I Volunteered For A Journey…

I am a survivor of clinical depression. I confess.

I screamed at my parents, every day, every hour. I confess.

I blacked out during my first year college exams. I confess.

Shaggy hair. Unchanged clothes. Ugly crying through the night. Pills swallowed and a blade hidden under my mattress. I confess.

It was scary. It was grotesque. It was madness. I confess.

Though that changed. Not over a day. Not over a single mail. Not over a single orientation. It took a week, a few months and a couple of years.

CRY invited me to volunteer for their non-profit organization. I was introduced to a community – a Geography teacher, a Merchant Navy officer, a group of sophomores, a post-graduate, an IT specialist, a marketing associate – all gathered for the common cause of child welfare.

I was re-introduced to a community. A different venue, this time. Homemakers gathered around the community tap, children peering through drawn curtains, a sister carrying her baby brother on her back, a teenager sitting inside the family store with a pen and an exercise book in his hand, finishing his homework for the day. Lanes were narrow, rooms were pigeon-coups. Litter all around; puddles and mud to fill the spaces.

I felt privileged. I felt ashamed.

My very first assignment came. The role of a teacher in a skit. Lines upon lines to remember. ‘Bengali’ never seemed so impossible.

Time for a community call. Heard my co-volunteers discussing the posters they had made and a night that they sacrificed. Curious faces looked up to us. A volunteer sat down with a lady on the rail-lines and conversed about child education and its importance. A group of prepubescent children shouted out to us. They had pasted the posters in every lane, carried the spare and distributed it among their neighbours. I witnessed something new that day. I witnessed enthusiasm.

A stereotype was broken. Far from the sketches of our dailies. Numbers become people. Pictures become faces.

A single room, it is known as the local club. About ten volunteers, about double the number of children. Sometimes the light did not work, the ceiling fan refused to be switched on. It was raining cats and dogs. The sun was beating down on everyone’s back. The cold was trying to give us frostbite. The children remained, so did we.

The second phase of my journey began. Some had their classes and others their jobs to attain. No one was available. I volunteered and I surprised myself. No push was there, no pressure. It felt right. It felt natural. I started visiting Government schools, both fully and partially sponsored. The ceiling had its plaster peeling off. The computers no longer worked. A monitor was stolen. Children milled about during their recess. A girl wished me a good afternoon. Another told me about the midday meal she had. The teachers stood up, pulled their chairs for me. Asked if I wanted anything to drink. I was astonished.

A man came to visit the principal. He smiled shyly and told her about his decision to give priority to his daughter’s education. He further said that he would like to her her established independently before her marriage.

The principal in the second school talked animatedly to me. Pointed at the newly potted plants. The ground that has been swept, no rubbish for a few months at least.

CRY donated laptops to them. An initiative to digitalise the curriculum. Every Tuesday I met the interns. I met a co-volunteer who came running after his CAT prep sessions. A guide text was prepared and translated. We taught and teachers learned.

Quarterly visits were made by Anindita Di – my mentor and friend. There were days when I called her up exasperated, lonely and struggling. She talked about her initial days, sketched me a motivation. Her days, her nights and in betweens – the conflicts, the frustration and the sheer urge to quit. She made it feel natural; she prepared and guided me through.

And she become much more. She became family.

Then there were a thousand days and a million nights when I attended the health camp with a running fever, counselling the families on medicine and practices. I gave a talk before a room full of guardians and school staff. My hands were still trembling, my heart still beating a staccato. I still lived to tell the tale.

Children changed my life. I confess.

Volunteering changed my life. I confess.

I still have my inhibitions in giving a talk. I still have bad days. I still get overwhelmed facing so many challenges. I confess.

Still.

CRY made me smile and changed my life for better. I confess.

Anwesha Das Gupta, CRY Volunteer, Kolkata

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