My Heal Experience
I’d wanted to visit one of the many Heal villages for a long time and, having known Dr Prasad since I was four and having attended the fabulously decorative India Night in Peterborough last year, I was determined to finally go.
My initial apprehensions were the remoteness of the village we were visiting; I’d never even heard of Vijayawada, and the nagging in the back of my mind that I wanted to experience other parts of India. I compromised and arranged a whistle-stop tour for my last week of the month around Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
It’s safe to say my experience at Heal Paradise shrouded my previous angst.
My Heal experience in general was, above all, inspiring. I began to strip away my egoism and the desire for my own experience and discovered how we, in fact, were genuinely helping others. It was refreshing to distance myself from the privileged ‘gap year’ outlook and to realise the power we have to influence, even if that simply involves a ten-minute chat. Despite people’s initial confusion over my degree choice of modern European languages and thus the lack of relevance to teaching in a school in India, it was of no importance to me. You don’t need a degree in education in order to influence some excitable under-privileged kids and encourage them to expand their minds.
The Heal children have an incredibly structured routine. It starts with yoga at sunrise followed by Ragi Malt, which is best described as a milky cereal drink.
They then occupy themselves with morning classes of English, Maths, Telegu, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Hindi, Computing, Drawing and Games. With little appetite for lunch for me, afternoon lessons begin again, the occasional staff class, evening play, rest, dinner and sleep.
Yoga at quarter to six in the morning was an instant awakening, with PET (PE Teacher) sharply blowing his whistle for every position, quite different to my faddy gym classes in London. We discovered an array of positions from balancing artfully on one leg to the ‘problem diminishing’ Surya Namaskara where we were aggressively urged to ‘STRETCH YOUR BODIES’ by the Vice Principal. Clearly his forte. The children took part in prayer every morning and I was also immediately learning the importance of nature, peace and respecting your surroundings. Morning yoga amongst fields of green was a far cry from the persistent buzz of Euston Road. The rainy season often made the view misty, but the beauty of the location never went unnoticed: an eternal view of green, one of the colours of the India flag, again demonstrating its value.
Teaching was always a pleasure and what I looked forward to most each day. The brightness of the children’s expressions, their constant smiles, concentration and energy filled any room with joy. Our task was to improve their conversation English, which I feel we definitely achieved. Every single one of them greeted me throughout the day with a formal ‘good morning/afternoon/evening/ hi Katherine ma’am’ which I strangely got used to. We encouraged them with activities such as dialogues, poster creations, presentations on countries of the world, computer research, answering questions whilst catching a ball and asking others, songs, dictations, and many, many photos, occasionally rewarding them with hilariously worded stickers, my favourites being ‘Top Notch’ and ‘Way to Go!’
We even occupied ourselves with the odd Telegu class, never to be forgotten. Livvy and I now know the numbers, seasons, family members and couple of phrases such as, ‘Let’s have lunch together!’ This naturally brings me on to the topic of food.
In India, as we were frequently told, Guest is God, which almost puts you in an awkward position between appreciation of our host’s incredible hospitality and not wanting to let them down by rejecting something or saying no. Despite their worry that a few dishes or pickles they gave us would be too spicy, and that we weren’t eating enough, I loved the food and loved the spice. They make their own kurd (yoghurt), which was a perfect mouth-cooling dessert. Some of their specialities included idli, similar to dense rice cakes dipped in a light curry sauce for breakfast, a peanut pickle, lots of rice and dhal, and of course kurd.
There was even an opportunity to be dressed in traditional Indian dress, with which the housemothers occupied themselves meticulously, and this happened on the day of the opening of the health centre one Saturday. This was another occasion, after the first day arriving of course, when I felt like a curious, distant foreigner. After being strapped into a sari almost like a harness, and having my hair scraped into a clip (fortunately I missed out on the fake hair insertion to much dismay: ‘Why do you cut such beautiful long hair?!!), I looked the part, jewellery included. It was a stunning outfit, despite the length of time it took to assemble. The health day involved some sweet dances from the girls dressed in a plethora of colours, speeches from donors and doctors, and bizarrely constant requests for photos with guests whom I’d never met. I reluctantly obliged, reminding myself that I am a guest in this country and feeling like this is the appropriate response they desire from me as gratification.
All in all, three weeks at Heal Paradise Village felt like an out-of-body experience despite often feeling at home there. The hospitality was exceptional, as was every member of staff, the food was delightful and the location was a dream. But most importantly, the children were unforgettable, already drawing me back.
I cannot wait to return and be surrounded again by the richness of colour and the sparkle of young faces.