Lifelong Connection: Returning to Give Back After My Gap Year

By Alex Brindle

I knew I wanted to see the breadth of India during my gap year, so I set out to cross the country East to West, from Calcutta to Mumbai. I hadn’t planned any volunteering on the way––I just wanted to sightsee,  work on my Hindi, and generally have a good time before starting university. Originally part of my plan had been to head north and see Darjeeling, but conflict in the area meant that was impossible, so instead I went from Calcutta to Bodhgaya, the town famous for hosting the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha first gained enlightenment.

I stayed in a small homestay there, managed by some people who also ran a school that was right next door. The hosts, Michael and Murari, had an incredible story: they started a soup kitchen together, then created the school, finally adding a homestay onto it to support the project. I was only in the area for a week, but immediately I was asked if I would like to teach the children English lessons, and I was of course happy to.

The children were lovely, polite, and eager to learn––and also helped me pick up plenty of Hindi. I had no experience teaching, but I took my Hindi-language book and just used the teaching sequence there, reversing it so I taught the English words from the Hindi words. I was warmly welcomed in the area, and people were happy to show me around, including taking me to the famous Bodhgaya temple.

After my gap year, I stayed in touch with the people I had met in the area and always knew I would go back when given the chance. Two years after that first visit, I was awarded a generous grant from my university to go volunteer. I asked Michael and Murari what they needed. They said that a computer learning center would be amazing so that the children would have a chance to learn to use computers, so I made plans to make it happen.

I returned to the village and spent a month getting everything together, buying supplies, and building. It was a brilliant month, fun, relaxing, and rewarding––and at the end of it, the school had a new computer learning center.

The school is called ‘Bowl of Compassion’ and I encourage anyone to look them up, donate, and even go out and stay there! I never hesitate to direct a traveler that way when a person is going around India. I have no doubt I will be back when next possible!\