Being a UK volunteer in a non-English speaking event

By Alanah-May Swain

When our batch of volunteers arrived in the community, we heard of the screening of videos that had been held by previous volunteers in the same community. A member of the community had even stood up and spoken on her opinion of child marriage. Inspired by this and also wanting to continue something that had already been worked on, we wanted do something similar. We wanted to use videos and speeches from the community itself to have a larger impact on the people. After spending time and interacting with the people, it became clear that the prominent social issues to be discussed should be child marriage and education.


So, our team planned to do a community action day (CAD) about this issue. We had to fundraise for the equipment (projector and speakers) and the way we went about it was such an alien concept to me – entering people’s houses and asking for money. In the close-knit community that we lived in, Morra, people don’t knock on doors but instead walk in and shout ‘namastey’. Everyone was so welcoming and more often than not, asked us to stay for chai (tea). Culturally, I took so much from that experience and it gave me immense confidence in the village. I felt as though I could enter almost any house in the community and be welcomed there at the time I had two weeks left.


As I can’t speak Hindi, logistically, I wasn’t going to be much help with compering and public speaking during the event. Instead I was able to help out in a very different way. I went around the village at least 5 times calling on all the locals, encouraging everyone to attend. At points I found this quite frustrating, with people not appearing to react to our call. As a collective, we left almost no house untouched and with over 150 people in attendance, I was pretty pleased with the turnout in the end.


Once the event was in full swing, another UK volunteer and I took it upon ourselves to greet people at the gate. It was a small touch that seemed appreciated by some as we were recognising their attendance. Although not one of the most glamorous jobs ‘shhhh’ doesn’t need translation so I was also able to help with crowd control.

Even though I couldn’t understand much of what was being shown, I had such an enjoyable evening. The locals seemed receptive to the messages and all seemed to love the videos of their village. This event was such an important turning point for me. An event here is only a success if a team woks together and all members utilise their skills. Just because my skills couldn’t be transposed into the direct performance of the event, it doesn’t mean they are any less important. I made a difference in my own way and it was one that I feel aided the success of the evening.


(Alanah-May Swain volunteered with Pravah ICS from October 2016 – January 2017 and was placed with partner organisation Jatan Sansthan in district Rajsamand.)


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