This past March my colleague Dana and I travelled to Rajasthan, India, with Me to We as part of a volunteer program offered by our work. Founded in 2008, Me to We is the social enterprise partner of We Charity, a Canadian organization with an objective to empower youth in developing countries and achieve sustainable change around the world. At the time of our involvement, Me to We offered volunteer opportunities in Ecuador, Kenya and India. Rather than the traditional service trips often touted as “voluntourism”, Me to We focuses on the importance of cultural education and immersion. Out of the three possible locations, we knew a chance to experience India - in a safe and coordinated manner - would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the both of us. Our trip itinerary included seven days at the Me to We Aravali Tented Camps in Kelwara, Rajasthan and a three-day extension to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
Our journey from Pearson Airport to the village of Kelwara, India was long. Very long. The trek included a sixteen-hour flight to Delhi, a one-hour flight to Udaipur, a four-hour drive to the Me to We Camp, and many hours of waiting. To say we were tired once we arrived in India would be an understatement! Although the journey was rough, it was worth every minute; Dana and I had an amazing time in India with Me to We. They were there for us at every step of the way.
Rajasthan is a state located in northwestern India on the border of Pakistan. With a name that means “Land of Kings” in Sanskrit, Rajasthan is a place rich in history and tradition, and is home to a number of historic forts, palaces, and temples in its major cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur. Rajasthan’s unique landscape features both the Thar Desert and Aravali Hills, both of which foster a diverse range of flora and fauna in the region. Our camp was located in the beautiful Aravali Range, with mountains as far as the eye could see. During monsoon, the landscape is lush and green, but since we were visiting during a particularly bad dry season, much of the environment was in a state of drought. This was in our favour, however, because mosquitos are only prevalent during monsoon – no malaria for us!
Each day with Me to We was different, but typically we would start our day with yoga or a sunrise hike before heading to the site to work. Aside from the two of us, there were five others at the camp from North America: two women from Seattle and a family from Vancouver, as well as our amazing Indian hosts Ricky and Avinash. Our project for the week was to help build a school classroom in one of the surrounding villages, where we also learned about the impact Me to We is making on the community. The main objective of Me to We is to break the cycle of poverty by operating through five key pillars: education, water, health, food, and opportunity. During our short time in the Me to We village, we were able to witness firsthand how this model has sparked sustainable change. Aside from project building, Me to We had many exciting activities planned for us over the course of the week. We learned traditional Rasjasthani leheria tie-dying, block screen-printing, henna, and miniature painting; we went on a camel ride to a special temple where catfish grow to the sizes of small dogs; we hiked to the Kumbhalgarh Fort, the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China; celebrated Holi, which was a magical experience; and went on a day trip to Udaipur to visit the famous City Palace and the local markets, among many other adventures. My favourite experiences, however, were our time within the local villages. One morning, we were invited into the home of a local woman to help her with her daily chores – rolling roti, feeding her goats, insulating her home in preparation for monsoon season, and carrying water to and from the well. We also participated in a women’s’ circle with local women to have the opportunity to ask them questions about their lives, which was an incredibly humbling experience. Me to We did a fantastic job at immersing us within traditional Indian culture.
India truly is one of the most extraordinary countries I have ever been to. It took me no time at all to fall in love with the culture, the traditions, and the people of India. I could go on and on about all I learned and experienced in this magical place, but this time, I’ll try let my pictures do it justice.