In 2013, when for the first time I heard of Magic Bus and its project, I suddenly knew I wanted to be part of it and HAD to go. Magic Bus is an NGO founded by a former pupil at Felsted School, England. The charity enables some of the world’s poorest families to move out of poverty. Through the use of a mentoring model and a sport-based curriculum, it engages children and ensures that they make the right choices so that they have a constructive journey from childhood all the way through towards better and dignified livelihoods as adults. Magic Bus currently supports over 400,000 children and 8,500 young people across 22 states in India and has recently launched a pilot programme in the UK. I can definitely say that the 14 of us have somehow contributed to this tiny (yet great) adventure.
I knew it would be hot in India, I just didn’t know it would be quite that humid.
The journey from the airport to the hotel is still fixed in my mind: 38°C 12.00am and an innumerable population. Some people sleeping under bridges, others on the roadside, others on the shops’ rooftops: wherever the quietest and/or coolest spot was. The lack of air conditioning on the bus forced us to open the windows, and the distinctive aromas of food hovering through the traffic blew in.
After a long drive we finally got to the hotel and went straight to bed as we were aware that the next two weeks were not going to be a holiday.
We spent the first five days in the city visiting Bombay Port Trust (an illegal slum and very deprived community) and Dharavi Slum. We also took part in a local football competition and walked around the busy city in the period approaching the Diwali Festival: the beautiful festival of lights.
On the sixth day we got a bus to the Magic Bus Centre, 75 km away from Mumbai. When we finally arrived we had lunch: by far the best curry I have ever had! When we laid down in our bunk beds before starting the activities in the afternoon, it finally sunk in how peaceful this place was – the grass so green, the air so clean and the lack of the constant deafening beeping sounds of Mumbai.
Around 3pm we went to visit a local village school and did different fun games and activities with the students.
In the next few days we organised a day of sports and activities for local children, we did a zip line and low ropes course at the Centre, and went on a two-day trip to a mountain tribal village where we were stayed at a local family’s house whose owner worked at Magic Bus. We were welcomed in the traditional way: with colourful flower garlands, offered as a mark of respect and honour; Tilaks (ritual red marks on the forehead) as a sign of blessing, greeting and auspiciousness; and a glass of water, a custom extended from the villages where people walk long distances to reach someone’s home and may be tired.
After strolling around the little village and satisfying our hunger with another great curry, we had a night in just talking and relaxing.
The next morning, we completed mural painting and gardening projects in the local schools. It was really amazing to see how overjoyed the children were with the work we had done. Before leaving we distributed party bag style gifts to each child in the school, they were thrilled and so grateful for the presents. It really felt like we had made a difference and impacted on their lives.
The final day involved packing and an exhausting journey back to the airport in Mumbai.
Overall, although I knew that this would be an experience that would take me out of my comfort zone, I did not expect it to be packed with so much emotion. It really opened my eyes to a new and special culture. I am very proud of myself and the rest of the group that, not only volunteered in India, but also raised in excess of £8000 for such an incredible charity.
This is a little extract of my Indian memories.