As part of Celanese’s International Impact Program (CIIP), I traveled in June with nine other individuals from Celanese to Dharamsala, India, a small city nestled in the mountains in the northeast section of India close to the border of Pakistan. Dharamsala is derived in part from the word “Dharma,” which has a number of different meanings including good works and other activities which are considered beneficial for society. Thus, it was a fitting location for volunteering.

The Rewards of Volunteer Work
Our work involved helping to educate small, underprivileged children at government-sponsored schools in different parts of the city. The schools, unfortunately, suffered from a lack of resources. Most of them had only one room, which was used for teaching, playing and cooking meals for the kids. Without any chairs or desks, we did most of our work with the children on the floor.

Working with the children was challenging. I have no experience teaching. There were limited resources at the schools, and the kids varied widely both in terms of age, from around 2 to 6 years old and sometimes even older, and level of development. There were many moments when the kids seemed to be out of control and I felt helpless. And yet over the course of two weeks, I was surprised by the lengths I was willing to go singing, dancing and engaging in other activities to further help these children with their education, and ultimately, the things we were able to achieve together during a short time period. While there are limits to what can be accomplished during two weeks, when witnessing these kids make progress – whether it be a smile from a shy kid or remembering the shape of a triangle – it felt like I was making an impact in their lives which was extremely rewarding.

Cross-cultural Competence
India is a long way from home for most of us. Many of the kids, teachers and other support staff at the schools had limited interactions with people from outside the community; and some of them spoke limited English. Unlike most other types of travel, for business and vacations, we were in India to essentially serve the community through our volunteer work. Rather than expecting the people we interact with to adopt or adjust to us, I learned the importance of making an effort to observe, understand and be respectful of local customs. This meant, among other actions, becoming proficient in some basic Hindi phrases, taking an interest in local cultural norms, and generally accepting the different ways that things are done there, which ultimately helped us make stronger connections in the community and more progress at the local schools where we were volunteering.

The Celanese group that traveled to Dharamsala came from different places around the world, from as far as Enoree, South Carolina to as close as Mumbai, India. One team member has been with Celanese for over 30 years, while another colleague has only been with the company for several months. Among us, there was a commercial business leader, lawyer, lab technician, human resources, administrative staff, among others serving in different positions. For two weeks, however, we were simply volunteers. Apart from Celanese, our biggest common denominator was a desire to give back and help the broader world around us.

Volunteering, as it became clear during this trip, is a great opportunity to connect with other people at Celanese, particularly those who may normally be outside of your normal sphere of work. We all ate meals together and explored the community as a group. While some discussions gravitated towards work, we spent a lot of time reflecting on our volunteering, reviewing successes and challenges associated with the trip and reflecting on our overall experience. Throughout these conversations, I learned a lot about these colleagues, their respective sites, and by extension, Celanese as a whole.

The two weeks we spent in Dharamsala were short but memorable. Like so many volunteer experiences we were there to serve, but ultimately I found that I received as much as I contributed during the trip. The overall trip was enriched by the other individuals from Celanese who accompanied me to Dharamsala, and I was proud of what we were able to learn and accomplish as a group.

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of 9 blog posts by Celanese International Impact Program (CIIP) team members who served for two weeks in Dharamsala, India.