Without a doubt, the time spent in Sainji was the most rewarding and memorable experience of my life.
On our first day in Sainji we jumped straight in at the deep end, teaching different classes at GEMS school, and helping out wherever we could due to the school being short of teachers. Being able to help such incredible children learn, and seeing their faces change as they learnt gave such an amazing sense of achievement and satisfaction.
Our time in Sainji revolved primarily around teaching at the school. In the evenings the medical and social work students delivered first aid training in local villages, and hosted meetings with the women in Sainji.
Some of us had the privilege of spending a day observing classes in the prestigious Woodstock School nearby, in order to see education provision on the opposite end of the scale. We also met the team at the Hanifl Centre for outdoor education and learnt about providing first aid in remote areas. We took this knowledge (and some of the Hanifl team!) back to GEMS where we delivered first aid sessions to the children on Teachers' Day. Teachers' Day was another fantastic day at GEMS where the children prepared a day of activities, dancing and singing for their teachers. Whilst we were at the Woodstock School, the medical students spent the day at a local hospital working with Dr George and his team in various hospital departments.
We started our 'weekend off' with a visit to a neighbouring village to join in with their harvest festival. Here we received a very warm welcome from the villagers, and enjoyed an evening of singing, dancing and plenty of local food. We stayed the night in another nearby village, before getting up at dawn to walk along the ridge on the other side of the village from Sainji. This was an absolutely exhausting day, however, well worth it for the stunning views. We met local farmers in their cow sheds, and bought walnuts from a lady who we passed on the way. Another farmer who we met insisted on picking us fresh nuts.
After discussion with our hosts – the school headteacher and administrator, Lori and her husband Kunwar – we decided to spend the money we had fundraised on a new outdoor shelter for the school. Within a week the materials had all been locally sourced and the shelter had been erected. This has provided the school with some much-needed extra space for classes, as well as shelter from the sun and rain during their assemblies. We were very fortunate to be able to officially 'open' this for them before having to dash off to the airport for our flight home.
The work that Lori and Kunwar do for the community and GEMS school is tireless and selfless, and to be able to invest some time in helping them was a great privilege (and well rewarded with Lori’s homemade strawberry jam!).
I have truly fallen in love with this incredible part of India, and have plans to continue supporting GEMS as much as I can from the UK. I learnt valuable skills, an appreciation for this incredible culture and stepped out of my comfort zone. I have developed an understanding of the challenges of sustainable development and returned to the UK with a completely different mindset. I strongly recommend this fantastic experience to anyone considering getting involved in a project like this.
2019 Sustainable Sainji Team Member