Sipping chai, I flip through the Times of India. A gecko scampers across the window in front of me. I put down the paper and reach for my camera. Too late. He’s gone. That’s alright. It’s time to plan the next session I’m running. This one is on advocacy. I fold up the paper, gulp down the last sip of chai and start humming the song that has been playing in my head since I arrived:
“Come in to Sangam, walk through the open doors…”
I walked through Sangam’s open doors nearly a month and a half ago. From Ottawa to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Mumbai and Mumbai to Pune, I’d made it! Sangam’s purple and white doors swung open, I pulled my suitcase up the steps and began my time as a Sangam Volunteer.
“In this home of unity, listen, share and explore…”
As a Sangam Volunteer I’m part of the Sangam Family at the WAGGGS’ World Centre in Pune, India. Together, we listen to Guides and Scouts from around the world discuss WAGGGS’ projects on self-confidence, advocacy and gender-based violence. We share our experiences with Guiding and Scouting in our home countries. We explore Indian culture: eating dinner with a local family, leading participants on tours of historic Pune, going down to the river for the Ganesha festival.
“Leave behind the barriers of culture, race and creed…”
At Sangam, our friendships are international and our interactions break down barriers and assumptions. The day I arrived at Sangam, I played musical chairs to Bollywood music on the side of the street with our neighbours. Last week, during a session I was running at Sangam, I asked Guiders from the UK, “What does it mean to be beautiful in your culture? In mine? In India?” A few days ago, I accompanied event participants to one of Sangam’s Community Partners, a local school. We joined the kids outside. They speak some English; I speak no Marathi. After lunch, we ran up and down the hill together, one big clump of laughing people. As we slid to a stop in the dirt at the bottom of this hill, giggling and skidding into each other, it didn’t matter that we don’t speak the same language.
“Come together and begin…”
From my first day as a Sangam Volunteer, I began learning about what it means to live in a cross-cultural community. During my time here, people from all over the world have been part of this community. They are career staff who keep the World Centre running. They are local staff who fill the kitchen with delicious smells. They are Tare who stay at Sangam while volunteering with local organizations. They are interns, key players in the Community Program and Guest Services team. They are event participants, celebrating Sangam’s 47th birthday with us. They are independent guests, local friends and day visitors. And they are my fellow volunteers, learning with me as we help to run the programs Sangam.
I’m lucky to be a part of this diverse and dynamic community at Sangam. I’ll be here until the end of December, and I’m sure that I’ll be humming “Come in to Sangam” long after I’m gone.
By Melissa Moor. Melissa is a Queen’s University student and a Guider with the 5th Ottawa Brownies, 17th Kingston Guides, 17th Kingston Pathfinders. Melissa has also written previous posts for Girl Guides of Canada’s blog: Healthy Friendship Recipes, Brownies on Ice, Guiding Parliament, A Silent Meeting, Using Children’s Books in Meetings, It’s Not a Box!, One Plus One Equals Brownie Math, The World Girls Want for the(ir) Future, Young Women’s World Forum 2011: Wrap-up from Switzerland. She has also reviewed several books from our adult book club: Persuasion, Everything We Ever Wanted, and Flight Behaviour.