18-year-old Kathryn Cook from Cambridgeshire is a VSO ICS volunteer based in Jatan, India. The placement is working towards female and youth empowerment, and to improving the government-run nurseries. Kathryn will be spending Christmas Day with her host family and other volunteers in her placement village of Sansera.
My Christmas is the same every year, a beautiful day surrounded by the people I love most! My mum, dad, sister and grandparents. It’s also an excuse to eat as much food as is humanly possible! I’m trying my best to ignore the fact that Christmas is still happening at home and 100% avoiding social media more than I would be if no one was showing advent calendars and Christmas tree shopping every day! But we are planning to have a lovely day in community and as long as I can call my family (and eat some chocolate) then I’ll be happy!
There’s not one thing I’ll miss, I’m sure I’ll miss everything! But I’ve accepted that this year will be different. It’s my birthday on the 3rd of January so I’m away for that as well… But I’m grateful that I’m away for two big days of the year because it means coming home will feel far more special! I’ll miss my family for definite.
The Indian counterparts tell us that a Christmas tradition here is to have a picnic for Christmas dinner and for us, the main tradition is of course Christmas films and music so we are going to put both of these into making the perfect Christmas Day for all counterparts! It will be such a special day I’m sure!
In terms of the project, it’s amazing but challenging, nothing is the same as what I’m used to! I found it hard to adjust to, but now I’ve adjusted I’m loving every moment and just feel so lucky to be here doing the work we’re doing. India is such a beautiful country with so much culture and immersing yourself into a community is the best way to learn about it!
The main projects we are working on are female empowerment, youth empowerment and improving Anganwadis (government nurseries for 3-6 years). Within our community, women are treated far below men and youth often have no voice, so we have set up both a woman’s group and a youth club to address these matters. The Anganwadis in the village are not running as they should with children not being fed or educated, preventing them from having a good start in life. Personally, this is the project I have connected most with and am working on. Seeing progress is incredibly satisfying. Alongside this, we are also doing little projects such as health and sanitation.
On Christmas Day, we are going to spend some time in community and then merge with a team in a nearby village to watch some Christmas classics! Love Actually and Elf are definitely on the list. We are also doing a Secret Santa and are going to cook the best Christmas dinner we can with what we can find!
The main challenges have been large barriers such as government corruption that we cannot personally overcome - we can try and rally the villagers, but overall we do not have the power to solve the issue. However, I am positive that it is something that will be overcome somehow. I have really missed home and have struggled adjusting to the food but now I’m adjusted I can’t stop eating! I do miss dairy milk chocolate and chicken nuggets though.
As the first batch of volunteers in the community, building relationships with the villagers was so important and we are now trusted and respected by them, making projects far easier- gaining the trust of women within the village and the youth to start meeting with us to discuss issues in our village (Sansera) was a huge achievement. For the Anganwadis project, we have started daily milk collection from the villagers to ensure the children get something warm and nutritious in their bellies, and delivering it is always so rewarding.
There are so many people living in our host home, it is so hectic and there is never a peaceful moment but having that constant challenge has built my patience and confidence so much! From day one I have felt so comfortable in the family’s presence, they are so warm and instantly treated me and my counterpart like family. My spice tolerance has definitely improved since moving in, because our host mum really likes chillies.
My host family have taught me so much - making Chai, traditional dancing and so much about their culture. I have shared with them pictures from home, songs etc.. We can’t communicate verbally but we still connect so well and laugh constantly!