Savio Retreat Team member, Kazzie Whitehead, writes about her experience in India with BOVA
A friend in my parish told me about someone who had volunteered with BOVA and went oversea to India, and that’s where I’ve always wanted to go, given that it’s my birth place. I got in touch with BOVA, and started all the necessary training. Then I got the confirmation… I was going to India for a year. A whole year, on my own. I was nervous, scared, excited and so many thoughts were rushing through my mind.
Nedungalum in Pillathimum in Tamil Nadu
My first placement was a boarding school for young boys and girls from year three up to year six. Also there was a boarding house for girls from year seven up to year eleven. My role was to teach them English, but also to be an assistance to the teachers in the school. It really was eye opening for me, to see how the young children intently listen and are so enamoured with their education. The children were so lovely, warm and welcoming and I instantly felt at home and they made it so easy for me to teach them. They were so curious about my life back in England and as to how I live my life. Things in England that may be deemed as ‘normal’, such as a flush for the toilet and electricity seemed almost non-existent. That did take a while getting used to, but it was all part of the transition. I was there for around three and a half months then I moved to another placement.
Nivillrapatti in Salem
My next placement was in a Don Bosco care home for young boys from ages 8-18 who are living with HIV and AIDS. When I was notified that I will be joining the care home, I was nervous, excited but also saddened in a way. To hear such young boys, be met with heart breaking circumstances I didn’t know how I would react when I would meet them. That all changed once I arrived, I picked up the boys from school alongside Fr. Daniel and I couldn’t have felt more in place. The boys welcomed me, so affectionately and they were curious about who I was, where I was from and if I wanted to play games with them! My role was to assist them during the day such as farming and agriculture with the boys who didn’t attend school and the boys who arrived from school, I would play games with them, help with homework and have tea and night prayer. I felt a part of their community almost instantly and when it was time to leave, after 8 months of placement, I felt so saddened as those boys felt like my little brothers and I got to know each and every one of them, and their lives. Before my experience of India, I never really knew what being a Salesian meant. I didn’t know that priest, brothers, sisters, could work alongside young people in such a way that doesn’t feel forced or formal. But in fact, they were just following the footsteps of Don Bosco and his way of teaching. While I had so, so many great memories, there have been some times where I’ve, not necessarily had a bad day, but just a day where I reflected and I think it really did help note it all down in a diary. Also to look back on my feelings, thoughts and my growth as a person but also how I grew in my faith.
My experience in India? It was eye opening, fun, full of love and laughter, tears (from the children and me)! I learnt what it truly means to be a Salesian and to carry out the work of Don Bosco. I will forever hold those memories, and every young person that I’ve met along the way