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Magic and mayhem - volunteering in Odisha, India

Conor Ryan, 35, from Thurles, Co Tipperary is volunteering in India on two-year placement. He is working as a research and development associate with a local charity in Odisha, India. He tells us about his first few months volunteering.

It’s now five months since I stepped off the plane at Delhi and into the mayhem of India. We were told in VSO pre-departure training that nothing could prepare us for the reality of life as a VSO volunteer and that certainly rings true. There have been so many new experiences, new people, new sights, sounds and smells since I arrived and a whole new culture to take in and understand.

India is a bustling and energetic place; it’s crowded, noisy and dirty but at the same time it has a peculiar charm and appeal. A lot of this is down to the people, who go out of their way to make friends and welcome visitors. Every week I am approached by strangers in the street asking who I am, where I have come from and am I enjoying life in India. Food is a constant topic of conversation and guests will always be well fed.

I’m based with the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC) which carries out research, advocacy and development projects on natural resources – mainly water and forestry – in the state of Odisha. I spent six weeks in their head office in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, before arriving at the regional office in Koraput, a remote town in the tribal belt, high in the Eastern Ghats.

A country of contrasts

Probably the most interesting part of the job so far has been learning about how the various forest plants are used as medicines and treatments for different diseases: there is an entirely different system of health and medicine here. Although this is one of the poorest parts of India and life is hard for a lot of people, mobile phones, satellite TV and the Internet are present everywhere. The contrast between prosperity and extreme poverty is very pronounced and visible right across this country.

Christmas will be spent here in Koraput. There’s another VSO volunteer here in town, Nancy from the Philippines. Claire from Scotland arrives to start her placement just a few days before the 25th. We will be joined by three other VSO’s who are travelling from elsewhere in Odisha. Turkey and ham won’t appear on our table but we’ll enjoy each other’s company and swap the latest VSO gossip.

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