In fall '09, I took a leave of absence from GBS to pursue a volunteer experience. Through family friends, I found two opportunities: one in Kerala, India and a second in Rwanda. I was seeking to experience the world in a spiritual rather than a material way.
It all began on September 14, the day I landed in Kochi, Kerala. My hosts for the following six weeks were waiting for me at the airport. The two Carmelite priests and I soon reached the seminary, the place, which would be my first home in India. The Prior of the Seminary and I decided that I would stay in their seminary for the first two weeks. The following two weeks I would be a guest at a rehabilitation center for intoxicated children in a hill station village in Attappati. The last two weeks of my journey, I would stay in a seminary in Ernakulam, a nearby city.
The cultural shock was overwhelming. The life at the seminary was dictated by a rigid timetable, which began at 5:00 am with morning prayer followed by a day full of spiritual activities. I taught English lessons 3-4 hours a day, and most afternoons one of the priests would take me to visit the homes of local people, most of whom had daily wages of one dollar or less. The hospitality was almost embarrassing. Every time I was a guest at somebody’s house, no matter how poor their family was, they would offer me something. When I was invited for dinner, the host family would eat rice and vegetables, while I had my own plate with fish or meat. After these first two weeks, I moved to the rehabilitation center in Attappati. All the children were orphans with no education. I spent two weeks without ever verbally communicating. All communication between me and the children was through gestures. Life there is reduced to the bare necessities. We had no beds, no pillows, no showers and we ate only rice and vegetables five times a day to keep ourselves full. All we had was a blanket and a river flowing nearby where we went swimming in the morning and where we brushed our teeth. My last two weeks in India were similar to my first. One difference was that, since I had become comfortable traveling by myself between cities, I did some sightseeing.
Upon returning home to Italy I felt exhausted. The idea of leaving for Rwanda a week later was challenging. However, I had decided to commit the semester to volunteering and thus had no plan to back out at the last minute. I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda on October 2nd. A couple of days later I left for Rutongo, a village two hours away from the capital, where I stayed in an orphanage. I started planning and organizing English lessons for the local students who were on summer break. To my surprise, on the first day of class, over 500 students showed up. I decided to separate the students into three groups and give lessons three times a week. The other two days I worked at a local bakery. Teaching the children was an unbelievable experience. As opposed to kids in our society who only hope for material goods and complain about how much they have to study, these boys and girls walked all the way from other towns during their summer vacation and paid close attention to every word I said. Everyone wanted to learn. All of them realized what a great opportunity learning English could be for them.
As a final project, I asked each of the children to write a short letter with their Christmas wishes. All of them hoped for health for their family and a better future for them and those around them. No one asked for a material gift.
This experience opened my eyes to a new world, one that has much less than we have, one in which people have nothing and yet are very rich because they see the real beauty of life. From this experience, I learned to be thankful for what I have, to make the most of the opportunities I am presented with and to remember those who are less fortunate in this world. We have the ability to help them and make a difference in their lives.
Augusto Frausin, BBA11