My time at Divya Prem, by Joe Cottrell

When I arrived at the gates of Divya Prem Sewa Mission (after a gruelling taxi journey in which I’d gotten lost after giving the driver the wrong address), I had no idea what to expect. The chance to come to this amazing place had been presented to me rather serendipitously by a friend of mine who happened to live next door to two people connected with it. I agreed to volunteer my services as an English teacher for a brief two weeks. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the depth and beauty of the experience I was to have. Divya Prem is situated in a picturesque national park, far away from the hustle and bustle of Rishikesh. It’s surrounded by farming villages and green fields far as the eye can see. In my spare time I liked to wander through the many paths in the hills around the mission. I was always greeted warmly by smiling locals, and I was struck by the peace and serenity of the area. So on my first day, I walked through the gate and was immediately treated like a long-lost cousin. I was touched by the openness and kindness of the staff there, who were eager to make sure I was comfortable and happy. I was introduced to the students who really blew me away with their spirit and energy. They were so curious, so industrious, so friendly and so keen to learn. The more I got to know them, the more impressed with them I was. I was also flattered to be treated like royalty by them! They waited on me hand and foot and even escorted me back to my room in the evenings! When it came to the classroom, I’ve seldom had such pleasure teaching. The students were so much fun to teach. They arrived bright and attentive. They were respectful and very eager to take in as much English as they could. The atmosphere of the mission also played a huge part in my positive experience there. The feeling is of an oasis-separated from the chaos of the outside world, one really feels present and rooted in the moment. It was easy to become immersed in the Divya Prem world. I was surprised just how gut-wrenching it was for me to leave after a far too short time of two weeks. I am tremendously thankful for being given the opportunity to volunteer at Divya Prem. Over fourteen days I built up a connection of love and friendship with everyone there, and my first thought upon leaving was, “when can I return”? If anyone reading this is themselves considering spending some time volunteering at Divya Prem, my advice would be short and to the point-do it!