Every summer, a small group of Warwick in India volunteers train teachers in the Laksh Foundation so that they can help young learners throughout the year.
What's it like taking part as a Warwick student? ...
(All photos taken by a volunteer with permission onsite)
Student Volunteer, Laksh
When I applied for Laksh, I had finished my degree in English Literature at Warwick and was just starting my masters in Social Work. I was 22 when I travelled to India.
I heard about the project from a friend who took part in the scheme in 2013. He recommended Laksh as a place where I would have a wonderful experience and make a real difference to local communities.
I wanted to take part in Laksh to teach and learn. I wanted to be able to use my experiences and ideas to benefit the teachers, but also to learn from them and their perspectives. I hoped to challenge myself in new and exciting ways in terms of working with communications barriers, limited resources and limited time to achieve important goals in terms of introducing new teaching ideas to the members of the project.
India in general makes a fantastic first impression. There is life everywhere and there is a lot of energy in the greenery, people, music and culture. Everyone on the farm is really welcoming and makes you feel like one of the family; the teachers are so eager to learn that their excitement is infectious. I was able to settle in quickly in such a fantastic environment.
I think one of the biggest challenges was leaving my assumptions and preconceptions at the door when it came to trying out a new idea. Every day, things would happen which would surprise me and challenge the ways in which I tried to work. Coming up with great or creative ideas was only half of the work, because you never know how well the activities would take amongst the teachers and pupils, or what their reaction would be. It was important to be flexible in order to fit with the Indian style of education. For instance, the classes are held in small areas so we had to adapt some physical learning activities to work within the space which we had.
A great reward from the project was witnessing first hand the improvements amongst the quality of teaching across the schools. It was wonderful to encourage the free thought and creativity of the teachers to enable the longevity and legacy of the project to extend across the year. The Indian educational system is structured towards rote learning and repetition, so to give the teachers the opportunity of supporting each other and come up with their own ideas was a fantastic success which I will always carry with me.
Since my time in India, I have kept in touch with the project to continue to suggest new ideas and hear about how it is progressing. The project has given me an insight into the benefits of cross-cultural working and how important education is for all children to be given the opportunity to learn about the world around them. My time in India reinforced in me how I want to work to improve children’s lives. From July, I will be working as a Children’s Social Worker."
Student Volunteer, Laksh
"From the first time I read the Laksh website in my first year of my Economics degree, I was aware that the Laksh project was different from any other volunteering opportunity I had seen. The way Laksh had decided to focus on boosting the core educational development of both teachers and pupils by having facilities both on and off the farm really stood out to me as an innovative and effective way of helping as many people as possible in a sustainable manner. The smaller scale of Laksh also appealed to me far more as it seemed like an opportunity to really get stuck into and make a difference.
Laksh was an absolutely incredible sight after our long flight into New Delhi. Ila and Shakti have taken enormous care in making the farm an extraordinary place to be, with amazing gardens and animals, but also amazing accommodation, food, and staff. We were greeted by Ila and Shakti themselves, as well as Madan and Raju (the amazing chef!). Everyone was so welcoming and accommodating at Laksh, and the connections we as volunteers formed with everyone at Laksh were crucial for the project’s success in the coming weeks.
The biggest challenge was the environment in which we worked. The lack of resources normally readily available in a British classroom meant we had to adapt to situations quickly, taking advantage of what was around us in order to deliver a helpful lesson. However, this allowed us to get to the fundamental principles of good teaching, and give the teachers the vital skills they need to continue the project once the Warwick volunteers were no longer present.
The biggest reward was the friendships I formed as a result of the experience. Knowing that we made a meaningful impact in some way upon these young people is truly rewarding, especially the teachers who we spent every day supporting and developing.
The teachers’ enthusiasm and willingness to engage with everything we gave them was remarkable, and their appetite for learning was inspiring to see. Seeing some of the less confident teachers grow and begin taking classes of up to 40 children with a hugely mixed range of abilities was fantastic and demonstrated the potential the teachers have. Staying in contact with Madan and many of the student teachers has been great, seeing their progress and their reports of how Laksh is progressing is wonderful to hear about.
Visiting Laksh gave me an insight into a world I had simply never seen before. Living and working alongside people as amazing as Madan was so inspiring and motivating for me as an individual
Laksh has made me realise that the little things count. Although not a huge project, what Laksh lacks in scale it more than makes up for in terms of enthusiasm and commitment to its students. Seeing the project having such a huge impact on the teachers lives has made me fundamentally reconsider how development can be most effective and influential within the world, as well as opened my eyes to the potential for small scale projects to have a bigger impact than larger scale projects in changing and improving local communities. Seeing Madan interacting with both the teachers and young children has made me appreciate the huge potential individuals have to make a change that can benefits hundreds.
Laksh has absolutely influenced my future plans. After having already inspired me to take a macroeconomic development module from the Economics department, I have now decided that I would like to pursue a career in international development. I cannot overstate how much the project has influenced my priorities and outlook on so many things in life, and I’m so grateful and thankful to the University and everyone at Laksh farm for making it such a special experience."
Student Volunteer, Laksh
"At the time of my acceptance on to the Warwick Laksh project in early 2014, I was 19 years old and in my first year of a Politics and International Studies (PAIS) degree.I spotted an advert for the Laksh teaching project on Warwick’s website and decided to take a chance and apply.
When I saw the advert for Warwick Laksh I was immediately drawn to the project. I’d never really thought about volunteering abroad before, but had recently begun to teach Politics classes to primary school students in Coventry as part of a volunteering scheme associated with the Politics Society on campus. I thought that teaching abroad would be a fantastic opportunity to experience life in another culture, and would widen my perspectives as a Politics and IR student interested in education and international development. As I already had some basic teaching skills that I thought could be advanced through the training provided by Laksh before my departure, I sent in an application.
In 2014, Warwick sent three groups of students to Laksh for one month each. Being in the first group was very overwhelming, but incredibly exciting, as we were the ones who had to kick-start the project again after a one year break since the last Warwick cohort left in September 2013. After a day of settling in and being welcomed to the family by the wonderful project leaders Ila and Madan, we dived straight into teaching. The training we had been given at Warwick was definitely sufficient for us, but mostly our first impressions were that it was crucial to work well together as a team. Being in a group of four was perfect, as any problems could be ironed out quickly and we could support each other during our first few days of being in India. My first impression of Laksh on arrival was of a friendly and united group of people, all interested in supporting each other and in making the lives of the local children better. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome to the farm and to the local community.
The biggest challenge was probably working in such harsh weather conditions. The humid weather meant that after a few hours outside we were completely drained. But each day was split up into a morning session (working with the Laksh teachers on their lesson planning and English language skills), a lunch break, and then an afternoon session which involved driving out to a teaching centre and tutoring the local children. As difficult as the weather conditions were, we always found the right amount of energy to teach the children for two hours in the afternoon, and this was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.
I remember how nervous I felt when Ellie and I were being driven to our first class at Dhauj. We’d had very little time to plan for the first lesson, and being in India was still a shock to the system with the humid heat – so we had decided to focus on some introductory name games and some easy songs. That lesson was so unbelievably rewarding though, and is something I will always remember. We sat in a circle with the children and they were so bright and happy. They loved singing ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and taking turns to stand at the front of the class and do the actions to the song. After the end of that first lesson any worries I had about my ability to teach were ironed out. I realised that I just had to smile, be enthusiastic, and do the best that I could each day whilst I was at Laksh – that was all anyone expected of us. Working with such motivated and selfless young teachers was also incredibly rewarding. Every day they showed up to class with a huge smile, and a willingness to learn and to practice their English. Their dedication to the children in their village was (and still is) absolutely inspirational – and it showed me just how much people can do to help others if they put their heart and soul into it.
When I returned from India at the end of July I knew straight away that I needed to go back to Laksh. So I got in contact with Ila and Madan immediately, and booked some flights out to India for five weeks over the Christmas break in 2014. I planned lessons and workshops for the Laksh teachers independently, and doing this really improved my self-confidence. Before going to Laksh in the summer of 2014 I could never have imagined that I would leave my family and friends for one month at Christmas and spend it on the other side of the world! But it was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I loved being reunited with the teachers again. They are truly lifelong friends.
Mostly, being at Laksh improved my confidence and my willingness to try new things. Being selected for such an amazing project in the first year of my degree set me on a great path of academic and personal development, as since then I have studied abroad for a year in Sweden at Uppsala University, and have been accepted to teach in Palestine and to complete an independent research project there for 2 months this summer (2016). I really don’t think any of these opportunities would have been possible without going to India in my first year at Warwick.
Going to Laksh in 2014 completely changed my focus within my Politics degree. Upon my return I chose modules in International Development and African Politics, now seeing my degree as a chance to learn about new geographical areas, concepts, and theories. Whilst in Sweden on my year abroad I also chose courses based around International Development, Gender Studies, and Post-Colonialism. All of these concepts can be linked to my experiences in India and my international focus, and they have become the centre of my degree specialisation. Now I am preparing to apply for a Master’s Degree in one or more of these areas. I am also passionate about doing more teaching in the future – maybe as a profession or on a voluntary basis."