Royal Patron: HRH The Countess of Wessex
Gap year volunteer in Mumbai and Karnataka by Malachy Lush
Malachy and Joel with some exhausted OSCAR superstar footballers

Following a brief 2.5-hour flight from Columbo, Sri Lanka, I arrived in Mumbai late into the night. After all the phone calls, flight bookings and Visa queues, the start of an adventure I’ve been looking forward to for years has begun. With me for the next four weeks through this Indian journey was my good friend Joel Cazalet. Our first few days were spent with Lucinda, Head of OSCAR International, who was a massive help with introducing us to some familiar (and unfamiliar) faces in the OSCAR office. Everyone was extremely accommodating and happy to see us – possibly even more excited than we were. Across our month, as it was a short walk from our hostel, we spent a lot of time in the office, and a lot of the time it was hard to leave. The dynamic was very social, with many inviting us to eat lunch with them around the central area. We had many questions, and all were answered. Finding out how this amazing charity can have so many areas where they were in operation really put us in awe of the devotion and mentality of those in and out of the office. A lot of time was spent in ‘Back Garden’, watching OSCAR sessions take place and playing football with some of the local boys. On Saturdays, all the coaches came down in the evening, and we were fortunate enough to be invited – out of 5 months travelling Asia, those 1.5 hours were some of the most tiring periods I’ve ever faced. Darting around a football pitch in 35º heat really takes a toll quite quickly. Should probably have laid off the naans.

Just as we were getting used to the fast-moving streets of India’s most populated city, suddenly we were boarding a train to take us 12 hours towards the middle of the country, into Karnataka. After several hours trying to drown out people selling Chai at 6am, we arrived at Wadi Station, greeted by Govind and Karan. Whilst driving through a very different view of India out of the back of a tuk-tuk, we talked about the upcoming days we had ahead. Joel and I spent two days helping to set up and run two events for International Women’s Day, where over 200 women and girls on both days came to spend many hours playing and dancing. This was a truly empowering and motivating experience for both of us, and the conversations with everyone there are some that I will never forget.

International Women’s Day in Karnataka

The rest of our time in Karnataka were spent chasing Govind’s goat around, amazing food and beautiful drives through the Indian countryside (as well as traffic jams with water buffalos), receiving many smiles and waves from everyone. One memory I will cherish is the feeble yet almost successful attempt to haggle the price of a chair down with the opportunity for a photo with us. Leaving Govind and the OSCAR crew to return to Mumbai was difficult, but seeing our new friends excited to see us again put a smile back on our faces. A few of them were kind enough to take us around their community and homes, which included a trip to the barber – not as stressful as you might imagine, and I came out with exactly the haircut I was after. Big thank you to Sitaram for the help in translation!

Commuting to work!

As the date in our passports grew closer, we decided we wanted to run an ‘English style’ sports event with some of the OSCAR children willing to participate. Fortunately, there were more than enough keen, and with the help of Kumar we spent an hour playing stuck-in-the-mud, bulldog, and a variety of other games. Although I was smiling throughout, I’m not sure I’ve heard louder laughs than during the few rounds of wheelbarrow racing. With our last few days and nights upon us, saying goodbyes to the people who have been letting us into their routines for the last 4 weeks was extremely difficult.

Rohit – Ashok’s nephew

From running a marathon through London to jogging through Mumbai backstreets, our time with the OSCAR family has been incredible and nothing like we could have expected. Joel and I have made lifelong friendships and are already trying to figure out when the next time we can come will be. I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who made us feel at home, and especially to Ashok for being so hospitable and helpful throughout. To all who are thinking about heading to Mumbai to visit OSCAR, I cannot tell you how quick you should book your flights – India is much different to what we were used to, but with the help of everyone we met we had the most amazing time. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or click here: https://www.oscar-international.org/how-to-help/ or email Lucinda@oscar-foundation.org

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