Case Studies

Katy Murray - Volunteer English Teacher

Company Name: GapGuru

Location: Kalimpong, Darjeeling, India

“When I first began looking for a volunteer abroad project to take part in on my gap year, I was put off by many of the well known companies based in Britain or the USA. Many of them are large, impersonal, and gave me the impression that their main goal was tourism and profit, that they were more interested in their customers and their annual figures than the people they were claiming to help through their projects. I had heard horror stories about fragile communities crippled by volunteer programs, and I did not want to be a part of that.

Thank goodness I discovered Gap Guru, through someone who had already been part of one of their projects. What really appealed to me about them was the personal “grass roots” feel to the way they operated, and the experiences people were said to have come back with. I was not to be disappointed.

I had initially intended to do a 2 month project in Kathmandu, but upon speaking to Katie, a GapGuru coordinator, I decided that Kalimpong sounded like the place for me. It sounded as though it was one of the company’s most successful projects and I wanted to be part of it. On arrival I saw just what Katie meant.

A huge part of what happens in Kalimpong depends on their wonderful on-the-ground coordinators; Santa, Jiwan, and Premika Rai. The three of them are local siblings and take care of everything in the Kalimpong/Darjeeling area, and I cannot think of any group more perfect for the job. As they are local and have deep roots in the community, they can ensure a strong and working relationship with the community and the incoming volunteers. They know the local people, particularly those in the rural villages, they know their needs and aspirations, and therefore know exactly how to utilize each volunteer’s skills accordingly. Not only this, but they themselves are perfect examples of what GapGuru may one day help to achieve. All three of them born to a poor, large family in a rural Kalimpong village, they once shared the dreams of people like them and are proof of how they can be achieved with hard work and support. A volunteer like me feels like they can really make a difference, are really being made use of, with such hardworking, caring and insightful people working with them every step of the way.

The village I worked and live in was Bara Number (the same village that Santa, Jiwan and Premika were born and raised in, adding to the personal feel of my trip). This village, one of the many rural villages on the outskirts of Kalimpong, is one place where GapGuru can really hope to make a difference. The head teacher NB is a man who is truly dedicated to his school and pupils and is able to enthuse the most apathetic of volunteers. The children are bright and eager to learn and their skills and knowledge are remarkable given how little resources they have available. NB explained to me how important the volunteers had been for aiding the English lessons at the school. “When I first started teaching English I could not even speak it myself. I learnt English from the volunteers just like the students did. Now I can teach basic English and the volunteers can teach to an even higher level”.

Although village life is quite insular, learning English provides such disadvantaged children with greater choice for their futures. If they receive an opportunity to work outside the village, they are not held back by a lack of education at least. In a country where English is one of the main language, and more importantly the language of commerce and tourism, having such a language provides them with a huge advantage. Not only this, but the presence of outsiders in a community that is largely isolated, can increase social skills and aid cultural exchange. One teacher explained: “Before volunteers started coming here, the locals were scared when they saw a white face and could not talk to them. Now they are becoming used to you and can talk more”. While the older generations of the village are still quite shy, there is no denying the confidence the children at the school have. They treat volunteers like friends or fellow villagers, and can interact with them in a way that will surely aid their future success.

GapGuru is working primarily from the ground up, and for this reason still has some way to go; after all, change is a process. However, it is my true feeling that they have a fantastic approach and can only imagine their success increasing.”


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