Interview with volunteer Matthew
Jesuit Missions volunteer Matthew Whalley, who last year finished at Jesuit college Stonyhurst, has just returned to the UK after six months teaching at St Xavier’s college in the North east Indian state of Jharkhand. We asked him to share some of his most memorable experiences.
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Why did you choose to volunteer with Jesuit Missions?
I chose Jesuit Missions due to my connections with the Jesuits, from attending a Jesuit school and college (Stonyhurst). This made me feel it was a very reliable organisation to go with, and I knew that it would not only allow me to help others, but for them to help me, not only with an amazing life changing experience but also with my faith.
What would you say is your most memorable moment from the trip?
Visiting the churches in the local area, especially somewhere with so much Christian persecution, where you can see people’s faith is still so strong. The whole place felt like a warm hug feeling like a part of the community and being told I should and I am very welcome to come back after my studies. The students would call me from outside yelling ‘Matthew Sir come down’. Also visiting the mother house in Kolkata where I wanted one pendant for my friend and the nun there gave me a handful, so I could share them with all my friends and family; a woman who I did not know showing so much generosity and kindness.
What do you miss most about where you were?
All the wonderful people I had to leave behind, all the priests, nuns, teachers and students. I miss the children calling me to tuition and playing with them and showing me around their villages on weekends. I also miss the simplicity of life there, where I could spend afternoons just walking around the college grounds and sitting on the balconies in my own thoughts; and the way the school was, with chalkboards and the teachers and principal and vice principal being in charge of all the works there.
What was the biggest challenge you faced on your trip?
Feeling like I was doing things wrong. For example, the first time I visited a Hindu village the children were very eager to show me their temples, and I was still rather oblivious at that point to the level of Christian persecution, and when I returned I realised how they may find it very disrespectful for a white man to be visiting their temples. I was also very scared of teaching at the start, because of how difficult it was for me to control that many students. But I was able to adapt to the Indian teaching techniques and was able to somewhat control a class of 55 students by the end of it.
What has been your biggest challenge since returning?
My biggest challenge has been how much I am missing my life in India and missing all of the people so much.
What are your plans now you have returned?
I will now go to university, and I hope to be able to return to India in the near future.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned that I can do things if I have faith in myself, and with this faith I was able to do things I never thought I could do. I also learned that my faith and trusting in God could get me through situations so much easier.
Has it changed your plans for the future or inspired you to do something different?
I hope to go back there after my degree.
Do you think the trip has changed the way you view the world?
Definitely. Everyone there was so welcoming to someone so different to them, and in the end I was able to have so many loving friends who I miss very much. I also believe that being able to travel half way across the globe to put my faith into action and to be inspired by the faith of others is amazing.
Did the trip affect your faith in any way?
Yes. My faith is definitely a lot stronger now, I felt I could so easily turn to God when I needed guidance and help. Also, being able to see a place where Christianity is such a minority religion, but everyone who is a believer in Christ is so proud of it and will all come together some of whom have to travel miles is really inspiring.
What advice would you give to future volunteers embarking on a similar trip?
This is going to be the best experience of your life, and that even though you are so far away from home and normality, everyone there has such big hearts and will welcome you so easily. Also expect a lot of heat, mosquitos and spice.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about returning to the UK?
I have found it difficult due to how much I missed it there; especially the people but also the way of life. I now use a shower instead of a bucket, have a carpet, a sofa, toilet paper, and access to easier ways of shopping, which is quite a lot to take in all at once, especially as you get so used to the wonderful way of life the live out there.