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Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

Through i to i Volunteering

www.i-to-i.com

E: enquiries@i-to-itravel.com / T: +44(0)1892 886123

(Review by Rachel Watson)

The Boats, Elephants and Community Work two-week tour does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a jam packed two weeks in South India’s beautiful Kerala, with boat trips, elephant interaction and eight days of community volunteering with delightful children in a special needs school.

You’ll be met at the airport and transferred to the homestay accommodation which will be your base for the two weeks. First up it’s a full orientation and “get to know each other” session with the rest of the group and co-ordinator Rakhi, a local lady who knows everything there is to know about Kerala and will bend over backwards to help you enjoy your time in her home state. Then it’s time to get stuck into the itinerary – starting with a full tour of Fort Kochi, taking in St Francis’ church, the Presidential palace, ornate Jewish synagogue and traditional Chinese fishing nets. The nets are still in full working order, and you can stand by and watch the fishermen at work. If you’re lucky (like I was) they will invite you to lend a hand, and you can help reel in a catch – mine was sent off to market to be sold!

The journey to school is made by bus – it’s a hot and cramped 20 minute trip by bus (a crazy experience not to be missed in India!) then a lovely ten minute stroll along the sea front, past the fishing nets (and once during my stay, a Bollywood film set) and through the front gates to school. The first time you make the journey (and more if you need it) you’ll be accompanied by a member of Rakhi’s team, and introduced to the teachers. The school is based at a convent and run by dedicated, hardworking and loving sisters who will make you feel very welcome at their school, and the children are beautiful – very fun loving, playful and trusting, and willing to work (and play) hard at any games, lessons or songs you introduce.

The weekends are no time for relaxing after a busy time at school – there’s a traditional Kerala arts show to enjoy, and trips to the famous Backwaters, an elephant village and the stunning Arirapally Waterfalls. I was most excited by the elephant trip, as I’ve always loved the majestic animals and was looking forward to getting up close with them. I wasn’t disappointed – invited by the mahouts to help with the bath I waded into the river to help scrub the elephants and was able to chat to the mahouts about their lives, and stroke the animals as much as I liked. We then headed straight off to the awe-inspiring waterfalls – you can get so close to them, and enjoy cooling off in smaller pools as well. Our trip also included lunch at a fantastic restaurant, with an infinity pool and fabulous views – the perfect end to an amazing day.

The trip includes two fantastic backwater cruises. The Kerala Backwaters are one of the natural wonders of the world, and – cruising through the lush green plants and trees, waving at local children running alongside your boat – it’s not hard to see why. Our first day on the Backwaters was spent on two different boats – a larger one with a sun deck for relaxing, and a much smaller boat, which was able to cruise down the smaller, less populated backwaters and take in even more of this gorgeous part of the world.

The second Backwater trip is an overnight stay on a houseboat, and was for me the perfect end to a perfect two weeks. My group – by now firm friends – spent a fantastic night cruising through the riverside villages, exotic birdlife and stunning scenery. We drank, laughed and reminisced about the fantastic, chock full two weeks we’ll remember for a lifetime.

Work: You’ll be spending eight days volunteering in a special needs school run by the sisters of the convent the school is based in. The children age from around 7-years upwards, and there are also adult students who participate in life skills classes and help the nuns with the smaller children. Activities are varied and very much down to the individual – you’ll need to use your initiative and get stuck in, there’s no place for wallflowers so come prepared with ideas for songs, games, lessons and activities you can do with the students. If you’ve got a particular skill or interest, use it!

Accommodation: It’s homestay accommodation here, staying in volunteer quarters of a family home. Rooms are based on twin share, and there’s a western-style toilet and warm water shower. Facilities include a microwave, kettle, toaster, fridge and television, and there’s a hand wash laundry service available for a (very) small fee. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Food: All meals are included and most of them are home cooked by the homestay family’s cook. Meals are amazing – traditional South Indian fare (fish curries are a speciality) but different tastes and requirements can be catered for easily – just ask.

Recommended for… People who want to do and see the best Kerala has to offer in a short period of time, while giving something back with volunteer work alongside the “touristy” activities. Also great for solo travellers, as you’re part of a group of like-minded people.

Be aware that… This is a fully supported trip with a planned itinerary in place for you. I loved that I could leave the organisation to someone else and know everything was planned for me to get the most out of my two weeks’ annual leave – but if you’re the sort of person who prefers more independent, “do it yourself” trips, it may not be to your taste.

Remember too, that if you don’t get stuck in right away at school, you could leave feeling that you’ve not achieved as much as you (or the kids) would like. Preparation is key – hit the ground running with ideas and a plan for what you want to do in your short time (I planned “In The Jungle” and “Under The Sea” arts and crafts projects – one for each week – and also swotted up on the kids in my class by reading through the journal left by previous volunteers).

‘Good’ credentials

  • All the accommodation, food, trips and in country staff are locally sourced – boosting the local economy and providing jobs
  • The children at the school benefit from one-on-one attention from volunteers, and the extra pairs of hands allow the permanent staff more time to concentrate on physiotherapy and speech therapy sessions for children who need them

 

Date of Visit: January 2011

 

About the author: Rachel Watson caught the travel bug during her gap year in 2002, and has no plans to stop exploring! She works in Customer Operations and blogs about her travel experiences in her spare time. Visit Rachel’s blog at http://dancing-like-no-ones-watching.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow her on Twitter @RacheyRoo183

 

 

 

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  1. Linda Gledhill Reply
    What a great blog! Trip sounds amazing!

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