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My time at the Sangam World Centre in Pune, India, was only three months, but it was a life-altering three months. Making Girl Scouts friends from all over the world has been my dream since I was a young Girl Scout, so I applied to volunteer at Sangam. The experience gave me lifelong memories and friends.
My duties as a Program Assistant involved preparing and running events, and taking care of participants. While I was in Sangam, we ran five events. Each one lasted a week to 10 days. Including our Program Assistant training, we only had a few days between events. Each event had a different theme. The first one was called "Essence of India," which basically taught participants about Indian culture. Another program was called "Building a Brighter Tomorrow," where participants visit the local elementary school and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), plant flowers, paint to the walls, and play with children.
We confronted some cultural challenges along the way. Because we came from different countries -- Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, the UK and the United States -- and our schedule was tight, it was sometimes difficult to communicate with each other. Teamwork was important, especially when someone got sick. I learned that we need to respect each other to build a team. One cannot always insist on her own opinion. We also needed to respect each others’ work pace. Some people finish their work quickly, and others do their job slowly but neatly. Once I accepted our differences, I was a lot happier.
By working at the center, I had a chance to meet some local people. They invited us to dinner to talk about our cultural similarities and differences. Their kindness impressed me. Indian people believe that guests bring happiness, so the locals always welcomed us to their home. Once when I asked a woman at the bus stop which bus I should take, she waited with me until my bus came even though she missed her bus. When I apologized, she said to me, “You are my guest of India. So don’t worry about it.” I could tell that her words were sincere. She taught me a lesson in how to treat people around me with respect.
One thing I noticed while I was volunteering at Sangam was that even though we hosted international events, the representation from other countries was not very diverse. For example, we had no Asian visitors for the first four events I worked on at Sangam, even though it is the only World Center located in Asia. I was surprised to see so few U.S. participants since we are the largest member organization of WAGGGS.
So now, I am on a mission to tell others about my Sangam story and peak people's interest. Fortunately, I can tell my story in two countries: the United States and my home country of Japan. Recently, I started working with one of my local (Cambridge, Mass.) troops as an assistant leader. The troop has a sister troop in Japan. I am excited to bridge the two troops.
I encourage all young women who want an international experience to take the first step. Don't be intimidated. I never considered myself very brave. Sangam helped me let go of my fears and it was easier than I ever imagined.
I am planning to go back to Sangam and volunteer for a longer period. Until then, I am committed to developing my leadership potential and sharing my story about how Sangam changed my life.