Steve Bhaiya

Volunteers are an intrinsic part of pwhy. They come from all corners of the world, from the most unexpected places: Senegal, Azerbaijan, Turkey, UK, USA, France, Spain, Singapore, Canada, Sweden. They have one common denominator: their love for project why and their conviction about our work. They spend a few days, a few weeks or even a few months and when they go, they leave a little of themselves in each one of us. They are undoubtedly a very important part of our success.

For the past four years now we have had volunteers from Cambridge University and this year it was Steve, better known as Steve Bhaiya!

I remember the day he landed in our world. It was incredibly hot and his flight was meant to land at 11 am so we expected him around 1pm. The plan was to have him wash up, have a cool drink and then send him to the women centre where we had planned to have him volunteer for the next two months. Steve arrived at my door at around 2pm. He had been stuck in traffic jams and was looking miserably hot. I was immediately charmed by his gentle and warm voice and his heartwarming smile. I asked him whether he wanted to rest or would be agreeable to go straight to work! He agreed to the later and hence began Steve's tryst with our women centre.

Let us fast forward to two months later. Departure time has come. For the past week Steve has been trying to tell his students that he had to go back to his country and to say the least the news was far from welcome. The no, please dont' go, stay here, when are you coming back abounded all expressed in the English Steve had painstakingly taught our primary students during two whole months. And every one's feelings were summed up in Kajal's words when she said: were are so grateful because that you all the way over from England just to help us. She somehow echoed what I would like to say to him.

You may ask what Steve did during these months. His meticulous blog gives an account of his weeks with us and I must confess I enjoyed reading it as it gave me a insight into our work seen through someone else's eyes. I of course had only second hand knowledge of his work. As luck would have it, Steve came at a time when our spoken English teacher had taken long leave of absence and we were in a quandary about how we would manage. The pupils in question were those of classes II to V and a lively lot at that. But Steve was not one to be deterred and took the task head on. 128 primary kids divided in 4 groups was quite a handful for anyone but Steve did a super job. Everyone was impressed. I use to get bribes of the going ons either by our coordinator or by Steve himself. I was told about the small pranks, the occasional mischief and antics but also about the incredible progress the children made under Steve's guidance. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that even the parents felt that their children were learning English. This was a huge moment for me as how could I forget the very first words uttered to me well before it all began: teach our children English. It had taken a young college rugby player and stellar student to do that. Hats off to him.

But there was another side of Steve, one I have the privilege to be privy to quite inadvertently. It was a Saturday morning and Steve's day off. We on the other hand were all set to take little Manisha to boarding school. We had all gathered in the kitchen of my home and were waiting for the car when Steve came down for a late breakfast. On hearing that we were off to the boarding school he decided to come along, breakfast forgotten. It was a memorable day in more ways than one. Steve truly liked the school and was even treated to a spot of colonial spin off as he was feted by the house master who fell backwards to please him. We all had a merry laugh though in hindsight Steve felt a little sheepish. That day I saw another side of Steve one that I can only sum up with a reference to my favourite book the Little Prince: Steve knew the fox's secret and saw with his heart. In the weeks to come Steve was to visit the boarding school twice: once on PTM day, and on Independence Day where he was even seated on the VVIP sofa! Each time was special for him and us.

During his two months with us, I have had the occasion to share my thoughts, dreams, fears, angst and more with Steve. He always listened and strangely made me feel better as he managed to chase my blues and fill me with quiet optimism. I deeply value the moments we spent together.

Soon Steve will leave India leaving fond memories in our hearts. The children will stay in touch thanks to the web camera he gave them as a parting gift. I, on the other hand will find myself browsing photographs and remembering this very special volunteer.