Verity Powell: Volunteering at India centre has guided my life in a new direction

It’s now been a year since I returned from Sangam as a volunteer, where I stayed for three months helping the staff prepare and run the programmes on offer. As a World Centre of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), Sangam offers unique programmes to explore Indian culture, teach leadership, improve wellness and celebrate all that ­Guiding has to offer.

I found out about Sangam in 2017 when my partner decided to go ­travelling and do some volunteering and asked if I might want to join him.

I wasn’t too sure of where to start looking but having been part of ­Guiding since I was five, my first port of call was the WAGGGs website to see if there was anything I could take part in. That’s when I discovered the incredible opportunities on offer.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

I had been in India before and fell in love with the country, and I knew that the Sangam World Centre was the one for me. I sent my application and soon received an email to tell me that I was going to India for the ­summer.

As a volunteer in Sangam I was part of the support system to the permanent staff and helped ­prepare and run programmes for the guests. This included being the first port of call and being able to adapt and take charge of whatever each day brought.

I was the tour guide, the first aider, the shoulder to cry on when homesickness kicked in, and the friendly face after a long day of being on the site of the community programme.

I also got the chance to work with community partners which helped different areas of the local Pune ­community. These included Tara Mobile Creche, which provides a safe learning environment for ­children whose parents work on building sites. I also helped out with an ­organisation that provides a safe space for women to improve their mental health until they are able to live independently.

The charity which had the ­biggest impact on me was the Spherule ­Foundation. It does outreach work in poorer communities to provide girls and young women with information about menstrual health.

With ­ending period poverty being a key campaign by Girlguiding ­Scotland, this really resonated with me. It showed me that many of the issues girls and women face are ­global ones, and why it’s so ­important that we work together to challenge these.

From these experiences I learnt how to be a better leader, about ­different cultures, and how to adapt to different ways of working. I can now proudly say I can tie a sari and I’ve added Indian cuisine to my cooking repertoire. Through my new-found ­confidence I was able to adapt when things didn’t go the way I expected and found myself able to think on my feet. This has been ­invaluable now that I’m back working in the UK and it has helped me both in Guiding and in life.

The ‘World’ part of WAGGGS ­certainly didn’t disappoint. One of the best experiences by far was meeting so many different people from across the globe, including Girl Guides from India – the Nevadita Guides.

I also spent my time with ­volunteers and staff members from Argentina, Madagascar, India, ­Uganda and ­Australia. I was even ­reunited with a fellow Aberdonian and old ­Guiding friend!

Despite our family homes being less than five minutes from each other, we didn’t know we had both been selected to go to Sangam until a few weeks before we stepped on the plane. We hadn’t seen each other since being in Guides together when we were ten, so it was great to renew our friendship through Guiding once more and experience ­Sangam ­together.

Before going, I was really nervous about the unknown and living away from my friends and family for three months. It turned out that it was ­actually leaving and say goodbye to my Sangam family that was the hardest part. Everyone was so welcoming, and we all become so close. If it wasn’t for Girlguiding I wouldn’t have had the chance to go to Sangam and make the friendships I have.

This experience was one of the best times of my life and I am so pleased that I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. In Guiding we encourage girls to believe in themselves and challenge themselves. Through our research we know access to adventure is a top issue for girls, and international volunteering is just one of the ways Guiding is providing opportunities for girls to explore the world around and to gain confidence and new skills. So my advice to all girls is if you have an opportunity like this then I grab it with both hands and just go for it!

Verity Powell, Girlguiding Scotland volunteer.