Marge's Wonderful Experience of Volunteering With Children in India and Russia

By Marge (Cross - Cultural Solutions)

I read about Cross-Cultural Solutions in Childreach magazine in 1996. It was a time of transition for me - I was turning 50 and the last of my seven children had just left home. I had spent 18 years working in child welfare services with abused and neglected children, and I was tired. I wanted to "jump-start" the next 50 years. And I had always wanted to go to India. When I saw the ad in Childreach, I knew that volunteering was the perfect way for a person like me to visit the country.

What I found was life-changing. I had worked for many years with low-income communities on the East Coast and everyone was so angry. So I had learned to equate poverty with anger. In India I learned that:
1) I didn't know what poverty was and 2) I saw happy people.

Marge with Russian Orphaned Children.
Courtesy: Cross Cultural Solutions

There is a sense of spirituality and family in India that we've lost in the U.S.

I only went for three weeks, but when I got back, nothing was the same. I had learned to appreciate things more. I no longer took my washer and dryer for granted! It really expanded my worldview - previously, I had only left the U.S. to visit Greece. I think I am more tolerant now of things that Americans get crazy over, like road rage for example. That kind of thing is not important to me anymore.

My trip to India gave me the desire to continue to experience cultures the way I had there - to immerse myself and become part of the community. I made friends still keep in touch with today. International volunteering is a way of bringing the world closer together.

Later, Marge volunteered in Russia

I brought along my 77-year-old mother and we volunteered together at an orphanage in the city of Yaroslavl. My mother was wondering what she could do and I said, "Mom, you knit - why don't you teach the kids how to do that?" so she brought along a suitcase full of yarn and knitting needles. She taught a group of girls 12-15 how to knit mittens. There was a little girl named Julia, about 13 years old, blonde and beautiful with really good English. She bonded especially with my mother. They were posing for a photograph, my mother and Julia and Julia's finished red mittens. Julia has a huge smile on her face in the picture. After the photo was taken, she turned to my mother and said, "This is the first new thing I have ever owned."

There was a little boy, about 8, who was always frowning, always angry. I would be standing at the window and see him outside, smoking with his friends. I'd tap on the glass and shake my finger at them, and they'd disperse. One day, I was taking photos of all the kids, one of each. The angry little boy kept bugging me, "Where's my photo, where's my photo?" Constantly he'd ask, "When am I going to get my photo?" I finally got them developed and went to give his picture to him, mainly to get him off my back. When I handed it to him, his whole face lit up, the first time I'd seen him smile. He looked at it for a moment and then held it out to me, saying, "I wanted it for you."

When you volunteer, you come away so full from what you've done. You make a difference. In this day and age, post 9/11, people are feeling empty and want to know what they can do to make a difference - here it is. It's one kid at a time. When you leave this program, everyone you've touched sees America as you - it becomes personal. You can't do that as a tourist.

Cross-Cultural Solutions is a non-profit organization that sends over 1,000 volunteers abroad each year to provide humanitarian assistance with their Volunteer Work Programs in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Peru, Russia and Thailand.

For more details click here to visit their website.

or contact them at:

Children from Marge's volunteering experiences
at the Russian Orphanage

Courtesy: Cross Cultural Solutions

© One World One People, 24 January 2002
This Web page may be linked to any other Web sites. Contents may not be altered