Orla Owen's Gap Year Grant report 2017
The Trust awarded a Gap Year Grant to Orla Owen. Orla spent
a year with Project Trust in a rural village school in
Kottapakonda, Andhra Pradesh. This is her report on her
Report to the Roughley Trust
I am now back from my year in India. A culture which was
alien and at times frightening to me, eventually became home
and one I will miss dearly.
Project Trust asks its volunteers to learn about the world
and be a positive force within it. I hope I was able to bring
fun and laughter to my studentsí lives, no matter their
circumstances. I sung, danced, and played with the hostel
kids. We celebrated Womens Day, Halloween and many festivals.
I taught all my classes the joy of the Beatles and Abba. I
learnt about India, a country which is so diverse and
While I was in India I wrote a community study. This is part
The kids on our campus do not have access to technology such
as mobile phones (which are potential isolating tools) but
this is not a detriment to their happiness. Life for a hostel
kid is communal; they share rooms, share clothes, share
textbooks, eat together, breath together!
In their free time they are chatting or playing. The kids
are extremely resourceful, fashioning cricket bats out of
sticks and using clipboards to play frisbee.
There's a big emphasis on study
The study is strict and exams are constant. Yet the kids are
still happy and enjoy the free time they have. They understand
the importance of study, 'If we study we get good jobs. It is
difficult to live comfortably in India, it's every man for
himself' This makes sense when beggars, often children, sit
next to your home and plead with you at your local temple.
To be surrounded by so much cruelty and poverty so young is
the kidsí drive to do well. So are the kids growing up too
quickly? Are they too mature and aware of the precarious world
they live in? In a country where 67% of the population live
below the poverty line the kids are lucidly aware they need to
perform. Nerveless they are still carefree, joking, running
and chatting endlessly.
Our kids have tough lives
Some have grown up in violent environments, where beating and
physical punishment is so normal that the kids laugh when
their friends are beaten. It has been a shock to me knowing
that many students leave violent houses and witness things
everyday which attempt to steal the innocence and joy of their
childhood. Yet I am perpetually awe struck by how brave and
bold my kids are; they still have wondrous dreams, and a great
appreciation of life.
Humour is their coping mechanism; they have portrayed beating
in a comedic effect when performing drama sketches. I thought
they trivialised it, but they repeatedly tell me beating is
bad. I respect the tenacity and strength of children who leave
behind distressing home lives before entering the classroom. I
respect them for putting up with a legal system which too
often fails them. They do not give up. It is a privilege to
The role of food in family life
I have observed that food plays a crucial role in a child's
life: the school tuck shop Is forever busy. I am asked
everyday 'what did you eat?' One student told me the time he
is happiest is when he is eating because then he is with his
family and friends.
Indian cooking is the result of Love and sweat; women get up
at obscene hours to prepare the daily dishes and you are
encouraged to eat extravagantly. For a full stomach is a happy
child and it is painfully clear that many kids will not eat in
India, when 400,000 children alone live on the streets. Food
is an offering of love and friendship which the kids share
with us. India offers a more healthy preoccupation with food
for its children than the west, encouraging you to eat more
and praising you for putting on weight.
Love for Mother India
Although none of my students have the means to go abroad,
they reverently talk of America and the UK. But would they
ever desert their India? Every Indian I have spoken to
possesses an ardent love for their country. A deep respect and
connection to their country has been nurtured through
childhood. I ask them why do you love India? Mother India is
the ubiquitous reply and the kids refer to India as a mother
India has shocked and infuriated me but also managed to wow
and catch my heart. Its bizarre beauty from the bewitching
call to prayer or flower sellers scenting the girlsí hair with
Jasmine, the kindness of the sweeper who helps you onto the
train carriage has meant India has cast its inexorable magic
spell. I can't pen down the exact reason why I feel compelled
almost ordered to come back. All the kids love 'my India.' I
think growing up in such a special country makes for a happier
What is there to love about India? The plethora of festivals,
temples, friends, flowers, colour, the variety of culture and
atmosphere. I ask the kids this simple question. What makes
you happy? No one replied watching TV, no one replied my
computer. We have one working computer In the school. No one
replied horse riding or football club. Happiness comes from
family, playing hopscotch on dusty roads or helping prepare
sugary, sickly festival snacks, teachers, friends and living
In and breathing in 'my India'.
The last month at the project was emotional
It was a time when I felt at my most happiest. I belonged, I
smiled and India smiled back. I danced, sang and messed around
with the kids. I visited their villages. I felt closer to them
and to India. Some say India has no full stop, It is a country
of fascination where you will always ask one more question.
I heartily thank all of you who supported me. I have made
lifelong friendships. I went out to India and lost my
identity. I was not defined by who knew me or what I had done,
I was simply Orla Mam and a friend to the hostel kids. I had
to accept that no one was bothered by who I voted for or my
favourite musical. I had to become a teacher and member of my
new community, and so a new wonderful identity was created.
And now am back in England and it's like lím starting all over
again. Never again will I hear a hollering of 'Orla Mam' as I
walk up to 4th class. I donít have the responsibility for a
class of 35 screaming monkeys and I never thought I would miss
trying to control 5 year olds who are trying to understand a
foreign tongue, but I do.
I am so privileged to have access to education and to live
safely, but I will never take this for granted again and INDIA
- I WILL BE BACK.