The Oxford dictionary describes Voluntourism as ‘A form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity: at the core of voluntourism is the desire to help others’
Voluntourism is for those who want to go beyond the touristy stuff, get an authentic experience, and give back something in return. We hail from a small village Bijanbari, where we run a philanthropic arm viz Unbound Futures Foundation (www.unboundfutures.com).
Unbound Futures Foundation runs a Learning Centre and Sponsorship programs for the underprivileged children in the village of Bijanbari; 32 Kms South of the famous Darjeeling hills, in the state of West Bengal.
Set in a picturesque valley, Bijanbari lies to the east of Darjeeling (West Bengal). Located at an altitude of about 760 m above sea level, the difference in altitude from Darjeeling to Bijanbari is about 1374 m. There is a big sloping hill with tea garden (Takvar and Som tea estates) that falls between these two places. Far in the horizon, you can make out a silhouette in yellow and another in white–which is the statue of The Padmasambhava and the statue of Shiva in white located near Namchi, South Sikkim.
Bijanbari is the headquarter of the Pulbazaar-Bijanbari Development Block; a Development Block being a rural area earmarked for administration and development by the government of India. There are twenty-three (23) Gram-Panchayats (local self-governments in small villages/ towns) under its aegis.
The word ‘Bijanbari’ literally translates in to the field (bari) of seeds (Bijan). Bijanbari is rich with the bounties bestowed by the Little Rangeet River (locally called the Chota Rangeet).
Being the largest village in the area, there are internet cafés, photo studios and cash machines in the village (these are relatively new!). The small market also has cloth stores, books & stationery stores, tailors, goldsmiths, grocery stores, fruit & Vegetable vendors, Photocopy stores etc. Every Wednesday people of the valley descend to the Bijanbari village to attend the weekly HAAT (market) to buy their supplies.
On the way from Darjeeling lies the Hima Falls and another 6 km downhill is Biswambhar rock rising 50 feet vertically from the road. You can also drive via the rock garden near Reshihaat for picnic. It is also possible to walk to Bijanbari via Singtam tea garden.
Closeby (hardly 2 Kms near a bridge, lies Pulbazaar (literally ‘the market by the bridge: Pul= Bridge, Bazaar= market). A few minutes’ walk from Pulbazaar brings you to the Sericulture farm that houses silk worms and mulberry bushes. Pulbazaar has a weekly ‘HAAT’ (market) on Fridays. This is the oldest and biggest market in the district for livestock, hides and agricultural produce.
A walk along and upwards the little Rangeet river upto the micro – hydroelectricity plant is also very interesting.
In addition to the above, it is possible to walk/ go on day hikes/ picnic to the weekly bazaars of Kaizalay, Gok, Relling, Singla bazaar etc.
The state of Sikkim is closeby and a 40 minutes’ drive will take you to Jorethang – which witnesses the famous Maghey-mela (sometime in January). Remember that foreigners require a permit to enter Sikkim.
Most of our Voluntary work is with children. We have Pre-Primary level as well as Senior level kids
From time to time, we also organise activities and events for the children of the area. Previous years, we have organised many fun activities like treasure hunt, singing talent contests, dance contests, Sports day, picnic, night-outs, Bonfire night etc.
We also undertake other activities like painting, some basic construction work, road cleaning, gardening etc.
Work with Pre-Primary level Kids
Most of the underprivileged kids who are weak in studies are gathered at our house and helped on one to one basis. You do not need to have any teaching skills or be perfect in English. We also work with local schools and you can teach in these schools too.
Work with Sponsored kids
Our main focus is on these children, who have been sponsored by previous Volunteers. They are from different age group and come from poor backgrounds.
Besides conversational skill in English, the main purpose is overall personality development to give them the confidence to face the world. We not only teach them English but also conduct several activities, workshops etc.
For Senior Children (Age group: 14 – 17 years)
We are on the lookout for English language teachers or TOFL qualified persons to teach them English Grammer. Other subjects like Physics and Maths are also welcome!
We also need help to improve our teaching materials and methods.
Winter camp (December to January )
These camps are a way of social integration while imparting life skills to the students. We need Volunteers to work with our trained coaches. Some children from rich families will attend these camps with our children. Activities include rock-climbing, hikes, Yoga classes, aerobics, games & Sports, life skills, debates etc. along with interactive sessions with eminent personalities from the valley.
The Volunteers need not have any special skills or experience – however sporty outdoor personalities are better suited. For exact dates, keep watching our Facebook page or sign up with us.
We welcome you to come and stay with us, give us your valuable suggestions / advice, and spend time with the children for short a period. However if you are interested in teaching in schools/ learning centre then we need a commitment of atleast three weeks.
For further details, kindly look at www.unboundfutures.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org