Working with dis-advantaged children in India was an enriching experience for Fife’s vice lord-lieutenant.
Fiona Robertson worked as a volunteer at Kings School in Tamil Nadu for five weeks from January to March this year.
She travelled to India with her friend Linda Burns but it was her daughter Joanna’s gap year trip which actually sowed the seed.
Fiona, who is a retired physiotherapist with NHS Fife, said Joanna’s experience gave her the taste for adventure.
“Joanna loved her time there and talked about how lovely the staff and children had been,” she said.
“She also had the opportunity to travel in India which helped her to understand the people and their culture more.
“Linda and I thought it sounded wonderful so when Joanna said the accommodation for volunteers at the school was comfortable and had Western style toilets, Linda and I agreed we had to go!”
Kings School is a wholly owned division of the UK based charity Kings World Trust for Children (KWTC).
KWTC was set up in 1994 by Colin Wagstaff and Navamani James to provide care, education and training for children who were orphaned, homeless, disadvantaged or disabled.
It currently supports more than 460 children and their families with access to subsidised or free education and training.
It also offers free bursaries for low income and disadvantaged children to study and board at Kings School.
Fiona said the charity was doing amazing work.
“The southern part of Tamil Nadu, where Kings School is based, is a deprived farming area which is suffering from drought,” she said.
“Cultural issues mean that children can be abandoned and deprived of an education. So Kings School, in its small way, is doing wonderful work.
“On our arrival we were allocated a full timetable of activities based on our experience and qualifications. It was a full day and they kept us busy – but it was fun!
“Kings School welcomes native English speaking volunteers as the staff and students all value the opportunity to improve their English fluency and pronunciation.
“We helped the teachers in the Kindergarten and sang English songs and nursery rhymes. We practiced reading and interpretation with small groups of primary aged children and presented prizes and certificates at morning assembly.
“We also helped edit the school magazine and to make chappattis in the school kitchen ... much to the amusement of the lovely kitchen staff!
“And we helped the older boarding children with their homework in the evenings.
“The boys really just wanted to chat about football, particularly Ronaldo, and to hear all about life in the UK.”
They also supported children to play sport each afternoon including basketball, volleyball, football and handball.
And discussions were held with staff on a one to one basis too.
Fiona explained: “Each afternoon I spent an hour in conversation with Hensi, a staff member eager to improve her English.
“I loved our chats. We talked about everything from arranged marriages to the difficulty she had getting medical help for her small son who has suspected TB, as well as cooking tips, how to make chai and how she washes her saris in the river as there is no electricity in her village.”
So what did Fiona gain from the experience?
“In spite of my advanced years, I was delighted to find that I still rejoiced in new challenges and that I still had something to give to others,” she said. “I loved the friendliness and kindness of all the pupils and staff at Kings School.
“From the first moment I arrived I felt welcomed and valued. I loved the openness of the children and their enthusiasm for learning. They have so much to teach us all about friendship, joy and care for others.”
She added: “Volunteers are made to feel very welcome and several return.
“I would love to go back – it was such a joyful and enriching experience.”