Having been told by friends and former volleyball teammates that it was a great experience, Corner Canyon High senior Sara Dumas volunteered to teach English to children in a northern town in India, not realizing it would help shape her future.
About a year ago, Sara applied through Youth Making a Difference to volunteer in India. After being accepted in August 2014, she and about 25 others from throughout the Salt Lake Valley — including Corner Canyon seniors Taylor Green, Amanda Heaps, Melodie Powers-Draper and Jenny Tripp — met every month to learn about the Indian culture, how to teach students with limited English and to get fundraising ideas to pay for the late March trip, which ended up costing about $3,700.
“We also had guest speakers and learned about the lessons of YMAD,” she said about the organization’s leadership values of integrity, compassion, courage, inspiration, vision, forgiveness and gratitude. “We learned that we’d be making a difference in ourselves, our community and our world.”
After landing in Delhi after several days of flight, the group headed to the northern town of Sunder Nagar, where they volunteered for a couple days at a school for the deaf and blind. Then, the group was split into “village teams,” where they set out to teach English to local children.
Sara and her team of volunteers taught in the same town, where she instructed 25 six- to 11-year-old boys and girls on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The children were packed in a small classroom to learn the days of the week, words for the places around them, prepositions, adjectives and action words.
Corner Canyon High senior Sara Dumas points to pictures of her Draper school and house while teaching students in Sunder Nagar, India. Photo courtesy of Sara Dumas
“It was hard. My kids didn’t know anything but ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ We’d try to show them, or make signs like charades for them to understand what we were saying. We had six teenagers and an adult in each school, as well as a translator, so if we needed the help, the translator could help us,” she said.
Other lessons included topics of health, Mother Nature, math, science and conversational English. They also played games with the students during the hour lunch break.
On the weekend, they learned how to play cricket from their coordinator and the cab driver who drove them. They also got to see local sites, such as the Gateway of India in Mumbai City, the Ghandi Memorial in Madurai and a Hindi temple. Before they left the area, they whitewater rafted the North Kullu River and went to Manali where they were supposed to ride yaks, but because of the rain, instead shopped the local markets.
Before leaving, the YMAD volunteers also held a cultural exchange where they would each sing two songs and perform dances and music for each of the four schools where they were teaching.
“My school was the worst. It had concrete floors and walls with desks. It was really stark. They’d heat rice in buckets and put it over hot rocks to heat their food. Everything was mostly rice: rice with curry or chicken, rice pudding and naan, their bread. They didn’t have a bathroom, but would excuse themselves to the fields,” Sara said.
As part of their volunteering, they painted the classroom walls yellow and installed lanterns, as the school didn’t have any lights. A gas line was being installed into the school as Sara left.
“It was so hard to say good-bye. It was the most heart-breaking thing in my life. It’s hard to believe that we formed such a close bond in so short of time, but it’s one that will last a lifetime,” she said, having kept the drawings and notes the students gave her before leaving.
Although there is no mail service to the town, Sara learns about students through her translator and coordinator who live in towns near her India school.
“Through this experience, I learned a ton. I learned patience, a lot of persistence and determination and motivation. I learned that I can do hard things and I learned a ton of teamwork skills,” she said.
Sara, who plans to attend Utah State University in the fall to study psychology or athletic training, said that the experience really opened up the possibilities around her.
“It was such an amazing experience, even more than I thought it would be. I’ll study one of those areas, but what I’d really like to do is go on more humanitarian trips to volunteer and take photos,” she said.