Joys of Giving Back
Travelling solo in India will remain the most challenging, most unique and most fulfilling trip I have experienced so far. India is a culturally rich place so full of colour and flavour that it can’t be described in words. Each city in India feels like a new country, with different languages, customs and cuisines.
Just before Christmas last year, I spent a month working at the Darjeeling Mary Ward Social Centre (DMWSC) in Siliguri. Most of the work at the centre involves improving the wellbeing and livelihood of women and children living in the tea plantations in surrounding areas. My main purpose was to assist with the Ethical Enterprise project, which is a project teaching young women different craft skills, such as weaving jute products and making paper cards, which are then sold by DMWSC, giving the girls funds to support their schooling and school resources, as well as providing them with transferable soft skills such as leadership and team work skills.
My daily routine consisted of enjoying a traditional Indian breakfast of chapatti and chickpeas with the Loreto Sisters, joining in a morning meditation and briefing with staff, and working in the office. My work included running workshops for the staff and refining projects.
The work undertaken by the staff and the Sisters at DMWSC is sustainable and practical. Rather than place a band-aid fix over issues commonly experienced by women and children in the tea plantations, they held many practical workshops and discussions that helped to mobilise those involved. While I was there, I was invited to observe a handing over ceremony between DMWSC and a community involved in the Collective Voices Project. This projects aims to encourage women to create self help groups within their community, which creates a support network for them to act on rights relating to their education, protection, health and nutrition.
The communities involved in the hand-overs had reached a point where DMWSC believed they no longer needed extensive support, and this was truly evident during the ceremonies. In both the communities, women spoke openly about the confidence they had gained from the self-help groups and from the support of DMWSC to advocate for their rights, and support their community during times of hardship. My most memorable experience from the day was meeting a 12-year-old boy who was the ‘Health Minister’ for one of the Youth self-help groups. It was truly fulfilling to understand how much of an impact DMWSC had on the women and children in the communities, and that the skills they obtained, through training and support groups, were transferable, practical and sustainable and helped communities become safer and stronger.
Lastly, my stay also enabled me to become truly grateful to be a part of the extensive Loreto network. We had many Loreto Sisters visit Siliguri during my stay, including Sr Brigid from Ireland, and Sr Deepa who currently lives in Lima, Peru. The Loreto community has and is helping to make effective positive change for groups of people all over the world. I feel honoured to be connected to such a passionate and effective organisation, as well as having so many opportunities to assist those in need.
Words: MWIA Volunteer, Francesca Barberis
Image: Francesca Barberis with one of the participants of the Ethical Enterprises Project