I haven’t been to India for a couple of years, I think it’s fairly well known I don’t like flying and despite my love of De Montfort University’s Square Mile India programme, the food and the politics of the country, I cannot face an 11-hour journey including an internal flight to Ahmedabad, Gujarat. That said, my trips to India have impacted my life, I have seen extreme poverty, people living under questionable religious order (the caste system), beautiful colours, interesting faces and millions of people enjoying another level of spirituality I could not reach no matter how much drink and drugs I consumed on a journey to truly find myself. I can live with the fact I’m not George Harrison but it certainly feels like India does effect people in a way visits to other countries do not. Sure you can see poverty in London, New York, Berlin, and the bottom of your street, but few comeback from a holiday and say ‘that was truly life-changing’. Yet people who come back from India do, so much so it’s becoming something of a cliche. When the brilliant folks in ADH at DMU said they wanted to a research exhibition about India in The Gallery, I thought this was my chance to lance my boil and actually investigate whether students volunteering in India was truly life-changing or just a cliché. I am in the process of writing a paper on this, but as the exhibition closed last week I wanted to share the story so far and I’m happy for an academic collaboration to get the paper into shape for a future journal submission. I also created a podcast with Chris, Kainaath and Lucy from one of the focus groups that you can hear here:
My India research project:
Questions have been raised by political scholars in recent years over ways to engage young people in civic and political issues in light of a growing intergenerational divide between voters. Many theorists have linked the activity of volunteering and building civic participation amongst young people by identifying distinct connections between participants and their likelihood to make further positive contributions to public life and civic engagement. While there is much evidence to suggest general volunteering can build social capital, few studies have considered the university’s role in building good citizenship – despite the responsibility of creating good citizens being considered one of the public goods of higher education. At De Montfort University in Leicester, an innovative international outreach programme known as DMU Square Mile India, has been developed over several years which gives hundreds of young people volunteering or service-learning opportunities in India, typically linked to their courses. The volunteering is done in collaboration with an Indian NGO, Manav Sadhna, and other partners, seeking to address some of the diverse challenges of developing communities in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It is a commonly-held view that working in such communities is ‘life-changing’ to the volunteer, implying that they somehow see the world differently or have changedbehaviours upon their return to the United Kingdom. Using a mixed methods approach of questionnaire surveys and focus groups, this paper seeks to identify what impact a focused university programme of service-learning and volunteering in India has on young people’s attitudes to civic and political issues. It will consider changes in attitudes to voting, likelihood of future civic participation or social activism as well as personal learning outcomes and skills development in relation to their experiences. It also asks students whether volunteering in India is life-changing or indeed just a cliché? The findings will demonstrate whether a focused university approach to volunteering in an international context can aid higher education’s commitment to create the good citizens of the future who are engaged in political issues, locally, nationally and internationally.
Key research questions:
- Has working in developing communities in India increased students’ political awareness?
- Has volunteering in India increased confidence to voice political opinion?
- Identifying the scale of which volunteering in India led to students’ betterunderstanding of their course subject.
- Has the way students receive information about political issues changed?
- Do participants feel more inclined to become activists for, or advocate, new policies to support developing communities?
- Is volunteering in India life-changing or just a cliché?The findings from this small-scale study support the outcomes of a larger investigation into the impacts of volunteering on political engagement. Early analysis of the data provided by students who traveled to India to volunteer indicated, through the surveys and focus groups that:
- Volunteering in India did increase political awareness
- The experience did increase political participation amongst students and, in a small
- number of cases, they joined a political party
- Students’ political voice and confidence to debate issues increased in most cases
- Students’ understanding of courses and relevance of that subject increased in almost all cases
Focus groups resoundingly denied that describing volunteering in India as ‘life- changing’ was just a cliché. Participants argued that the experience had been life- changing to the point where they had changed behaviours and see the world from new perspectives.
Comments from Student Volunteers included:
“I loved the #DMUglobal trip and learnt a lot about my academic subject area while having the opportunity to teach others too and learn about the Indian culture and completely different way of living. I felt as if our input made a difference to the local community which I am really pleased about and also proud of.” DMU Nursing Student
“This #DMUglobal opportunity is like no other trip. I hope that you never stop offering this experience as it has completely changed my outlook on my own life and has inspired so many people I went with to change… I hope that you encourage more and more students to help out in this community that so desperately needs it. The only thing I can fault is that I wished it was two weeks and not just one!” DMU Performing Arts student
“This was the most incredible experience of my life… not only did it change all of our lives and the way we think about what we have in life, but it also changed all of the children’s lives. So much joy, positivity and love was spread on this trip and it was so amazing to see and experience.” DMU Performing Arts student