Els Van Dongen - My stay at CTRD

My name is Els van Dongen. After finishing my Ph.D. in Chinese Studies, I spent 5 weeks as a volunteer at CTRD Trust. I chose this NGO because I was impressed with its project descriptions and because I wanted to learn more about life in the Indian countryside and the situation of the tribal population in the region.

When I arrived at the CTRD campus in Ealamanna village, I was stunned by the beauty of the surroundings. The view is one of palm trees, mango trees, tea plantations, and mountains as far as the eye reaches-a lush green oasis of peace. The only sounds one hears are those of birds chirping and insects buzzing. In the night, the sound of drumming and flute-playing tribes might be added to that.

Culturally, I learnt more about Indian traditions and habits than I could ever have imagined. I observed the Hindu customs of the staff members?such as the daily prayers and the special activities during the festival time?and I even took part in several pujas myself. Every day, the cook prepared me fresh and delicious local food, which made me discover ingredients I had never heard of. During several field visits to the tribal villages, I was able to learn first-hand things about tribal life. I even had the opportunity to attend a tribal marriage during my stay.

Professionally, I have never learnt so much in such a short time merely by observing and experiencing. I assisted with the writing of funding proposals, which taught me a lot about the workings of NGOs and the state of the field. Through visits from CTRD's partner organizations like Raleigh International, I also got a lot of valuable inside information concerning the NGO sector. It was very enriching to see the faces behind what was hitherto but an abstract acronym to me. The IISE institute empowers visually impaired people from all over the world to start their own social or environmental projects. You learn how to write project proposals, conduct effective fund raising campaigns, deal with media etc, in summary, everything that you need to be well prepared and equipped to join the community of NGOs and to make a positive change in the world.

What I enjoyed most about my stay here is the fact that CTRD, in spite of having grown over the years, remains a grassroots organization that works closely with the local population. I was able to get to know the beneficiaries and to witness some of the results of CTRD's interventions with my own eyes, such as the inauguration of CTRD's first biogas tank at Ealamanna, the construction of new houses for the tribal people, or the visits of women from the numerous Self-Help Groups.

I was amazed by the sense of commitment and genuineness of the staff members, who involved me in their work and shared their experiences with me. I could have never imagined the obstacles and problems these people face on a daily basis. It was most inspiring to see how people here always believe that everything is possible, no matter what the circumstances are. In this and many, many other ways, my stay at CTRD was a truly life-changing experience