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A giggle then a hello

by Michael Galluzzo 8 January 2014

I

n December 2009, I arrived in Thandyan Kottai, a small village with a population of 150 set in the evergreen valley of the Jawadi Hills, Tamil Nadu, India. The closest main city was Chennai, which is up to five hours away. This village was to be the setting for a two month journey of volunteering and persevering friendship that spanned international borders. I left Australia with some preconceived visions of India beautiful colours and magnificent culture. Interestingly, my first thoughts when getting off the plane were that it was much too hot and, what could that awful smell be…! This was my introduction to the volunteer project I was undertaking through Restless Development India and Australian Volunteers International. I was teamed up with a group 16 Australian volunteers, including three Indigenous Australian volunteers, and 10 Indian volunteers, all with vastly different proficiency in English. My first encounter was with one of the local village volunteers, Apudam. The task at hand was to simply ask her about home life and basic family information. For the next 10 minutes, all I could get out of her was a giggle and then hello! Soon after this meeting, we travelled some three hours by bus and trekked one and a half hours through knee deep water to reach the village for a ‘site inspection.’ My first thought about this village was that it was paradise – a tribal

AVI volunteer Michael Galluzzo (second from left) with team mates. Image: Courtesy Michael Galluzzo

community set in dense forest, largely untouched by western civilization. We visited the school where I would be working for the remainder of the project. Here awaited 20 budding students singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Admittedly, I had to be told what the song was after listening to undecipherable yelling instead of little angelic voices. I knew from this point that cultural and language barriers would bring some challenges to understanding the needs of the villagers. A huge help in this regard was the local male volunteer, Nagesh. He had only finished Year 10 at high school and had undergone some basic teacher training after deciding to volunteer as a full-time teacher at a school in his village. What will stay in my mind is the depth of heart and soul the local Indian volunteers gave of themselves. Many have come from poor communities themselves to help the people of this area. This

has inspired me to work towards improving the lives of others in local Australian communities, and specifically my own community in Narrandera, New South Wales. Michael Galluzzo is from Narrandera in New South Wales. He is has completed his Bachelor of Laws (LLB)/Bachelor of Arts and Indigenous Australian studies degree at the Australian National University. In 2008, he was one of four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be awarded a scholarship to participate in the 10 week Restless Development – India/ AVI project. This experience was the focus of the documentary Children of the Rainbow Serpent. He is currently Senior Communication Officer with The Healing Foundation. Michael is also an International Indigenous Volunteer Network (IIVN) supporter, a network dedicated to sharing the international stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Become an IIVN supporter today www. australianvolunteers.com/iivn

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A giggle then a hello