Testimonial from Sophie Gorman who participated in the UCDVO Programme in 2018 and 2019 as part of the Assam Don Bosco University, Northeast India group.
My involvement in the UCDVO programme has been one of the most important experiences of my life, one that has shaped my outlook on the world to be more diverse and culturally aware as well as completely changing my mind on what I want to do with my life after college.
While I’m finding it almost impossible to sum up one of the most important experiences of my life into a few hundred words, I’ll try my best! It is a journey that begins with an email and, although it sounds cliché, goes on to shape your entire life. Having been lucky enough to volunteer with UCDVO twice, I knew how special and life-altering the experience had been for me the first-time round. As a student leader, I was excited to help a new group of volunteers navigate their way through the 8 months of training and to make sure their experience overseas was as fulfilling as mine had been before. As we met in the airport in the early morning of June 14th, excited, nervous, apprehensive, we began our journey to our second home, Assam, Northeast India. When we arrived, a team of 19 Social Work Masters students from Assam Don Bosco University who we would be working closely with were there to meet us with smiles and open arms.
Our everyday consisted of a bumpy tuk tuk ride to our villages, where we would get right into renovating the Anganwadis, a pre-school and health care facility that is a central pillar in these rural communities for the women and children. However, they are nothing like a typical Irish pre-school, they are grey, dreary and often left in serious disrepair, making them unusable. Our village Gojaigaon had 3 of these structures, which proved challenging, but the team’s enthusiasm drove us to success. We would spend the majority of our days sanding, painting and drawing on the walls, blaring our favourite music and singing and dancing like no one was around.
The hard work would always be broken up by a cup of delicious sweet chai and some biscuits from our baido, the Anganwadi teacher. I will never forget the kindness and generosity she showed us every single day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced here at home. Even through the language barrier she was there to support us every step of the way.
Some afternoons we would hold workshops for the people in the community based on topics they had expressed interest in. From our first workshop, we always got a great turnout which was so motivating! We were able to cover topics such as health and hygiene, Indian and Irish cultural differences and teenage empowerment. One thing was certain, these workshops would always end in everyone dancing outside the school in a big circle with the Indian tunes blaring from the speaker. It was pure happiness knowing you could look completely ridiculous trying out the Assamese dance moves but no one would care. I felt really bonded to the community during these dance parties.
My involvement in the UCDVO programme has been one of the most important experiences of my life, one that has shaped my outlook on the world to be more diverse and culturally aware as well as completely changing my mind on what I want to do with my life after college. Most importantly, I have been lucky enough to have met the most amazing group of like-minded people who are now like my family. The relationships made through this experience are ones that never fade, and I look forward to 10 years down the line reminiscing on one of the hardest, sweatiest, most rewarding months of our lives.