Retired Grassington couple, Elaine and Richard Clare, read a newspaper article which encouraged them to apply to be volunteers with an organisation called Projects-Abroad.

Usually it is students planning a 'gap year' who are looking for some worthwhile work in interesting and needy far-flung parts of the world.

The article mentioned, however, that people of almost any age could apply - even retired folk if they were reasonably fit, liked a bit of adventure and were cheerful!

The Clares went to an 'Open Evening' when they were able to chat to and hear presentations from former volunteers and they signed up for a trip to India, a country which they had always wanted to revisit after a very short visit ten years before.

Elaine and Richard Clare
Elaine and Richard Clare
They decided to offer to work for four weeks and February was a good time of the year because of the pleasant climate.

Projects-Abroad sent lots of helpful information including details of the varieties of placement which could be offered - teaching, care, medical, environmental, even journalism and other career-specific employment such as law.

The Clares opted to work in a children's orphanage and eventually, shortly before their departure date, were given the location of their placement. It was to be the Aum Pranava Ashram near Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu.

Travel arrangements were made and on 31st January 2012 the local representative met Elaine and Richard at 6.15am at Madurai Train Station when they arrived on the overnight Pandyan Express from Chennai.

This was the beginning of an exciting month with many challenges but Richard and Elaine acknowledge that they learnt far more about Indian culture and their own capabilities (or lack of them) than they could have imagined.

They were responsible for helping a group of children aged between 7 years and 11 years old who were receiving their education in English to do their homework.

They were also very pleased to be able to help with some manual tasks around the ashram, such as manhandling cow dung in buckets to fertilise the rice fields, brushing the flies out of the mosquito gauzes on the Prayer Hall windows and doing some gardening.

The contact with the children was their main role, however, and as the only native English speakers in the ashram, the Clares felt that they could make a genuine contribution to the children's grasp of the language, spoken and written.

Life at the ashram was constantly surprising to Richard and Elaine - from the ceremonies and enthusiastic singing of the children carried out in the Prayer Hall twice daily to the blessing of the cows by a resident Brahmin.

Just as fascinating was the preparation of vegetables for the vegan diet of rice and sambar three times a day and the interesting excursions arranged either by their hosts at the Ashram or by the Projects-Abroad representative who kindly kept in regular contact.

The Clares found their stay extremely rewarding and would strongly recommend young people and other retirees to consider doing something similar.

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