This program is organized by Global Vision International (GVI) and STA Travel in collaboration with DukeEngage.

Program Dates

May 27 - July 22

Service Focus

Assisting with community development, education, workshops and other activities ensuring equal opportunities for women, youth or people with disabilities in Southern India.

  • Children/youth services
  • Health/human services
  • Women’s advocacy/women’s empowerment

Program Leader(s)

  • Zeno Wijtten is Global Vision International’s India Country Director and a conservation biologist with a strong interest in integrated conservation and the role of community development, livelihood changes and empowerment in peri-urban areas. Publications include texts on wildlife ecology, conservation as well as peri-urban development.
  • Jill Walker is Global Vision International’s Deputy Director of Programs. Formerly an environmental educator, Jill has been managing community development and conservation programs in the Asia region since 2007, based from Thailand, and focuses on providing support and training for all of GVI’s programs worldwide.
  • is Global Vision International’s Educational Partnership Manager. She has previously worked in NPO Operations Management, working with vulnerable girl youth and has a post graduate degree in Development Studies. Her professional background has been centered in the education sector.
  • , DukeEngage Faculty Fellow. Associate Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Sanford School of Public Policy.


During their eight weeks in Kerala in the South of India, students will be working alongside local experts, residents and stakeholders, to provide opportunities for learning, attaining skills, building capacity or providing much needed stimulation. In conjunction with government or umbrella organizations objectives are set focusing on long-term skill-based support.

Working from existing structures and strengths within local centers and groups DukeEngage participants will support capacity building initiatives in the field of women’s empowerment, education or special needs care. Participants might have the opportunity to assist in a number of areas working with and teaching children and adults, assisting with, planning and leading classes, workshops or develop infrastructure as part of integrated community development.

Students will be asked to lead their own initiatives, occasionally work in pairs but operate as a team. Locations will be based on the needs of project partners at that time. Students will learn details about specific projects, long- and short-term objectives, schedules and responsibilities during their orientation in India.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

The program provides human resources, and students’ energy and passion to meet educational and human needs of the local community. Working for and alongside local partners it should deepen the students’ understanding of community development and broaden perspectives of diversity issues.

Service Opportunities

DukeEngage students will work in a team or small groups to increase education and other development opportunities for disadvantaged populations. This may include working with children and women’s societies, community groups, care homes, centers for the disabled, orphanages and under-funded schools. Past volunteers have worked with:

Underfunded primary schools for students from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged areas and girls’ and boys’ homes

  • Creation of health and sanitation infrastructural improvements and a vegetable garden tying in with classes on healthy living and workshops for parents and teachers
  • Tutoring and English education, sports and arts workshops
  • Computer, English or classes for teachers and adults
  • ‘Life-skill’ classes and workshops

Child advocacy centers

  • Supporting the creation of a child advocacy center
  • Facilitating child advocacy trainings at schools
  • Tailored support for personal development for pregnant girls

Women’s initiatives network

  • Adult English and alternative livelihood workshops for women’s group leaders

Care homes and schools for children with disabilities

  • Improvement of sensory and general infrastructure and resources
  • Tailored support for personal development for residents or students
  • Providing activities focused on learning and stimulation for residents or students

Program Requirements

Language: No specific language proficiencies are required. Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi or other Indian language proficiencies are beneficial.

Coursework: No specific academic experiences required.

Other Skills: GVI staff and local experts in country will provide all relevant training. A criminal background check is required for this program.

Personal Qualities: For this program the ability and willingness to adapt to and balance own expectations with changing partner needs are beneficial. The most successful candidates will have the ability to readily identify opportunities for positive contribution to partners’ goals and show a continued interest and high motivation to gain understanding and learn in and from an unknown environment.

Program Details

Description of Community: Project work takes place around the city of Kochi (Cochin), a port town offering fascinating snippets of history and culture, including the oldest Church in India, an extensive spice market and the famous 15th Century Chinese fishing nets. Kochi is a culturally rich urban Southern Indian town as well as a small tourist hub. This provides a mix of interesting architecture and blend of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish tradition alongside cafes and shops that appeal with Indian and international travelers alike. GVI has been operating in Kochi for almost six years and are well established and respected within the community.                   

Housing and Meals: Same gendered students will share a room in a local guesthouse with western-style bathrooms and electricity. The guesthouse has a communal area for gathering and a restaurant or kitchen. The accommodation is comfortable and friendly. Laundry can be hand-washed, or students can make arrangements with the guesthouse managers or others in the local community.

All meals will be provided. Breakfast will usually be provided at the accommodation and could be traditional Kerala style with dosa, idli, appam, or eggs, toast or fresh fruit. Lunch and dinners will be arranged on project sites or at local restaurants at walking distance. Meals are traditional style and may include rice, chapatti or appam and fresh vegetables, lentils and occasionally fish and meat. Care is taken to ensure food is not too spicy. Vegetarian or vegan options are always available.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Students will travel by van to the partner site or project-work location. Most locations are within a radius of about 15 minutes or even within walking distance from the accommodation. Enrichment activities might include travel by traditional Kerala houseboat.

Communication: All students will receive a basic mobile phone with local SIM for calls. A small amount will be provided to cover local calls but if students are using the phone regularly or use it to call family they will need to cover the cost to top up their phones. Limited speed WIFI will be available at the accommodation. Students are welcome to bring laptops, tablets or smartphones and will find them helpful for doing assignments and preparing activities.

Opportunities for Reflection: Although the days will be busy with preparation work, project work, meetings and organized cultural and social events, there will be time for structured and unstructured reflection after activities or at the end of the day. GVI staff or local experts will facilitate daily reflection sessions on progress with regards to objectives, adaptive action as well as cultural and social context and interpretation.

Other Opportunities: Students will have some late afternoons and evenings as well as some weekends free (whenever enrichment activities are not planned) to explore the local area and take in the local markets, cultural sites, yoga and massage, or just relax. Although the days will be busy with preparation work, project work, meetings and organized cultural and social events, there will be some down-time during project activities as well.

Organized enrichment opportunities might include:

  • Backwaters Tour: Experience the backwaters of Kerala from a traditional houseboat. This is a unique opportunity to see local fishing villages. Students will sleep on board, see the traditional lifestyles and be offered traditional Kerala meals.
  • Indian Cooking Class: Learn how to prepare a variety of local Indian dishes from scratch. India food uses a variety of herbs, spices and other colorful ingredients and techniques to make curries, breads, dipping sauces and snacks. Students will learn to make some dishes of their choice.
  • Bollywood Dancing: Learn with a local instructor how to perform the dances made popular by Bollywood films. Students will learn about the significance of Bollywood and its place within India’s history and pop culture.
  • Kathakali Dance Performance: A classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion. It originated Kerala during the 17th century.
  • Malayalam Language Lessons: Learn to speak the local language. Several classes throughout the students stay after initial crash course during orientation.
  • Munnar Mountain Tea Plantation Trek: Explore the tea estates and cardamom and pepper plantations and try local teas with views of the valley bordering Tamil Nadu. There is potential for elephant and other local wildlife sightings.
  • Walking Tour of Fort Kochi Area: Learn about the area’s deep culture and history. Visit the beachfront where the famous Chinese-introduced fishing nets are used. Admire the Portuguese-style architecture and visit Vasco de Gama’s grave at St. Frances Catholic Church. Visit Jew town and the Paradesi Synagogue, which was built in 1567.

More Information

Interesting books

  • India after Ghandi – Ramachandra Guha
  • God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
  • Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
  • Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  • A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  • The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
  • More than a Native Speaker - D.B. Snow (TESOL), A handbook written by a volunteer teacher who had to figure it all out on his own.
  • Learning Teaching, J. Scrivener (Macmillan), A very user-friendly and comprehensive guide sourced on many TEFL training courses, which covers teaching techniques for TEFL and some reasoning behind them.

Interesting Films

  • Mr & Mrs Iyer - Aparna Sen
  • Monsoon Wedding - Mira Nair
  • Black - Sanjay Leela Bhansali 
  • Premam - Alphonse Puthren
  • Bangalore Days, Anjali Menon

Curricular Connections

Courses on South Asia, Women’s Empowerment, Social Justice, Human Rights, and Education would likely be of interest pre- or post- the Kerala experience.

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