Last month, our India team had the greatest pleasure of hosting our first batch of if i could… volunteers in New Delhi for our ‘Christmas with Compassion’ development immersion tour. The volunteers were given the opportunity to really engage in New Delhi’s development sector through our partner non-profit organisations and got a glimpse of the sights, tastes and wonders of India. It also gave them a sneak peek into the religious and cultural diversity of India, with experiences such as attending a traditional Christmas Eve Mass and enjoying the holiday spirit at various Christmas markets.
Christmas with Compassion is about focusing on the true spirit of Christmas… the spirit of giving, and hence our volunteers were given the chance to actively engage with the beneficiaries of the organisations.
The first stop was an organisation introduced to the volunteers by Dr Rajesh, and is dedicated to improving the lives of the youth and masses by providing medical assistance, counselling, shelter, meals, literacy skills-set development and much more. Dr Rajesh spoke at length about the main development issues India is facing today and mentioned that organisations such as theirs often inform many new governmental policies and since the government is under-resourced, they delegate projects to nonprofits. This conversation, gave the volunteers a sound understanding of how nonprofits and government work towards national development.
The volunteers were awestruck by the beauty and sanctity found within the famous Chhatarpur Mandir (temple) for their first darshan (blessings) and this truly set the tone for the rest of our Christmas tour.
While for most people, Christmas is a time for family get-togethers and celebrations, it is usually the complete opposite for children in orphanages. The volunteers got the chance to engage with orphaned children, children at risk and children affected by disabilities on their trip to a very special children’s home in Kheri Kallan. In this beautiful space, the volunteers were given a tour of how the orphanage is run. An honest eye-opener was how the children grow their own vegetables and wash their own clothes on Sundays and even cook their own meals on the weekends.
The volunteers were fortunate enough to be given a chance to interact with the youngest group of children engaging with questions about where they were from with an ‘introduce yourself’ game. The sharing ended with a wonderful photo session and large group hugs.
Another highlight was the trip to Hauz Khas Village, where they walked around the market capturing quaint sounds and sights in the charming alleyways and back streets.
A really enlightening experience for all was the excursion to Chandni Chowk, the Bird Hospital and Jama Masjid. The volunteers were awestruck with the Bird Hospital in particular, which is part of a large charitable Jain temple. When walking through the endless rows of cages, each of which held an injured bird, the volunteers were struck by the diversity of birds being assisted from crows, sparrows, pigeons, parrots to peacocks, chickens, ducks and swans. The Bird Hospital is a truly overwhelming and touching experience and the highlight.
Not too far from the concrete jungles of Noida is a space so green and lush that all you hear are the birds and wind. The Sunday brunch visit to the Prodigal Cook farms – a farm to table, plucked and plated experience, was completely experiential. Visiting on such a beautiful day, it was almost surreal to see peacocks walking around the farm. The volunteers were first given a tour of the farm where they learnt about the vegetable growing process and then put to work with activities organised by the farm curators, helping the local farms dig out mud and plant spinach seeds. They were then served a typical Indian winter dish – Makki Ki Roti and Sarso ka Saag accompanied by jaggery and red radish – all organic and freshly plucked and plated!
Christmas is also about being thoughtful towards others, and the visit to All Creatures was a perfect embodiment of this sentiment – a thoughtful initiative run by one of Delhi’s most renowned social activists. Here there are about 400 dogs and a herd of horses, cows, buffaloes, pigs, goats, cats, swans, emus and more – all rescued by this organisation. Some of the animals were ill, had lost a leg or an eye, or were dropped outside the premises by villagers who didn’t want the animal anymore. The volunteers took a tour of the entire shelter to learn the stories of individual animals and how the organisation helps them. They also met one of the shelter’s friendliest birds, an emu, who surprisingly was very forthcoming and posed for many pictures.
To immerse themselves in the Christmas spirit, they took a trip to the famous St. Thomas Cathedral in Gole market where the volunteers were encouraged to light candles and make a wish and then attend the Christmas mass/prayer service
The tour ended with a social farewell dinner at United Coffee House (UCH) – the historical and long-standing very popular British restaurant in Connaught Place. Built during the British era in India, UCH boasts some of the best Indian food: curries like butter chicken and paneer butter masala and other specialities. It’s tall ceiling and embellished interiors transport you to a time of British Colonial living.
All the volunteers were grateful for the adventure and opportunity to make a hands-on contribution while discovering the city of New Delhi. They gained meaningful insights into the development, socio-economic, cultural and religious diversity of India.
If you missed this tour don’t despair we have 3 more tours happening this year. if i could… is invested in providing cultural immersion programs making travel fun and meaningful. We empower individuals to give responsibly and sustainably. Our vision with the Development Immersion Programmes is to contribute to better growth and progress of India by exposing young and skilful people to organisations in need. You can read more about our other tours here: www.ificould.co.za/purposeful-travel/