Footprinter report: Cameron Sinclair

Ladakh

For the last 6 months I have been volunteering in the Himalayas which has been a whirlwind of fun and amazing experiences. I have learnt so much in the time I have spent abroad which has taught me many things I could not hope to find anywhere else.

One great aspect about volunteering is the number of amazing and interesting people you meet from all over the world. I now have friends on every continent and have already started visiting them. Even though you get to integrate with intriguing people from all over the globe, it is the students at the school that really made my trip worthwhile.

I was initially pretty daunted at the prospect of teaching students who were mostly my age and also understood very little English, as I assumed they would simply not listen to me. However, when I arrived they not only listened, but they asked questions and stayed deadly quiet when I was speaking giving the upmost respect to me. From that moment on it really made me want to help these kids badly. All of the students I was teaching were people who had failed their exams at GCSE level and were required to retake the exams in order to progress to the next academic year. I met students who had failed it 6 times and were now 21 still looking to pass their exam that they first took 7 years previously. I assumed that as these students had failed they didn’t want to learn but I was astonished at the fact that most had failed simply on the fact that they couldn’t memorise and regurgitate paragraphs of English that they didn’t even understand. This is a huge flaw in the education system out there, and the small NGO I was at led the movement towards a better education for youths in Ladakh.

I ended up running 3 classes a day including two big classes of English and Maths and a very small computer class with the couple of recently donated computers. After teaching the students for a while I got to know each of them very well developing extremely strong friendships. I got to visit many Ladakhi houses in which I was served ridiculous amounts of very sweet tea (and butter tea which I politely declined every time as it would burn your tongue with the saltiness) and had many small tasty treats. It was so interesting to see how these people would live daily in a house made from mud and wood with a compost toilet and no electricity. Their way of living was efficient, eco-friendly and unaffected by modern influence.

The extreme weather and altitude made living conditions hard and was pretty uncomfortable. It was very unnerving to just go for a walk and have to stop to catch your breath. It was also very cold in the winter with temperatures down to negative twenty degrees Celsius on a regular basis. However, although the weather was harsh it was incredible to walk out of your room in the morning and look up to see the Himalayas right in front of you covered in snow creating some of the best scenery I have ever seen. After a while you begin to get used to the landscape around you however now and again something would catch your eye and make you appreciate everything around you all over again .

The most satisfying thing to happen was when a student came out after his exam and I asked him how it had gone and he came up and just gave me a big hug and said that one of the things I taught him on the previous day came up in his exam. The feeling of even helping someone a little bit to go on to do something they want to do was overwhelmingly satisfying and in that moment I realised that I wanted to teach others so that I can try to feel that satisfied on a day to day basis.

Since coming home I have already changed my course from geography to geography with education so that I can hopefully go into teaching. I am so grateful to be able to have gone on such an amazing trip and have been encouraging many other of my friends into doing similar things. I feel that the kind of trip I went on was not only very fun, but it reveals things about yourself that you never thought you had in you. To this day I am still shocked at the fact that I did the second hardest full marathon in the world up in ladakh which was at an altitude of 3600m.  It was the hardest thing I have ever done and it pushed me to limits I had never experienced before but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life.

One of my favourite memories with the students was when our school went on a weekend away to a nearby apricot orchid where we picked, chopped, boiled and bottled almost three hundred jars of jam. This was very practical learning which taught them how to preserve food so that in the winter the people of Ladakh would still have supplies of vitamin rich food. After doing all this, the next step was to sell all this jam at the local town which was about half an hour away by car. For a whole week students took rotations at selling jam to mainly tourists and some locals to raise money for a trip in the winter to Srinagar, Kashmir. This was amazing to watch as they had set up a small business all by themselves with only small amounts of help. This has given them the confidence to go on and pursue their own entrepreneurial interests which they never thought they could do. All of this led to a trip in the winter to Srinagar which was such a culturally interesting experience. Most of the students had never been to a city before so for them it was the most exciting thing they had ever experienced. I had totally mixed feelings for this city as it was till this day the most stunning place I had visited.

The city was mostly built on a lake which spread out for miles with little tatty boats taking you anywhere you want for next to no money. The sun set was crimson lighting up the sky and still lake making it such an incredibly view with the huge Himalayas in the background. Huge temples next to even bigger Mosques but were all controlled by many rolls of lethal barbed wire and about 30 riot police with assault rifles creating a huge divide between the two places of worship. This was the only problem with Srinagar. The military influence in this city was so large and in your face that it made any foreigner (including me) very nervous and on edge. This nervousness was the only drawback to this whole trip which apart from this was just unbelievable. I find that writing about my trip involves a lot of searching in the thesaurus to find other words for amazing because I cannot convey with any amount of writing how much I enjoyed this trip. It has given me such an amazing experience which I will treasure throughout my life. I am eternally grateful to Hazels Footprints Trust for the opportunity to do this and wish to do many more of these trips in the future.

Image credit: irumge

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