Dispatch from project volunteers of the UNITED SIKHS Oxford University TravelAid project in Amritsar, Panjab

August 2007 - This year's UNITED SIKHS Oxford University TravelAid (USOUTA) project team in Amritsar consisted of four Oxford University students - Emily Corran, Laura Watts, Maria Patoczka and Sophie Preuss. We were from differing subject backgrounds – modern languages, history, biochemistry and medicine. We were assisted by the UNITED SIKHS volunteer coordinator, Kiran Kaur.

We met, in Delhi , with Harjyot Kaur, the USOUTA project coordinator, to discuss our aims and intentions and travelled to Amritsar the following day. The main aims of the project was to teach conversational English, (trying all the time to make it dynamic and fun), and also to gain some awareness of the Sikh culture that we can take back to Oxford . From our point of view, as students, the project allowed us to meet our counterparts in Panjab, and created a sense of connection and affiliation.

Our teaching programme consisted of teaching at Khalsa College on Mondays and Fridays, and at Standard Public High School Dhulka Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. At both schools, we taught in pairs. At Khalsa College , most of the students were studying for a BSc and had a high standard of English and Laura and Maria also taught one class of arts students.

Our teaching included study of published articles of general interest and open discussions. We particularly enjoyed focusing on aspects of the Sikh culture and religion.
At Standard Public High School , Dhulka, we taught five classes a day each, ranging from the third to the eighth standard. With the younger children, we taught through games songs and acting. Maria and Sophie also led a series of lessons aimed at enhancing the students' global perspective.

In addition, every afternoon we tutored the six UNITED SIKHS STARAE scholars at the school for an hour and a quarter. This included helping them with their homework and playing games with them. At both Standard Public High School Dhulka and Khalsa College , we were made to feel very welcome and were treated to delicious lunches everyday!

On the first weekend, Dr. Sukhdev Singh and his colleagues took us on a tour of Amritsar 's INTACH heritage walk of the ‘walled city'. This started at Jallianwala Bagh, included the old marketplace and several gurdwaras and culminated in an impressive rooftop view of the Golden Temple . On Wednesday 15th August, we took advantage of the national holiday to visit the Golden Temple at dawn, then went on to Pingalwara. Last year's volunteers had entrusted us with £200 to donate, which we did, and Dr. Inderjit Kaur, thre Pingalwara director, showed us around the wards and orphanage.

The following Thursday, Bhai Eshar Singh of UNITED SIKHS gave a gatka (Sikh martial art) demonstration. This included a talk on the theory of gatka, as well as some impressive swordsmanship by his team mates.

We spent one weekend in McLoed Ganj, which is the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

We visited the temple complex, a nearby waterfall and took full advantage of the jewelry shopping opportunities! Despite the rain, we were cheered by an excellent meal, and overall it was a very informative visit. As well as teaching at Khalsa College , we also visited the English faculty of Guru Nanak Dev University , which is the other main university in Amritsar . We talked with faculty members, toured the library and met some students.
Overall, the project facilitated some very enjoyable learning and teaching that (we hope) was informative for both students and teachers. We were very impressed with how quickly and enthusiastically all our classes responded to the tasks we gave them. We appreciate the chance to interact with Panjabi culture and gain a close relation with our students and all those we associated with in the course of our stay in Amritsar .

Report by: Emily Corran
Photos: Emily Corran and Maria Patoczka