One of the things that adds vivacity to life at Savista is that a large proportion of our guests come from the creative professions – artists, theatre people, designers of all kinds, photographers of all kinds… It is equally a fact that many of our guests are professionals in the field of science and medicine, including neuroscience and mental health. So what does that have to say about us? Simply, that we are lucky that a diverse range of intense and sensitive people come to this little neck of the woods, there to put down roots for a few days and, when they leave, they spin out a thread of connection that endures – a thread that is as gossamer fine as it is strong. Like a spider’s filament.
Julie Wilhite is a young portrait and wedding photographer by profession. What makes her unique among travellers in general (and our guests in particular), is that she chose to make her first visit to India in a volunteer role. Prior to her holiday with us (along with her cousin Ann), Julie spent three weeks teaching in a Tibetan refugee settlement, working with what she affectionately calls “little lamas”. We asked her if she would send us some photos from her collection for our blog. What she chose to send was some straight-from-the-heart thoughts on the experience of volunteering as a way of travel to new cultures, and what her interactions taught her. There are also a few lovely shots of her happy little lamas.
“Life’s a funny thing. You chug along, creating “to do” lists, occasionally checking things off, and wake up one day realizing that months have passed. That happens to me, so I decided I had to do something about it. As a wedding photographer, I am thankful for a flexible schedule and chose the month of February to visit a country that has been calling my name for some time: India. It is a slow time of year for weddings, and I love to travel. As a photographer, I have traveled in years past by choosing an interesting location, taking a week or two off, and making a list of things I want to photograph on the journey. I decided I wanted to have a different experience in India. I wanted to experience India and its people (the true magic of India) on a deeper level. Volunteering seemed like the perfect idea. I had no grandiose ideas of changing the world, but if I could make a small difference and experience something new, my mission would be accomplished.
After talking to different people and lots of internet research, I settled on an organization called International Volunteer HQ – http://www.volunteerhq.org. I was drawn to IVHQ because it partners with established organizations in different countries (to hopefully create more impact) and because of their economical pricing. As many of you may know, volunteering abroad can be quite pricey. IVHQ creates an economical alternative.
So, I paid my dues, bought a ticket and was on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous – ok, A LOT nervous. But what I can say now, is all those nerves were worth it. I did a one week orientation in Delhi which was a great way for me to get settled, made some new friends and got used to being in an environment that is so drastically different than what I am used to. After the orientation, I made the long bus journey to a small town called Bir to volunteer.
Near the Himalayan Mountains and known for the many Tibetan refugees that live in the area, Bir is a peaceful respite from what people typically think of as India. I worked with incredible little monks at a nearby monastery ranging in age from 5 to 13. A fellow volunteer lovingly called them “little lamas.” We were teaching them English, going over simple things such as the words for the face and body and also allowed them to be kids – drawing beautiful pictures, going through the different items you can find at the market, and playing in the nearby landing strip for paragliders. As we ran around one day in the field, some of the boys held their scarves high above their heads and watched with glee as it ballooned in the wind. One little boy shouted “Superman!” and I had to laugh; no matter where you are in the world all little boys are the same. They may look different, they may study different things, but their hearts, their joy for life, their laughter – they are
all the same, all absolutely precious.
As with anything I love, I seek to capture it in photographs. Not only what it looks like, but how it feels. I challenged myself with a project while I was traveling: Daily India. I posted one image a day on Facebook, and it wasn’t always the most dramatic or impressive image, but the one that best told the story of my day.
After volunteering, I was able to spend a week being a tourist around Northern India where I discovered the jewel of Savista. At Savista, we were taken care of beyond our expectations, relaxing and enjoying the delicious meals or wine on the rooftop while taking in the sunset. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Savista also allowed me to finally relax and reflect on what a rewarding experience it was to volunteer in another country. And as corny as it may sound, my intention to originally help others ends up being far more rewarding for myself. I will forever remember my “little lamas” and my time spent not stressing about life, but enjoying and experiencing India. ”
Portrait & Wedding Photographer
Based out of Austin, TX