So you’re thinking about spending some time in India, but you have so many questions. For women, safety may be a concern. Where will you stay? How will you get around? What can you expect a typical day to look like?
I had all of these questions and more, so I decided to join a volunteer program with a company called Leave UR Mark. Leave UR Mark (LUM) connects volunteers with local community organizations and non-profits. In addition, LUM provides their volunteers with beautiful accommodations, delicious home-cooked meals, and in-country support.
Prior to your trip, LUM will send you several informational documents and schedule you for an online orientation via Skype. I was honestly blown away at the level of detail that was included in the pre-orientation paperwork. Every aspect is covered, from emergency information to cultural insights and comprehensive packing guides. Even if you consider yourself a seasoned traveler, it is very convenient to have all of this information consolidated into one handy informational guide!
The pre-departure orientation call is also a great time to ask questions. All practical items are covered in the guidebook, but you might want to take advantage of this time by asking questions such as, “What have other volunteers most struggled with and how did they deal with that issue?” or, “What do you think foreigners are most surprised by when visiting India for the first time?” These are just examples, but the point is that you can use this opportunity to have a real conversation and personalized Q&A. The LUM staff are a wealth of knowledge and this is the time to have all of your questions answered.
LUM arranges airport pick up for you on the date of your arrival. The LUM driver will be waiting outside of the airport with a sign that has your name on it. The driver will then safely deliver you to the gated apartment community where one of the on-site staff will be waiting for you.
Later that day or the following morning (depending on the time of your arrival), you will be given a full on-site orientation. This is the time where you can ask any questions specific to your volunteer project, housing, etc. After the orientation, you will go to one of LUM’s favorite local Indian restaurants for a welcome lunch.
The primary modes of transportation in Bangalore are bus, auto rickshaw, and taxi. There is a metro system as well, but only 2 lines are fully operational at this time. Your coordinator will advise you on the best way to get to the organization where you are volunteering. If you are volunteering for an extended period of time, you will likely take the bus every day. If you are volunteering for only 1-2 weeks, you might consider taking an auto rickshaw.
See Tip #10: Safety Tips for Women
The LUM apartment in Bangalore is situated on the top 2 floors of the penthouse suite, inside a beautiful gated community. By Indian living standards, this place is absolutely incredible. In fact, by anyone’s standards, this place is amazing!
The apartment has a common shared space and several private rooms, which you will share with a roommate or two (same sex) depending on the current occupancy. Each room has its own private bathroom and shower.
View from the LUM apartment
Every night, home-cooked, authentic Indian meals are prepared for the volunteers. There are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. I couldn’t believe how delicious every meal was, especially the masala dosa!
Culture & Activity Planning
One of the most invaluable aspects of this experience is the insider access to cultural activities and local events. LUM coordinates many different types of activities for their volunteers, such as yoga, dance, and cooking classes. They also frequently post information about upcoming events and festivals that would be difficult to find otherwise.
Learning how to wrap an Indian Saree
Cooking class with Aunty
LUM assists all of their volunteers with planning weekend or day trips. While they aren’t a travel agency, they are available to help with any language barriers by making calls, giving directions, and purchasing tickets.
Last but not least, LUM organizes all details of your volunteer experience or internship. LUM partners with a variety of organizations, so whether you’re interested in marketing, animal rights, or women’s development, LUM will find the perfect fit for you. The full list of available projects is shown here.
I volunteered with a community development project called Concerns. Concerns focuses on sustainable change through education and healthcare. They run a childcare center and pre-school in a local slum. They also founded a community college focused on furthering education for women. You can read more about their mission here.
Volunteer with LUM
If you are interested in volunteering with LUM, please visit their website at www.leaveurmark.com or connect with them via the social networks below.
Special thanks to LeaveURMark for hosting me and providing an incredible and safe first experience in India. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.