After a two-hour internal flight and a four-hour jeep ride up a windy, bumpy road, I arrived in Darjeeling - my home for the next two and a half months. The last time I spent over a month in one place was last year in Ayacucho, Peru. Like Ayacucho, Darjeeling is a mountain town (it is at an altitude of 2100m) with a population of around 130,000 people (and scores of street dogs!).
And just as in Ayacucho, I am spending my time in Darjeeling doing volunteer work for a charity that helps street children, namely the Edith Wilkins Street Children Foundation.
Edith, who hails from Cork, began working with street children in the Darjeeling area in 2003. With its night shelters, halfway houses, drop-in centres and outreach programmes, EWSCF currently deals directly with around 100 children, both boys and girls, who are mostly from very poor and often abusive backgrounds.
On my first day, after stopping on the walk to the centre to admire the spectacular view,I was given a tour before joining a group of the boys in a game of football. I spent a lot of my time in Ayacucho playing football, so this reinforced the view that kids are the same the world over.
My first week coincided with "Childrens' Day" in India. Two sports days were held to celebrate - one at the EWSCT centre and one in the town. These featured standard events like sprints, shot putt and long jump. But there were also many unusual races. These included variations on sprints, where the kids ran halfway and then either solved a maths problem,
put on and correctly tied their shoes and shirts or, most bizarrely, had to eat a small cake and drink a juice carton, before continuing onto the finish line.The prizes included badminton rackets and cricket bats. This worked out well for me when these sports (i.e. sports that I can give a decent stab at playing) temporarily replaced the boys' favoured activity of kicking a small "ball" (i.e. a bunch of rubber bands tied together) to each other without letting it touch the ground - an activity at which I'm useless, though I am improving!