Our first AidCamp was held in conjunction with our partner organisation Social Change and Development (SCAD) just outside of the village of Cheranmahadevi in Tamil Nadu, India.
The project financed a 108sq.m (1200sq.ft) extension to SCAD's boarding school for handicapped children, providing a dormitory area, a dining area, a kitchen, a storeroom, and an interior courtyard with toilets and bathrooms for the children.
The construction was completed before the AidCamp leaving the volunteers to paint and then decorate the extension, which was done in grand style with jungle murals covering all of the interior walls of the living areas.
The volunteers were also taken on quite a few visits to see SCAD's work for the rural poor in the area, as well as on several local and regional sightseeing trips, during one of which some of them got charged by a wild elephant!
The following report about the AidCamp was written by Marianne, one of the volunteers:
"As the bus pulled into the SCAD campus, a gasp of amazement was all we, the volunteers, could manage. No-one had expected such a welcome: candlelit pathways, applauding children, a cacophony of drums, blessings, bindis, speeches and greetings, and a beautiful garland for each of us.
This was just the start of an amazing and overwhelming three-week project in Tamil Nadu where we gradually learned to accept that we would be treated like honoured guests in every village we visited. People who live way below the poverty line always wanted to show their appreciation and to make us feel welcome because, for a short while, we were a part of the organisation which had helped them to transform their lives.
Our project at the SCAD campus was to finish off an extension to the school for the handicapped children. The fact that this was far larger than anyone had expected was irrelevant -- we had the whole place painted inside and out within the first week and so embarked on embellishing it all with a stunning mural which covered all the internal walls and included night skies, jungle scenes, an array of very friendly-looking 'wild' animals and more suns than you could shake a stick at.
It was enormous fun and a wonderful experience of teamwork, during which many of us discovered talents for painting which we never suspected we had.
However, the real privilege for all of us was to meet with the people whom SCAD help and support, both on the campus and in all the hundreds of outlying villages in their area. Every aspect of SCAD's work is just so impressive: they achieve so much on, what would seem to us to be, a shoestring.
I doubt that any of us will forget the dignity and pride of the women from the quarries and the salt pans, whose self-help groups have freed their families from the clutches of the moneylenders and enabled them to take greater control of their lives; nor the leprosy sufferers and elderly folk who no longer have to beg for charity -- but, inevitably, it is the children who really stole out hearts. Wherever we went we were mobbed by scores of happy and enthusiastic boys and girls who had been given the opportunity to go to school and were loving every minute of it.
This was such a worthwhile and rewarding project. I am sure we all got ten times more out of it than we put in and we had the added pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of like-minded people to share all the fun with. The organisation was terrific and the whole three weeks went like a dream -- with just sufficient hiccups to prevent it from seeming slick."
"The AidCamp was a very interesting and worthwhile experience which gave a detailed insight into real life living conditions of the local communities. The organisation and management of the camp was excellent."
"I was able to see India at the grass roots level; it has been an unforgettable experience."
"This concept beats conventional tourism hands down."
"It was fantastic to feel a part of India and really see daily life rather than the tourist spots. An experience not to be missed and never forgotten."
"A unique opportunity to experience another culture without feeling like a tourist. Fantastic!"
"Fantastic, a great privilege to meet such lovely people, but very humbling to see their fortitude and courage."
"Real India - an unforgettable experience."
"It was a great group and amazing what you can achieve in just three weeks."
"A very special experience, memories of which I shall treasure."
"Such a privilege to be a part of AidCamps partner NGO for a while and to see how they bring hope to the poorest of the poor."
"This was an overwhelmingly inspiring experience. AidCamps partner NGO represents community spirit and humanity at its best."
"A unique introduction to India."
"Enchanting, charismatic, beautiful, spiritual. India and her people."
"The reception we received from the children, local NGO staff and locals throughout our visit was humbling. The whole experience has made me question our own culture."
"It was a totally new experience visiting untouristed areas of rural south India."
"This has been the most fascinating way to gain a little understanding of the lives of people in rural India. Because I enjoy India so much, the colour, the warmth of the people, the countryside and even the noise, I am delighted that in a very small way I have made a contribution."
"India has given me far more than I have given back. It's hospitality and smiley faces have restored my faith in human nature. I loved it!"