The India experience begins the moment you step off the plane and stays with you long after you depart. The mixture of languages, religions, spectacular architecture, and distinctive cuisine will rattle you and leave you wanting more. India has a buzz about it, a pace and a national character all its own. The complexity that you'll find in India offers you an experience of incomparable historical and cultural depth, and you'll live out this amazing adventure against the backdrop of some of the most incredible landscapes and cityscapes you've ever encountered.
Home to the Dalai Lama, a vibrant Indian community, and several thousand Tibetan refugees, the misty highlands of Dharamsala are a stark contrast to the buzzing cities found elsewhere in India. Dharamsala's mountainside perch among the clouds gives this rural locale a moving and mysterial quality.
In Dharamsala, you’ll find two very distinct neighborhoods: Lower Dharamsala and Upper Dharamsala. As the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan community, Upper Dharamsala enjoys more access to resources and services than Lower Dharamsala. In Lower Dharamsala, you’ll find an Indian community that gets little to no attention from international aid organizations and because of this, lacks some of the most basic social services. As a volunteer in Dharamsala, you’ll work in the lower section alongside organizations whose efforts support children’s education and women’s rights – a powerful mission in one of the world’s most awe-inspiring, historically significant settings.
Summer volunteering only.
Set on a gorgeous lawn and against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the views alone at the Dharamsala Home-Base will make you pinch yourself at least once a day. Though it’s hard to believe, this is your new home away from home.
Housed in a two-story building with lots of outdoor patio and deck space, your Dharamsala Home-Base has plenty of room to lounge, indoors and out. In the main living area you'll find comfortable couches, a TV, games, and tons of reading materials. Rooms are shared, and you’ll have more than enough space to store your personal items along with any extra snacks that may catch your eye at the market.
While in Dharamsala, you'll be dining on delicious and healthy cuisine including traditional flatbread, soup, fresh meat, fruit, and veggies. Every meal that the Dharamsala Cook whips up for you and your fellow volunteers is made from ingredients purchased locally.
Not only is Bela Singh our Country Director for India, but she’s also one of our founding members, and serves on our Board of Directors. Between her first-hand knowledge of India and her professional and academic background in counseling, Bela is an incredible resource for volunteers.
She brings with her over 20 years of experience in international development and social services, and is renowned for her work in the field of special education. Bela is full of surprises: she loves all kinds of music, from classical Indian to Arabian music, to Jazz, and she’s an award-winning sharpshooter!
To support parents in providing for their families, the Indian government ensures that young children can receive basic education, nutrition, health, and social development services through ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services). A helpful service for many single parents working long hours, ICDS centers are often single-room rented accommodations or sheds run by local women on a meager stipend. When you work with The Child Development Project, you’ll spark the children's imaginations and bolster their self-esteem. Through individualized attention, educational activities, and creative play, you’ll provide the essential building blocks for the development of children across the community.
When you support the The Global Health Project in Dharamsala, you’ll address healthcare and health education needs across the community. By working in partnership with a variety of organizations, including special education schools, women's groups, and anganwadis (day care centers), your help will provide basic medical screening and health and hygiene education to the most vulnerable members of the community.
In Dharamsala, a city scavenger hunt led by staff gives you a chance to get to know your new surroundings. Team up with a small group of fellow volunteers and, with the help of your new neighbors, find your way around town to complete a fun challenge. You may be tasked to find a cell phone, buy eggs, or hunt down a travel agency and book a ticket to Amritsar. No matter what the challenge, it's a great way to quickly get comfortable in this welcoming mountain community.
For many volunteers, Hindi language lessons are a first. In addition to practicing the elegant calligraphy, you’ll practice spoken Hindi as well. No worries on rocketing to the head of the class, a little goes a long way and just the basics can really help you connect with the community. And if you're a little shaky at first, the local people appreciate your attempts, and are very friendly with their corrections.
Whether you're a newbie to Indian cuisine or your favorite dishes all contain the words "tikka" or "tandoori," your taste buds are in for a treat at weekly cooking classes at your Home-Base. Each week, your group will have a chance to prepare an authentic Indian dish alongside the cooks. Wow friends and family when you take the recipe back home to share and casually mention "Oh yeah, that's my famous aloo jeera. No big deal."
In Dharamsala, there is no shortage of incredible guest lecturers. You'll have a chance to talk with a local professor and talented storyteller on the politics, history, and culture of India. You'll also have have the unique opportunity to learn about the history of the program in India from one of our founding staffers – Bela Singh, the India Director. With lectures and conversations, it's all fair game.
You'll learn all about Odissi, an Indian classical dance, from a renowned Indian dance instructor. She'll share the significance of each part of the dance, from the clothing and instruments, to the music and the moves. Enjoy a private performance by students from her award-winning dance school, followed by an exclusive lesson so you and your fellow volunteers can learn the basics of the oldest surviving dance in all of India.
The magnificence of the Golden Temple in Amritsar gives the Taj Mahal a run for its money. Marvel in the beauty of the floating golden Hari Mandir -- Divine Temple. Converse with Sikh pilgrims and learn firsthand how India’s multitude of religious groups have come to thrive in their mutual acceptance and respect. For an even more profound experience, visit after sunset to witness the Palki Sahib ceremony or take a hosteling hiatus to sleep among the Temple's spiritual pilgrims and visitors
The city of Haridwar is one of the seven holiest sites of Hinduism and a nature-lover’s paradise. Wander the streets of one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, marvel at centuries old temples, sample some of India’s best cuisine, and take in the majesty of the Ganges River. Set aside a day or two for whitewater rafting through the Ganges' class IV rapids and be sure to visit the 2,000 year old Har ki Pauri, one of Haridwar’s most sacred sites.
Travel just outside of Dharamsala to explore McLeod Ganj, the location of the the Tibetan Government in Exile since 1960. McLeod Ganj is home to a substantial Tibetan refugee population and the Dalai Lama, when he is in residence.
If you think soccer fans are fanatical, just wait until you experience cricket in India! With the Himalayas as a backdrop, the Dharamsala stadium is one of the most unique in the world. Root for the team alongside 20,000 adoring fans. They'll be thrilled at the prospect of sharing their pastime with a traveler; that's you! If you choose to stay for the entire match, you may just leave the stadium with a few new local friends.
Whether you’re a devoted yogi, or a total beginner, there’s no better place to lay down a mat than in India, the birthplace of yoga. Develop a whole new appreciation for the ancient practice as you draw strength and inspiration from the towering Himalayas during your sun salutations. If you’re looking for a spiritual retreat, visit the ashrams in Rishikesh for a chance to practice with some of the most advanced yogis in the world, and take a dip in the healing waters of the Ganges River.
This program is implemented by a trusted organization within the AFSNext partnership community and has our full endorsement. While not managed or operated by AFS, it maintains the same exceptional quality standards, which are set by a network of experienced international non-profits operating within the international education field.