We are back on the grid in Delhi after several days tucked away from technology and civilization up in the beautiful mountains of Ladakh. We had four of the most powerful days of our lives volunteering with an organization by working in a small mountain school in the village of Gia and camping out down the road. We feel truly grateful for the experience and can’t imagine a more meaningful service experience or a more beautiful backdrop.
After the 74 kilometer drive from Leh, we arrived at our campsite, ate a deliciously prepared meal from the crew at base camp, and started preparing for our full day of service ahead. We split up in to 4 groups, each with a different task each day. One group read to kids, practiced songs, and played games, another group painted the school, a third group built a playground, and the fourth group went on a trek around the village. Each day we rotated so that each group would be able to do each activity throughout our time there. And it all built up to the final day when parents and people from the village came to the school to see the kids’ performance and all the work we had done around the school.
To set the scene, the school was at 12,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, and filled with 20 rosy-cheeked eager schoolchildren. We arrived each day by 10 am to see the school assembly before breaking into our daily groups until 4 pm. The reading group used their creative energy to entertain 15 little kids in the morning and 5 older kids in the afternoon. In the morning, we read books, did arts and crafts, and practiced songs for hours and hours, successfully sharing a memorable experience with the local children. After lunch, we calmed down a little and worked on English sentences with the older kids, and we were blown away by how intelligent they were.
The playground group each day added progress to the structure, which we started from scratch. With the help of a local builder, we made a slide, swings, and net scramble, which the kids were over the moon about. Each day, the groups built on the work of the team from the day before, showing how far teamwork and patience can go. The painting group, as well, built on the work from the team before, and at the end of the week the school was lined with beautiful paintings of animals, kids, and other showcases of artistry from members of our group. The hiking group got a brief break from the school for a day, and in exchange got breathtaking views of the peaks and valleys of this remarkable region.
All of our work culminated in the ceremony on our last day in Gia. After practicing songs hundreds of times with the little kids, they performed in front of their mothers. The older kids read stories in English and Ladakhi, and performed Ladakhi dance. We also presented our paintings on our wall to the mothers, with the hope of showing that attention is being poured in to the local school, preventing families from sending kids away to cities for school. The mothers also made us a delicious local lunch of momos, which are like dumplings. We all agreed it was one of the best meals during our time in India. We also heard a presentation from the school headmaster, and were each presented Ladakhi scarves as a thank you for our time served in Gia.
Overall, it was an incredibly special experience to get such an intimate, extended experience at a small school. We also appreciated camping out half a mile down the road from the school, so we felt wholly immersed in the community during our time there. Each night, we reflected on the beauty of the landscape, and the depth of the people we were interacting with. It brought us all closer, to be sure, and now with just over a week left in this surreal trip, we are certain that we will embrace the adventure.