Gap Year India
About the program
Briefing & Orientation
You will need to fly into Calcutta (or Kolkata), where you will be met by the AV representative. Depending on flight times you may have a day in Calcutta where you can visit the Victoria Memorial, Mother Theresa’s ‘Mother House’ or perhaps the busiest bridge in the world (over the Hooghly River).
That night, accompanied by our AV representative, you will catch the overnight sleeper train to New Jalpaiguri, the station for Siliguri and the Himalayas, arriving in time for breakfast. Indian trains are an experience like no other and a great way to travel long distances across the country. They are very sociable and there is never a dull moment: you could find yourself holding the baby for the family next to you, listening to musicians, or watching the cobbler at work!
From Siliguri you will all take a bus to the banks of the Teesta river where we start the Orientation Course. This is a chance to settle in, unwind after the hectic few days leading up to your departure and long journey, as well as an opportunity to get to know your AV group. The orientation course is important for making sure you’re fully prepared when you start your project work. In a stunning steep-sided valley with the town of Kalimpong about 3000ft above you will cover:
– Nepali (the standard language in these parts)
– Indian and Nepali history, customs and culture
– Safety, health and security
– Advice on communicating with your students and how to structure your English sessions
– During the course you will visit Kalimpong to buy traditional local clothing
After the course we will take you and your partner to your village home for the next three months.
Here the AV representative will leave you to settle into your new home, but remember they’re never more than a phone call away if needed!
The Lepchas are very special people, who live in the remote foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. Gap year projects and volunteer work opportunities with AV give you the chance to help them conserve their unique and ancient culture and experience a very different part of India, away from the bustling cities.
They are a highly cultured tribe who lead a traditionally simple way of life. Wanting to preserve their identity, they have built tiny cultural centres, or ‘night schools’, in each village where children are taught Lepcha traditions. If you are looking for a truly unique cultural experience then volunteering with the Lepcha tribe may be for you.
As an AV volunteer with the Lepchas in India you will become part of the community, helping with all the daily tasks in the house, on the fields and working with children in both the day and night schools, helping to improve their English and learning Lepcha traditions. A chance to fully immerse yourself in a unique Indian community and make a big difference on a small scale.
In the hills at around 5000ft, the Lepcha project is concerned both with understanding the Lepcha culture, by participating in their lives, learning a little of their language, joining in village activities, and with helping to raise the standards of English in the villages. For much of the year most Lepcha children go to the local primary school or a missionary school during the day. Through the help of AV volunteers Lepcha children are now achieving top marks in English at school and have gained hugely in confidence.
During the week you will have the chance to help at both the village night school and at a local primary or secondary government school, depending on where you have been placed. The schools can be up to a 45 minute walk away from your house and will be attended by children from your village, but also other villages nearby. You will be helping children with English reading, writing and speaking in classes ranging from as few as 10 up to 50. In the secondary school the largest class size is approximately 75. You can decide whether you want to run your own sessions or work with your volunteer partner. You may even decide you would prefer to run smaller sessions or on a one to one basis so you can really help those who are struggling.
In the mornings before classes start you may spend an hour helping with English at the night school in your village, which are usually within a five or ten minute walk of your house. You will go over the work that the children have learnt at school and give extra help, as well as offering English conversation to the adults in the village. After school you will return to the night school where you will learn traditional Lepcha language, dance and music with the children and village teacher. This is also an opportunity to get creative as AV volunteers have the chance to enjoy English stories, songs or plays with the children to perform at the annual ‘Lepcha English Language Day’.
All of the schools’ facilities and classrooms are very basic, with some benches (desks are rare), a blackboard and intermittent electricity. In the night schools there is often a stage for performances but no electricity so lessons are done by candlelight.
Sport is not a strong aspect of life here, since most land is required to grow food, but it is always surprising how a cricket pitch can be created out of very little, or a football kicked about on a harvested field. This will be a very popular activity with the children but be wary of hitting sixes or you will have to retrieve the ball from a long way down the very steep hillside! The main sport is archery, you will be taught not only how to use a bow and arrow but also have the chance to make your own. The Lepcha Archery competition is an annual event which all the AV volunteers are invited to participate in and it gets very competitive!
You will get to know your neighbours and their children really well. You can also help them with cooking, ploughing, milking cows and goats. You eat what they grow so this is real green living where the gentler pace of the sun and seasons dictates life. The children in your village will love playing games whilst the adults will enjoy spending time chatting and practising their English, usually whilst drinking lots of tea.
In the afternoons you may wish to meet up with other AVs in the neighbouring villages, meet their families and explore the local area. At weekends the Lepchas may request that you stay for help with extra lessons or village festivals which are important to attend. You might take the children to the river for a picnic and a game of cricket; or organise an AV party that includes Lepchas your own age. You will also have the chance to travel to Kalimpong or Darjeeling. Kalimpong is a two – three hour jeep ride from your village and is the nearest place to catch up on emails, shop for essentials and even get a hot shower!
An important part of the AV experience is living in local accommodation and the Lepcha experience goes a step further by placing you and up to two other volunteers in an AV house next door to a Lepcha family. You will be at the heart of the village. This is the best way of getting to know the people, being involved in the community and gaining an understanding of living there – you are not a bystander watching from afar. Your Lepcha family will prepare all your meals and look after you. There is a long and honourable tradition of hospitality among the Lepchas who have always welcomed strangers with open arms. Prepare to drink lots of tea or ‘chi’, a fermented millet beer drunk from a bamboo mug through a bamboo ‘straw’!
There may or may not be electricity, or running water but you will have a ‘loo’ and private washing area. Other AV volunteers will be in villages nearby.
As well has having the opportunity to travel at weekends, as your project comes to an end AV offers you the chance to stay on for an additional 4 weeks of independent travel time to ensure a good balance of volunteer work and travel.
India is a vast country with lots of exciting and beautiful places to visit beyond the Darjeeling district, which you won’t have a chance to see on your weekends alone.
From our experience travelling is often when problems occur, from lost passports to getting ill – that’s why we offer this extra travel time to ensure that you experience as much as possible but with the continued 24/7 support from us whilst you do so.
“The friendly Lepcha outlook means that it’s impossible not to leave your heart in ‘Lepchaland’. It was clear to me how much the Lepchas cherish the AVs and their involvement in the community…
I absolutely loved my time with the Lepchas, and am already planning my return visit!”Beatrice
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