
• Sunscreen
• Comfortable and sturdy walking shoes
• Travel flashlight, digital camera / laptop

ITEMS READILY AVAILABLE IN INDIA - Shampoo/conditioner, soap, deodorant, camera film, batteries, books, CDs.

• Be sensitive of the hours that are generally kept, and try to observe them. In India, it is not the norm for girls to come home late in the evenings. In some parts of India, girls come home as early as 6pm! While this may seem odd or even restrictive, if you ask your community for the reasoning behind this, you will almost certainly get a satisfactory response.
• Be aware of appropriate gender relations and try to observe them
• Have respect for their belief systems and values. You may find things that you disagree with, which can be difficult sometimes, but it is worth talking to them about these issues, and exploring your similarities and differences.

How much should I bring; will depend on how you structure your time while in India. You will need to budget the following cost: food, housing, transportation to/from your volunteer site(s). Budget lodges vary from $150-$35/night, depending on quality and location. Paying guest facilities are sometimes available which cost about $ 150/month. Outside of the above, things that you may want or need to spend money on while in India are clothing, phone calls home, medical visits and extra travel. It is recommended that you bring money in the form of travelers’ checks and carry a credit card (VISA, American Express, and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted) for emergency situations. ATMs are also available in most large cities of India. When you arrive at the airport you can also change currency at the airport to get started for a couple of days.

While travel in India can be exciting and fun, it can also be challenging. Though you are likely to meet a host of interesting and friendly characters, you could also have some unsettling experiences. Pay attention to your surroundings, keep an eye on your belongings, and trust your instincts.

What are the different classes of train travel?
• AC First Class (1A)
• AC two tier sleeper (2A)
•AC three tier sleeper (3A)

You can book train tickets up to 60 days in advance by going to the station, a reservation center, the internet (http://www.indianrailways.com) or through a travel agent. You may incur a small fee when booking online or taking the services of a travel agent. You can also purchase Trains at a Glance. Always confirm the date of travel and train name before going to the station.

Taxis / Auto Rickshaws:
• You can hire a prepaid auto. This service usually can be safer and more convenient in a new city as they note down the license number, give the fare amount upfront and arrange for the auto.
• In the absence of a prepaid auto, some places have autos that go by the meter, while others do not.
• Do not get into an auto with another person already in it unless you are comfortable in the area or know the person. There are shared autos in certain areas.
• Write down the license number of the taxi whenever you get in. If you leave a piece of luggage behind, you can trace it if you have the license number of the taxi.
• Taxis often assume that you will know the way and will only ask you for directions after you get into the taxi. Do not hesitate to ask them if they know the correct route to the destination.
• A hired car with driver from a local service cost $15/80kms/8hours.

• You can book flight tickets through the internet at www.makemytrip.com or through a travel agent.

If you have been selected for a particular project, it is worth asking for some additional details. How much time can you expect to spend in the field? Will you need Indian language skills to perform your duties? (For learning Hindi, Teach Yourself Hindi is a good resource material that you can use if you anticipate needing Hindi speaking skills.) If you have some skills, you can give information so that your services are maximized.

As you can probably imagine, there can be a situation when the expectations of the NGO and the expectations of the volunteer are different. NGOs have a certain idea of the kind of individual that will be coming for volunteerism, and volunteers have a certain idea of what their experience will be like. When these expectations are changed or not met, it can cause stress and tension for both parties. The volunteer has to understand the organization. If they do not achieve success in their particular project, they should adapt to the circumstances. On the other hand we can create projects and opportunities that meet the interests of the volunteer. These should be carefully and thoroughly defined. It should be a give and take relationship. We suggest for you to express freely your experiences to your volunteer coordinator or the person allocated to you. Volunteering in India is truly a journey, a path that will be full of challenges and difficulties, but one that can have rewards of a type that you may have never encountered. We hope to work together so that your experience with our beneficiaries and with us can be a memorable experience.

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