Pauline von Galen contacted us in the summer of 2012 with the aim of volunteering with one of our project partners. A few months later, she was packing her bags for a 5 month stay at the Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital in rural Bihar, India. After leaving high school Pauline knew that she wanted to volunteer her time and efforts to a charitable cause. Through her aunt Amelie, a friend and supporter of the Savitri Trust, Pauline reached out and we immediately put her in touch with Mritunjay Tiwary, Project Head at the hospital. Pauline stayed at AJEH between September 2012 and February 2013 and spent her time with the young girls enrolled on the Education through Football Programme, an inspired model whereby football is used as an instrument of change, targeting gender-based inequalities, economic exploitation and child marriage, all of which greatly afflict the young girl. 75% of girls in rural Bihar are married before the age of 18, the majority of whom are usually married by 15. Half of these girls will be pregnant by the age of 18 and more than 60% remain illiterate. Rampant poverty and poor quality and availability of education compound the problem. Pauline experienced the tremendous difference that AJEH is making to the lives of young girls and women in Bihar and shares her experience below: I usually played football with the team in the morning and then spent my day teaching English or preparing classes with the other English teachers, who would visit almost every month that I was there. In my free time I often went to the girls’ hostel and hung out with them. In that way I got pretty close to many of them, made some good friends, and learned so much about their lives and the Indian culture. The hospital itself is extremely fascinating – all these patients every day queueing up in their hundreds! I sometimes watched the doctors or the girls working and tried to learn from them. I learned very much about eye care and how the hospital functions. The other English teachers and I often went for walks around the villages. The poverty is shocking but it was also very interesting just to see the village life and how the people manage it. One thing though which made me think a lot during my time there and still does, is the discrimination between men and women, especially in the rural areas but also all over India – as I saw when I was travelling after my time at AJEH – women and girls seem to have little or no freedom in most of their decisions and men usually seem to be in charge. I hope that with all that has happened in Delhi and so on there may be some change coming. All in all, the five months at AJEH were a really great and valuable experience for me. I don’t think I could have done this and learned to love the real India in any better way. I have never met such hospitable people in my life before. Everyone at AJEH – especially the girls – looked after me so well and tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible there. I will definitely try to come for a visit next winter to see them again. Whilst the Savitri Trust does not actively provide volunteer opportunities, we can help facilitate a placement relevant to you by putting you in touch with one of our project partners. If you are interested to volunteer your time and skills, please contact [email protected]