Visa Granted - Friday 31st August

Friday 31st August

For those of you who know me, even just a little bit, worrying is something I do with finesse.  I worry about the usual things, I worry about the unusual things.  I worry about the things I have no control over and I worry about how much to worry over it all.  So, after four weeks and three visits, as well as numerous telephone calls, to the visa application centre and over £100 in associated costs, I was beginning to fear my visa for India would not materialise.  I ended up giving myself a deadline of - Friday 31st August - by which, if it wasn’t sorted, I would need to look at alternative options for the coming year.  Of course, volunteering being something I have had my heart set on for at least two years and being completely useless at any sort of failure (perceived or real) I am not sure alternatives would have cut it.  I want this opportunity so much I can taste it.  But, as it turns out (as is often the case) I needn’t have worried...or so the saying goes!

Long story short (not easy for me), after applying for the incorrect visa and paying an additional £270 to the embassy to process the correct application, I had to wait an extra week.  I am not sure why a volunteer falls under the jurisdiction of an employment visa, but I am no longer willing to ponder too long over this question.  Let’s just be grateful that it was granted.  A full, 12 month, employment, multiple entry Indian visa.  The relief as I opened the envelope was palpable.  In fact one woman jumped as I uttered the word ‘Yes!’ when I found the visa in my passport...and some of you will be able to picture this scene exactly!  In addition to the positivity I felt at receiving the visa, the charity I am working with offered to pay £150 towards the cost of the visa - us both originally thinking that I would be paying a mere £84 for an intern one.  To me, this demonstrated a belief in my dedication to see this placement come to fruition, but also, a greater faith in me as a person and professional.  In fact, the process of application has also tested my own resolve about how much I want to do this placement and I really feel I have passed the test.  Sitting in Hyde Park a couple of weeks ago with my Uni friends it would have been easy to get bogged down in the ‘bureaucracy’ of it all and lose faith in it being the right decision.  Then one of my friends said “All this waiting isn’t a bad sign of things to come, merely a test to see how badly you want this opportunity”.  Fair point, well made and a much more positive resolve as a result. 

So, having had a glass of wine with lunch on Friday 31st August, confessing my biggest worries about this latest endeavour to a great friend (Mrs Piper), I had another glass of wine whilst I was waiting for my appointment outside the centre - to calm the nerves.  Of course 'I needn’t have worried'.  Mildly unimpressive, there  in the passport, sat the visa.  In fact it was possibly the slightly shocked woman, witnessing my surprisingly shocking celebrations that need a drink to calm her nerves.  Anyway, after leaving the centre, I felt it was only right to celebrate with a cocktail (thanks Jess for the Boxpark suggestion).  At this stage I, therefore, must apologise to Caz and Tris for the slightly merry state I arrived at their house for dinner on the evening of Friday 31st August.  Of course, again, as anyone who knows me, even just a little bit, can attest, I enjoy the odd drink and, perhaps not quite so much now, was once considered a pretty good candidate for helping keep the party going.  More over nowadays I am often looking at my watch by 9.30pm and considering a comfy bed by 10.30pm (much earlier if there is no party to be had).  A dinner of lentil chilli and red wine (more to drink) was a treat and, the chilli, was a sign of things to come as spicy vegetarian food will be, most likely, the order of the day in the part of India I am going.

So!  My visa was through, I now had a way forward, a focus and something to work towards.  It was a good feeling, it felt right.  My anxieties about the life I was about to adopt lingered naturally, but the decision to go feels right.

There is no turning back.  My ever forward thinking, positive (slightly stubborn) father I must thank.  His constant positive thinking ensured that I have kept up with vaccinations, flight changes and all the other preparations that have been necessary thus far, without the benefit of knowing I had the visa.  I must also send out a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the crowdfunding site.  My accommodation is, without doubt, covered as a result of your generosity and I am now more committed and financial able to fulfil my 8 month promise to the charity and have money to also invest in the necessary resources and projects that will undoubtedly surface over the coming months.  I am indebted to those contributors who have eliminated yet another worry from my mind.  You can still donate (see the bottom of this blog entry).

Tuesday 4th September

So, the new UK academic year has started and I am still casually meeting friends for lunch and racking up the mileage on my Mum's poor little Polo (2,800 since 15th July).  I am, I assure you also getting ready for next Thursday - my final Rabies vaccination injection is tomorrow, I have bought another 150 water purification tablets (making 200) and also collected small containers of biodegradable soap, dry shampoo and deet free insect repellent.   Apparently I am not quite far enough East (Assam area) for malaria to be an issue, but there are many recommendations to ensure I take plenty of precautions - someone also mentioned Vicks Vapo-rub as a good deterrent - small pot to be purchased.  Mosquitoes seem to love me in some places and not in others - please let this be a place they reject the Adams blood.

Now my visa is assured I feel able to share some more basic facts about the placement I am undertaking.  Today, I also met with two other short term volunteers and the CEO of the charity I will be representing, so some of the information has been gleaned from that meeting too.

(Me, Stephen (CEO), Catherine and Graham)

As you will know from the introductory blog entry, I will be helping a small group of schools in three main ways.  On the whole these schools are owned and run by the Head teachers who direct them.  Children’s families pay a small stipend for the children to attend the schools, most of which are paid through grants or giving from other charities.  This payment contributes towards the day to day running of the school where there is no profit.  The children that attend the school primarily come from families working in agriculture, as hydro electric plant workers, on tea plantations and some who are involved in tourism work.  The local community would rather pay this small contribution than become involved in the state education system which is viewed by many as corrupt and non-cohesive where schools can be badly managed and have a lack of continuity in the delivery of education.  Many schools close without warning and yet Indian state school teachers are, in local terms, well paid.  The teachers of the schools I will be working with are all local.  They speak and teach in English although Nepali is the primary language of the area I will be living.  The levels of English spoken differ from person to person and this will be one of the areas I hope I can be of use.  

The small area of India I will be based in is right in between Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.  On an atlas it barely looks as though it is part of India, until you look closely.  It has actually been part of both Nepal and Bhutan in the past and was also part of Sikkham, an area of India that used to be a separate entity.  To the north and north east of where I will be, the great Himalayan mountain range stretches east to west before the expansive mass of China takes over.  It was lovely to see a teeny part of Mongolia jutting into the top right hand corner of the page too, but of course it is miles away. Directly south is Calcutta and to the south east is Myanmar.  The colourful, vibrant and busy country of India stretches to the west and south west.  With a geographical land area of 3.29 million square kilometres and a population of 1.32 billion people (World Bank 2016) it is somewhere I hope I get to explore both during and after my time working in the north east.  It is incredible to believe that 1.32 billion of the 7.2 billion people worldwide live in India.  India is second only to China in terms of total population and the two countries are the only ones to have over a billion people living in them.

(Kalimpong in far North East corner, with only Assam further East)

(Kalimpong in relation to Darjeeling and Baghdogra which in the airport I fly into)

The town of Kalimpong is the nearest main urban area to where I’ll be.  It has ATM’s, places to stay and things to see.  It is a small tourist attraction in terms of a hiking base, but not as popular as Darjeeling to the west.  Whilst Kalimpong may prove to be my base at times, I will begin my time, from September 15th, based in Kashyem, a village of 1200 people some 22km (1 hour by road) outside of Kalimpong.  Here I will be living with the Head of the School where I will be working.  New Rise school is primary school that grew into a secondary school.  It has 145 pupils in total and is teaching 3 - 16 year olds.  Housed with the Head of this school and his family I will begin by finding my feet, supporting classroom teachers and becoming acquainted with the various customs, traditions and ways of life in the rural Indian community I will soon call ‘home’.    

"If you can imagine it, you can create it.  If you can dream it, you can become it." - William Arthur Ward 


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