25 Feb India: High Altitude Education – 6 Months Later…
Written by James Little, India Program Leader.
Last year, Operation Groundswell’s India: High Altitude Education program took 12 backpacktivists from New Delhi to Manali to Leh and back again for 6 weeks packed full of Himalayan mountains, Buddhist monks and nuns, hot sweet Indian chai and the vibrant kaleidoscope of sound, smell, taste and colour that make up life in the Sub-Continent.
Along the way, we contributed to community projects both big and small, from fundraising with grassroots NGO Om Shanti Om Trust in Himachl Pradesh for victims of the Jharkand floods, to working with 17000ft, the largest education NGO in Ladakh, in a remote, independent monastery at 4500m, rebuilding school buildings and providing over 60 hours of teaching. It was a privilege to lead a diverse group with my Co-Program Leader, Natalie. But what does that experience mean 6 months later? Here are the thoughts and recollections of some of our team members…
For me, being in India was fulfilling a dream. Doing that with OG was an extraordinary experience that enabled me to bond with unique people that were united by exploration, openness and passion for enjoying our time and volunteering in India. Although it has been months since the program, I keep trying to remind myself and incorporate what I learned from the program, the people, and India itself into my everyday life. One big lesson is trying to think of life as always being on an adventure, learning and being open to the experiences of everyday life rather than simply looking back at a happy glimpse of an incredible trip with great people.
I still find myself daydreaming now and again at work or in class about those certain moments forever etched into the pegs of my life, such as wandering the back roads of Old Manali, exchanging fierce smiles and “juleys” with the Ladakhi locals as they go about their duties such as escorting yaks or shovelling hay. Though still inconclusive, I’ve gotten much closer to answering that old question “What is it really like to be alive?”.
For the longest time, I wanted to experience all India had to offer and my experience with OG was a dream come true. Once I was there, I realized being a part of the organization was so much more than I could have fathomed prior to my arrival. There are no limits to what’s possible! Be prepared to be scared and vulnerable while, at the same time, accepted and safe. India is full of ideas, zest, and energy. Going with an organization like OG allows you to explore all the possibilities, pushes your boundaries, and teaches you to be a global citizen, with a passion for adventure. 14 strangers came together with one commonality: to spend the summer in India. We left a family.
India was never a place I’d had any interest in visiting – that is until I found this program with OG. Months later and I’m still abroad with no plans of coming home anytime soon. These programs can change not only your outlook on serious world issues, but they make you take a good long hard look at yourself. You may never be the same again.
2013 Program Leader
It’s hard to find the words to sum up our time spent in one of the most vibrant countries in the world. We were a group of strangers from all areas of North America (and one from England!), brought together as complete strangers. But in the incredibly enchanting chaos of India, we quickly forged close bonds and shared a lifetime of experiences over precarious bus rides, delicious paneer curry, long walks in high altitudes and volunteering with monks in the Himalayas.
It’s for these reasons and so much more that you’ll find me in the Himalayas once again this year. Hopefully, I’ll find you there too!