“How was India?”
“What did you do there?”
“Did you like the food?”
It has been almost two months since I arrived home from volunteering at Sangam. I had my answers all figured out:
India? It was spectacular. Challenging. Captivating. Dynamic.
I did all kinds of exciting things: led sessions on WAGGGS projects, bartered for bangles, rode a camel.
And the food? Delicious. Tasty, not spicy, just like the Sangam staff told me it would be.
I knew what to say, how to answer those questions. And then someone asked me a different one: “What did you learn at Sangam?”
I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t. I blundered through something superficial and the conversation moved on, but I didn’t. I’m still trying to answer this question deliberately and honestly.
I learned so many things at Sangam.
Some of the things I learned were practical. I learned how to cross the road without traffic lights, how to take a rickshaw to the market and how to bargain for custard apples once I got there. I found out the hard way that snacks you leave in your backpack become snacks for the ants. I learned how to give a tour of Sangam and how to eat with my hands.
Some of the things I learned were about communities and culture. At Sangam, I thought about privilege and the way we relate to each other. I learned about celebration and ritual. I pushed myself to examine my own assumptions. I learned how to live in an intercultural environment.
And in this intercultural environment, I learned about Guiding. I learned about WAGGGS campaigns and explored WAGGGS’ new online learning platform, GLOW. I attended a local Guide meeting. I spoke to Guiders from Australia and Rwanda, from Nepal and Brazil. I learned what Guiding means, what it looks like and where it happens all over the world.
I joined Guiding as a Brownie in small-town Ontario. We met in the local school gym,30 girls in twirly brown dresses chasing each other across the blue and red lines marked on the floor.
Nearly 20 years later, I scuttled down Sangam’s twisted stairs in my purple Punjabi with the other volunteers. We rushed towards the campsite, scampered through the field and stopped. Still. Right in front of an elephant. Towering, astonishing, come to sleep here, at Sangam, for the night. Silently, we watched the elephant lower first her trainer, then each piece of her saddle down to the ground. She turned, lumbered towards the grass and sank down to sleep.
Together, we walked back into Sangam, my friends from Argentina and Mexico, India and the United States and me. I learned so many things at Sangam. Guiding happens in our school gyms and in church basements, in community centres and at the park down the road. I knew this. But, I learned, Guiding also happens here, out behind Sangam standing beside an old elephant in the balmy night air, stars piercing the blanket sky above.
By guest blogger you Melissa Moor, a Guider with the 5th Ottawa Brownies. Melissa volunteered at Sangam World Centre from September to December 2013. Check out Melissa’s other contributions to GirlGuidesCANBlog: 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.