Coming home … again!

Some of you may have read our blog on coming home back in 2015 after we returned from a year long backpacking adventure. We were finding it so difficult to adjust back to reality and tried to express our feelings for other travellers to relate to. We had to realise it was okay to feel like we didn’t fit in with our society anymore but we found it extremely hard to explain it to the people around us and somehow writing about it was easier.

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So what happened when we finally started to settle back in to normality? We established a routine at work, enjoyed spending time with friends and family and then… decided to go again!

After just 12 months of being home, we did exactly that, this time not to backpack but to spend a few months at Our Home Community, as well as squeezing in some more of India and ticking Sri Lanka off our bucket list too.

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It was harder to leave this time, although it was what we both wanted, we had more doubts about going, right up until the journey to the airport. Were we doing the right thing going again? At 25 & 26, are we too old? Should we be buying a house and settling down? All these questions went round and round in our heads, and when we booked our flights to go, we were really emotional, not excited. Scared.

If leaving to go away for our second time was hard, imagine how hard it was to come back.

As we left for the airport we were so incredibly anxious, especially with it being 3:30am, we were actually still saying it’s not too late to change our minds. However after a power nap in the car, something clicked and as we arrived to the airport excitement kicked in. OKAY, WE’RE GOING AGAIN! It was like the polar opposite of what we’d been feeling in the weeks building up to our departure.

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After the emotional goodbyes before we knew it we were back in India and this time it was even better than before. We had two weeks to explore before heading to Our Home and we kept expecting something bad to happen, but it just didn’t! You either love or hate India but for us, each time we go gets better and better.

The main purpose of our trip was to spend a substantial amount of time with the children, for them to really get to know us and feel that they have us there to support them, no matter where in the world we are. We wanted them to know that from the day we met them in 2015 we are always going to be there in whatever way we can. (read about our experiences at Our Home)

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What could possibly be bad about spending three life changing months with the most amazing children and community in the most beautiful place in the world? Leaving.

When we talk about Our Home if you know us, you know we’re so passionate, and it’s because we’ve found our happy place. This is where we feel like we belong, we were born to do this. And therefore leaving was one of the worst, and most emotional days of our lives. The week building up to it was unbearable in itself and we had plenty of conversations with the children about why we couldn’t stay forever which was truly heart breaking. These children needed us and to have to leave was awful.

We told ourselves when the day was upon us we would be strong and not get upset, but that went straight out of the window when we woke up at 4:30am to find one of the boys just sitting outside our room waiting for us. It was like a slap in the face that our journey had come to an end. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and give us letters and flowers, their little faces were just too much to cope with and we couldn’t stop hysterically crying. So much for being strong.

We had to take contentment that we achieved more than what we originally went to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with them that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it was the end of this trip it was just the start for our future with them. We came away with the best memories, together we experienced not only fun, laughter and love but we also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children “You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only.” As we pulled away from Our Home we turned back to see them all just looking longingly with such emotion in their eyes, it’s a memory that will stay with us forever.

We had just over a month left to travel some more of India; Hampi, Bangalore and Goa before heading to Sri Lanka. It took us a while to get over feeling sad and couldn’t help but feel guilty in everything that we did, we had to give ourselves a good talking to and realise if we weren’t going to enjoy ourselves we may as well go home there and then. Not going home immediately was actually the best thing we could have done as it gave us a bit of time to adjust before going back to reality.

Our incredible trip very quickly came to an end after a life changing five months. We had a wonderful last few weeks but not only did we stay in luxury hotels, see beautiful views and eat delicious new delicacies but our time sleeping on the floor with no water or electricity, eating boiled rice for days and experiencing first hand what a cruel world it can be was what made our trip. We shape our world and we have the power to change it. We feel so lucky to be experiencing life and all it has to offer together, hopefully doing something along the way to help.

Landing back in England was just as we imagined, I mean we knew right? We’d done it before. Wrong. This time was so much harder, and it’s because we’d left our family in India behind.

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How is it possible to even try and settle back into every day London life when you’ve spent months living such a basic life with orphaned children in India? How can we justify spending £15 per day to travel to work when this is enough to feed them all? How can we spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes or on a night out when there is still so much suffering in this world? Our lives are a daily struggle of trying to fit back into society but also not forgetting what’s going on out there.

There is no answer to these questions … we just don’t know and are still trying to figure it all out. The truth is we will never be the same again. Our friends and family tell us how we’ve changed, and of course we have, you couldn’t experience what we have and be the same person.

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It’s an overwhelming sense of emotions coming home, not only because we miss the children but because we’re back to our same old life where nothing seems exciting. Everyday we have an overpowering wanderlust and always find our conversation drifting to “do you remember when we did …” we will never not have the desire to explore and experience new things, but how far do we go? Do we keep going again and again when there is that pressure on us to settle down, buy a house, get married and have our own children? Why can’t we be that couple that goes and settles down in an orphanage an India? That may sound crazy to you, but to us it couldn’t make more sense.

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It’s a really confusing time, and honestly? We don’t know what we want. Yes it’s the perfect fairy tale ending that we’ve spent eight amazing years together, seen the world, volunteered in India and now we should have our fairytale wedding and do everything by the book. Sounds great right? We’re not so sure …

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

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The last week at Our Home

It’s taken us a while to write this blog … we’ve been coming to terms with leaving Our Home and the last week was so emotional we’ve not known how to put it into words. However, having cried out all our tears and spoken to the children numerous times since leaving, we’re now ready to share our experience with you.

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The week was a beautiful one, filled with so many wonderful memories makers. We went on plenty of walks where the children picked us lovely flowers to “take back to England.” K enjoyed his last few football matches with the older boys, we sang songs and recapped over the amaxing few months we spent together. We took more photos and promised the children as soon as we returned to England we will print and send them as we did last time which gave them something exciting to look forward to.

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The children had many heart wrenching questions for us “when are you coming back?” “why can’t you live here?” “Do the airports check your bags? I was thinking I could sneak in and come to England with you.” It truly was so tough and we were just as upset as them, if not more. All we could do was reassure them that we would be back and told them that not a day will go by that we won’t think about them and that we will write, phone and do everything we can to stay in touch. It felt different leaving this time to before. It wasn’t just an orphanage where we volunteered at, it was family we were leaving. Our little bedroom became our home and we packed our bags whilst listening to music from the last few months that we had shared with the children… which probably didn’t help!

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To make things just a tad more difficult during the last few days there was absolutely no water or electricity. It was a really hard few days both physically and emotionally and the children needed a treat. We wanted to make our last evening as fun as possible and luckily during the afternoon the electricity and water finally came back. We brought some speakers to the dining hall to play music and H’s nan and granddad very kindly sponsored chicken biryani for dinner, the kids favourite! Although it was lovely evening enjoyed by all, we couldn’t get away from the feeling that we were leaving tomorrow, it felt very surreal.

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When the morning came around we woke up so heartbroken that our incredible journey at Our Home had come to an end. One of the boys was awake already at 5am and had come to our room to help us finish packing. That started the tears off and once they started they wouldn’t stop! It was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and greeted us with letters, flowers and drawings. We said goodbye to each and every one of them although we could barely speak we were so upset. So much for keeping it together and being strong! We were so sad as as our car drove away and all of the kids stood looking on.

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We did however leave feeling content that we achieved more than what we originally came to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with the children that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it’s the end of this trip it is just the start for our future with them. We’ve made the best memories and together experienced not only the fun, laughter and love but we’ve also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children:

“You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only” … Until next time Our Home.

Summer ’17

The summer holidays are well underway and the children are used to their new daily routines without school, breakfast is a also a little later now which we must admit we’re enjoying and there’s lots of spring cleaning going on in the bedrooms!

The days seem a lot longer and we’re trying to think of different activities we can do each day to keep the kids entertained. Something we hadn’t thought of until now was downloading a film on our IPad. We bought some popcorn and arranged two screenings of our makeshift movie day, one for the girls and one for the boys. “Happy Feet” was our film of choice and first up was the boys. As they all crowded round to watch the small screen they were super excited for an English cartoon movie, we couldn’t believe how they all managed to slot themselves into positions to be able to see. We were buried in amongst them and after just 15 minutes we were literally melting due to the heat. We didn’t dare move though as the boys were all so comfortable and enjoying the film, laughing so much their stomachs were hurting!

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As always the girls were a lot more organised and balanced the iPad on a chair that they could all sit around to see. Their reactions to the film was much different to the boys and they loved the cute baby penguins and love story going on, some tears were even shed at the emotional scenes! Next time we return to Our Home we will come equipped with more movies for them, we really enjoy giving them some new experiences, and when it’s 40 degrees outside with no water, there’s not much else for them to do!

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The hot topic for this week was the upcoming “Tour” to Kannur Beach. We decided to take the kids on a day trip to the beach and hired a big tourist bus for the 7th April. Leading up to the day they couldn’t stop planning, from what they were going to wear, what time they were waking up and who they were going to sit next to on the bus. When it finally came around the day itself was incredible, we made the most beautiful memories and being many of the kids’ first time to the beach it was also really emotional.

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The next big day, 10th April, soon approached which was when the children were getting their exam results and I think we were more anxious than them! We woke up early that morning and went down to the school and were greeted with The BEST news ever. The longs days teaching and evenings spent on one to one homework classes have paid off as every single child at Our Home Community passed their exams and are moving up to their next year studying. Previously children have been held back one if not two years for not passing their exams. Surya was particularly overjoyed having been one of the children held back, he has now finished with the highest marks in his class! The smiles say it all and we’re so proud of all of the girls and boys for working so hard with us.

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This week Our Home had a group of German volunteers visiting and unfortunately this meant we had to vacate our little bedroom so they could all stay together. However, this did mean that we could stay in a local hotel only a short walk away from Our Home and to be honest the AC and warm water was a welcome change! We also used the opportunity to give the boys and girls some little day trips and took a few of them each day during our stay to explore the hotel grounds, order some french fries, fresh juice and relax in a different environment for a few hours.

As our time at Our Home is coming to an end we’re making the most of every single second with the children. Its been another two weeks that have flown passed, filled with emotion, joy, day trips and certainly one of the best school summer holidays for us too!

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.