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Boats, elephants and community work with children in Kerala

An elephant never forgets…

…and neither will you on this jam-packed tour! Aside from befriending elephants you will also be making some new friends of the human variety when you work with children and young people at a special needs school. Your weekends will be filled with stunning scenery as you float along Kerala’s famous backwaters by houseboat, spend time fishing with the locals and take a tour of historic Kochi.

Trip Highlights:

  • Cruising down Kerala’s famous backwaters by house boat
  • Making a child with special needs giggle with joy
  • Visiting an elephant camp
  • Seeing the Athirapally waterfalls
  • Braving the local cuisine infamous for its red hot spices

Fast facts

Project duration: 
Min 2 weeks
Location of project: 
Kerala
Arrival airport: 
Cochin International Airport (airport code COK)
Activities: 
Various activities including visitng with elephants, cruising the backwaters and caring for children and young people with learning disabilities
Working hours: 
Flexible; usually Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3.30pm, all other time is free
Getting to the project: 
15 -20 min local bus ride and short walk (10 cents return) or rickshaw ride (50 cents return)
Requirements: 
Minimum age 18, Police check required (fees apply)

What's included

Accommodation: 
Shared twin room in a homestay and on a houseboat
Food: 
All breakfast; lunch and dinner when stated on itinerary
Airport pickup: 
Included on arrival date - ask us for details if you're arriving early. Return transfer to the airport at the end of your trip.
Training: 
In-country orientation
Support: 
Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24 hour emergency support

What's not included

Flights, Insurance, Visas, Local Transport

Accommodation

What type of accommodation will I be in?

You’ll spend the majority of your time in Kerala staying in a locally run homestay accommodation in Thoppumpady, a small town just a short bus or rickshaw ride from the bustling tourist area of Fort Kochi. You’ll also spend a night on a houseboat, which will have twin bedrooms with showers and western-style toilets.

The homestay accommodation is used by all i to i volunteers in Kerala. Rooms are shared by two people of the same sex (although friends and couples of different sexes can also be accommodated easily) and each room has its own bathroom. There’s also a communal area where volunteers can eat and relax together.

Accommodation facilities

Bedroom facilities will be on a twin sharing basis, and there will be plenty of storage space and a ceiling fan to keep you cool! A lockable draw will be provided in the accommodation for each volunteer to use.

Each bedroom has a bathroom with western style toilet, running hot water and a shower. You’ll be surprised at how your priorities change whilst away – hair straighteners have no place in India!

The communal area has comfortable seating, a large dining table and there’s even a television with English language channels! In addition, there’s a fridge for keeping your snacks and drinks cool, a kettle, sink and kitchen area for your use.

You will be provided with delicious traditional Indian-style meals every day. Don’t worry if you can’t handle the spice because you can opt for the milder versions if you prefer (we won’t tell anyone!).Vegetarians are easily catered for since over 70% of Indians eat a mostly meat free diet. All you carnivores out there should prepare to eat a lot of veggies!

There is a laundry service at the homestay, and you can ask for your clothes to be washed for a tiny 5 rupees per item fee.

Where is the accommodation?

The homestay is based in Thoppumpady, a small town just a short bus or rickshaw ride from the bustling tourist area of Fort Kochi. Thoppumpady is a lovely town with all the facilities you need – internet cafes, shops and banks are within easy reach on foot.

How far is it from my project?

Your journey to work each morning will take a maximum of 45 minutes. There’s a 20 minute bus journey followed by a short walk through Fort Kochi, along the beach and past the Chinese fishing nets. You’ll be accompanied by a member of the in-country team on the journey until you feel confident making it yourself, but you’ll have the company of your fellow volunteers so don’t worry, just enjoy the views on your commute!

The bus journey costs just 6 rupees, and if you prefer to travel in style by auto-rickshaw you should budget a maximum of 100 rupees (or cheaper if you’re prepared to haggle!).

Things to bring from home

  • Towel and toiletries (although these can be purchased locally if you prefer)
  • Mosquito net and sleeping bag if you plan on travelling independently after the trip
  • Light cotton clothes
  • Swimwear
  • Insect repellent is a must!
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Sun cream and hat
  • Umbrella and lightweight waterproof jacket if you’re travelling during the rainy seasons!
  • Alarm clock – you don’t want to be late for your project or any of the exciting activities!
  • A “day bag” for carrying your belongings safely
  • Books, playing cards etc to keep you and your fellow volunteers entertained
  • Ladies, when you are visiting religious sites it is respectful to cover your hair. Take along a lovely scarf or pashmina to cover your locks.

 Day 1 (Sunday): Arrive into Cochin International Airport (airport code COK)

Today you will be met at the airport and accompanied to your accommodation. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to drive from the airport to your homestay so sit back, gaze out of the window and take in the sights, sounds and smells of Kerala. You’ll have some time to unpack in your new digs and meet your fellow travellers and in-country team before sitting down to your first Indian dinner.

If you aren’t able to arrange a flight to get you into Cochin on the designated arrival day then we’d recommend you fly in a day early. We can arrange an early airport pick-up for you including one night’s accommodation for an additional fee. Please call us for more information.

Day 2 (Monday): Explore Kochi

Today you’ll set off to explore Kerala’s colonial heritage as you take a tour of the historic Fort Kochi area. Be amazed by the Santa Cruz Basilica, one of the most impressive churches in all of Kerala. You will also take a walk back in time to visit the home of Vasca de Gama, a famous Portuguese explorer, as well as visiting the home of Kerala’s royal family and the Jewish Synagogue.

Make sure you don't miss the 'Chinese' fishing nets - one of the most easily recognisable symbols and attractions of Kerala set alongside a peaceful waterfront walk. If you ask nicely the fishermen will even let you have a go yourself! There is also the opportunity for plenty of shopping for colonial artifacts and souvenirs – get haggling!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner of traditional fare are included.

Day 3 (Tuesday): Meet the children

Today you’ll be up bright and early for your first day your project. Today is all about settling in and getting to know your way around. You’ll be accompanied to the project by a member of the i to i team who will make sure you know the way and introduce you to the staff and children. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about the work you’ll be doing so don’t be shy! Be prepared to be the centre of attention as the children will be very curious and keen to get to know you!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included.

Day 4 (Wednesday) to Day 6 (Friday): Time to get stuck in!

Your next few days will be spent actively working with children and young people with special needs. Enjoy every minute as you get to know these inspirational children and get stuck into activities including singing songs, playing games, arts and crafts and music. The overall goal will be to keep the children and young adults happy, healthy and to help them to enjoy learning. Your typical day will be working from 9.30am to 3.30pm but you’re welcome to stay longer if you have the energy. You’ll be working alongside staff at the project and working with children either on a one to one or group basis.

Breakfast, a packed lunch and dinner is included each day.

Day 7 (Saturday): Alleppey backwaters cruise

All aboard! After breakfast you’ll be off on your serene picturesque boat cruise. You will have a tasty lunch on the boat and then start exploring the scenic backwaters. You will pass quaint villages, fisherman hard at work, women washing garments in the water, giggling children playing in the canals and running along the canal banks to keep up with you. You’ll then spend the night drifting silently along the lush canals as you dig into a traditional tasty dinner.

This is one of the main attractions of Kerala and offers a great insight into a way of life that is rapidly disappearing. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera!

All your meals are included today.

Day 8 (Sunday): Back to Kochi

After breakfast on the boat you will head back to your home stay in Kochi to relax and explore more of Cochin at your leisure. Home stays are a great way to get a unique insight into a different culture and to see more of a destination so spend time getting to know your hosts!

Later, it’s time to get dressed up in your finery as tonight you will be dazzled by traditional and theatrical Kerala dancing, martial arts and drama. Theatres of this kind are an important part of Kerala’s tradition so sit back and enjoy the evening!

All meals are included today.

Day 9 (Monday) to Day 11 (Wednesday): Make a difference

Make the most of your last few days at the project as you spend this time engaging with them as much as your energy levels allow. There is no such thing as being too creative; invent new games, teach new songs and have a ball playing with these very special children and young people. The old saying definitely holds true here; the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

All meals are included today.

Day 12 (Thursday): Elephant Extravaganza and Athirapally waterfalls!

Today it’s an early start as you journey to an elephant camp in time for their morning bath! You’ll see the mahouts (elephant keepers) bringing their elephants to the water and washing them, and you’ll even be able to get stuck in yourself and help with the bath! This is a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with these surprisingly graceful long-nosed animals.

Please bear in mind that these very big animals live in the village and in order to control them they are sometimes shackled at the feet. However, there is no cause for concern as the elephants are very well looked after and the mahouts are dedicated and love their animals very much.

Your afternoon will include a trip to Athirapally which is located 70km from Kodanad. You make your way through the stunning landscape on a short but tiring walk before finally arriving at the Athirapally waterfalls where a cool down in a rock pool is a must!

Next is a short drive to a local restaurant for lunch where you can admire the views of the Athirapally waterfalls. After lunch and you have the choice of just sitting back and admiring the views or taking a dip in the infinity pool to round off the day. Bring your swimming costume so you don’t have to miss out!

All meals are included today.

Day 13 (Friday): Backwater tour and fishing village

Today you will have another chance to enjoy the gorgeous backwaters, as you cruise along them in traditional boats, soaking up the atmosphere and relaxing. Meet the locals and enjoy a traditional Keralan lunch in a beautiful village setting.

All meals are included today.

Day 14 (Saturday): Last chance to shop!

Today is the day to buy all those last minute souvenirs. You’ll travel to bustling Ernakulam, the commercial capital of Kerala, which is the perfect place to pick up some traditional gifts. Bring a sari home to your friends and be sure to stock up on miniature Hindu gods and bangle bracelets. Prepare to haggle!

All meals are included today.

Day 15 (Sunday): Time to say goodbye

Say your fond farewells to your new friends as today you will be transferred back to the airport for your journey home or on to your next adventure. Feel free to ask the in country team for some tips if you’re travelling on in India! A taxi back to the airport is a maximum of 1 hours ride and will cost round 700 rupees.

You are free to book your flight back at any point during the day, but we’d recommend an afternoon flight to give you enough time to get to the airport.

Meals can be included today if you need them before you head to the airport.

Please note that the order of the itinerary may vary slightly from trip to trip. All the explained activities will be included, although you may not follow this exact itinerary.

Note: Minimum numbers apply for this trip; please contact us for more information.

We work in partnership with hundreds of established projects that are run by local communities. The information on our website comes directly from the projects and we work with them to ensure this information is as accurate as possible. However, due to the very nature of the projects themselves the exact details of what happens on a daily basis can change with little or no notice. If you have travelled with us and have any updates to this information, please let us know.

Accommodation

What type of accommodation will I be in?

You’ll spend the majority of your time in Kerala staying in a locally run homestay accommodation in Thoppumpady, a small town just a short bus or rickshaw ride from the bustling tourist area of Fort Kochi. You’ll also spend a night on a houseboat, which will have twin bedrooms with showers and western-style toilets.

The homestay accommodation is used by all i to i volunteers in Kerala. Rooms are shared by two people of the same sex (although friends and couples of different sexes can also be accommodated easily) and each room has its own bathroom. There’s also a communal area where volunteers can eat and relax together.

Accommodation facilities

Bedroom facilities will be on a twin sharing basis, and there will be plenty of storage space and a ceiling fan to keep you cool! A lockable draw will be provided in the accommodation for each volunteer to use.

Each bedroom has a bathroom with western style toilet, running hot water and a shower. You’ll be surprised at how your priorities change whilst away – hair straighteners have no place in India!

The communal area has comfortable seating, a large dining table and there’s even a television with English language channels! In addition, there’s a fridge for keeping your snacks and drinks cool, a kettle, sink and kitchen area for your use.

You will be provided with delicious traditional Indian-style meals every day. Don’t worry if you can’t handle the spice because you can opt for the milder versions if you prefer (we won’t tell anyone!).Vegetarians are easily catered for since over 70% of Indians eat a mostly meat free diet. All you carnivores out there should prepare to eat a lot of veggies!

There is a laundry service at the homestay, and you can ask for your clothes to be washed for a tiny 5 rupees per item fee.

Where is the accommodation?

The homestay is based in Thoppumpady, a small town just a short bus or rickshaw ride from the bustling tourist area of Fort Kochi. Thoppumpady is a lovely town with all the facilities you need – internet cafes, shops and banks are within easy reach on foot.

How far is it from my project?

Your journey to work each morning will take a maximum of 45 minutes. There’s a 20 minute bus journey followed by a short walk through Fort Kochi, along the beach and past the Chinese fishing nets. You’ll be accompanied by a member of the in-country team on the journey until you feel confident making it yourself, but you’ll have the company of your fellow volunteers so don’t worry, just enjoy the views on your commute!

The bus journey costs just 6 rupees, and if you prefer to travel in style by auto-rickshaw you should budget a maximum of 100 rupees (or cheaper if you’re prepared to haggle!).

Things to bring from home

  • Towel and toiletries (although these can be purchased locally if you prefer)
  • Mosquito net and sleeping bag if you plan on travelling independently after the trip
  • Light cotton clothes
  • Swimwear
  • Insect repellent is a must!
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Sun cream and hat
  • Umbrella and lightweight waterproof jacket if you’re travelling during the rainy seasons!
  • Alarm clock – you don’t want to be late for your project or any of the exciting activities!
  • A “day bag” for carrying your belongings safely
  • Books, playing cards etc to keep you and your fellow volunteers entertained
  • Ladies, when you are visiting religious sites it is respectful to cover your hair. Take along a lovely scarf or pashmina to cover your locks.

What does the project do?

The nuns at the Cottolengo Special School help educate over 70 children and young people with special needs in the Kochi area. The aim of the school is to give these marginalised children and young people a chance at independence by teaching them basic life skills. The majority of the students have loving families and only attend school during the day, although several older female students also board at the convent and live and study at Cottolengo full time.

The main aim is to improve the quality of life for its students and provide a happy and loving environment for them. Cottolengo aims to help the children and young people become independent, valued members of society and also gives individual care to them. They also aim to encourage the productivity and expectations of the children by boosting their confidence and praising them in all they do.

What’s the project like?

If you were expecting a dull and dreary atmosphere and sorrow for the children and young adults, then we’re afraid you’ve come to the wrong place! Cottolengo is full of love and laughter and the dedicated nuns and happy children will give you a warm welcome and embrace you as part of their extended family.

Cottolengo has a main hall, several classrooms and a playground and play equipment outside. There are also physio and speech therapy departments and living quarters, although you will be based in the main school area during your time volunteering.

Why does the project need volunteers?

The nuns work tirelessly to give the children and young adults the best care possible and do a fantastic job. However, the small number of staff is often overwhelmed by the high demands of the children. Volunteers are a huge help and play an active role in taking care of the children and getting involved in a huge range of projects. Your presence also enables the nuns to spend valuable time with children who need one on one speech or physiotherapy, as well as being able to concentrate on the administration side of running the school.

Who is this project for?

No previous experience of work with special needs children and young people  is required, but you must be flexible, have self-motivation and openness to a new culture and a willingness to learn. If you love children and want to make a difference to these special little people and young adults, you’ll have a ball at this project.

Activities and schedule

Your working hours will typically be from 9:30am to 3:30pm with a break for lunch, and you will be helping out and getting involved in a variety of activities that could include singing, dancing, playing games, teaching basic English, arts and crafts and anything else you can think of! You’ll also be helping out at lunchtime, supporting the children and young people who need help feeding themselves.

The nuns will allow you to plan your own activities and are very flexible and accommodating – if you have a special skill you’d like to organise or an activity you’d like to arrange, then go for it!

Whilst no two days will be the same on this project each day will be an adventure filled with new experiences and challenges. Your main task will be to keep the children and young adults happy, healthy and learning.

Project resources and advice

The school is under resourced but it gets by on a daily basis with what it has. What it really needs is man power and someone to give lots of cuddles and support to the children and to offer help to the existing team. The staff love their job and are extremely dedicated but rely on volunteers who can give them some help to get even better at what they do.

If you do make the decision to give resources in any way to the project, we would encourage you to wait until you get to Kerala before making your decision. Buying resources locally is very easy and means you can wait and see what is most needed, and ensures sustainability rather than bringing toys from overseas that can’t be replaced as easily. It also helps the economy if you buy local, as well as saving space in your luggage!

Please remember that you are a role model and working in a religious environment and should dress and behave appropriately. Keep your shoulders covered and wear trousers or skirts that are knee length or longer, and avoid tight or revealing clothing, or t-shirts with slogans that could cause offence.

India

I've done this trip. Write review >

Rebecca Cuzzillo gives this project
10/10

Here is what Rebecca had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Volunteering at Cottolengo Special School was the best part of the trip. The sisters are so welcoming and accomodating and the students are so sweet. It was such an amazing experience and I am already planning on returning to visit the school again. The best tourist part of the trip was the day spent with the elephants and then the visit to the waterfalls. The restaurant had the most amazing view of the waterfalls and really good food. The homestay was so lovely. The food was great and they really looked after us well.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
1. Bring mosquito spray and wear it like perfume. 2. Haggle for everything you buy. Tell shop keepers that you are here for a while volunteering at a local school and they will feel compelled to give you a discount or "local" price, rather than the tourist price. 3. Be careful of rickshaw drivers and their tendency to take you to shops before taking you to your destination. This is because they get free shirts and petrol if they take you there. Just be firm and tell them to take you straight where you want to go.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
"A great taste of India. Do it!"

Shanu Sharma gives this project
10/10

Here is what Shanu had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Meeting all walks of life. Meeting new friends The waterfall
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Be open minded. India is a big country it has its ups and downs but it is improving it is not advanced as prob your own country. Be prepared to bitten Prices should be haggled
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
An experience to remember!!

Rachel Watson gives this project
10/10

Here is what Rachel had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
I loved the whole thing. The nuns and children at the project were amazing and I didn't want to leave! I also really enjoyed bathing the elephants and getting so close and hands-on. The backwaters are beautiful and it was so relaxing exploring them on lovely boats!
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
1. Pack light - you can buy beautiful Indian clothes really cheaply and it's also easy to buy shampoo etc so leave more space in your luggage for souviners! 2. Prepare a few ideas for the children as it's good to have some structure. You can do this in-country as it's easy to but any resources you need when you're there. Also make sure you read the book past volunteers have written in as it will prepare you for what you'll be doing when volunteering. 3. Get to know the in-country team as they are lovely and will help you with anything you need. Don't be afraid to ask if you need something or have a concern as they're very accommodating, caring and helpful =)
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
Heart-warming, jam-packed and fun-filled! I loved it!

Christine Sadler gives this project
10/10

Here is what Christine had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Working with the children and sisters at Cottolengo Special School and the special farewell concert and lunch they organised for us on our last day. Washing an elephant with its mahout. The houseboat trip. Making lovely new friends.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Don't worry, just go for it, everything will be taken care of. Don't forget to use the mosquito repellant!
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A holiday of a lifetime, an awesome experience.

Christine Sadler gives this project
10/10

Here is what Christine had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Working with the children and sisters at Cottolengo Special School and the special farewell concert and lunch they organised for us on our last day. Washing an elephant with its mahout. The houseboat trip. Making lovely new friends.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Don't worry, just go for it, everything will be taken care of. Don't forget to use the mosquito repellant!
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A holiday of a lifetime, an awesome experience.

Anna Brewster gives this project
8/10

Here is what Anna had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
I found the volunteering extremely rewarding. We were welcomed so warmly and I found it so enjoyable.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
If you visit India in monsoon season, take an umbrella. Take deet and toilet roll. Prepare to sink into a slower pace of life.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
An extremely rewarding chance to experience somewhere new and different.

Helena Hurst gives this project
10/10

Here is what Helena had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
the highlights for me were getting to volunteer wth the children at cottolengo school for eight days and seeing the elephants. the children were so increidble and it made me so happy to see them everyday. the nuns who work with the children are an inspiration and are so nice to all the volunteers. seeing the elephants was amazing, but i guess im biased because they are my favourite animal!
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
arriving in a new country is scary, i was terrified for the first night, but dont let you put it off because i woke up the next day and i realised how amazing it is and how much i will enjoy it. so please dont be worried if you are scraed, because its normal but it will pass as soon as you start doing things!
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
a very rewarding experience, really happy!

Lucy Sangster gives this project
10/10

Here is what Lucy had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
My favourite part was volunteering with all the children. It was so enjoyable and rewarding and like no other experience i have ever had! I also loved the backwater cruise which had such stunning scenery. Fort cochi was lovely and had lots of little stalls and shops to go around in the afternoon after the volunteering which was always fun!
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Have a look through a good guide book to get some ideas of things to do in your spare time, pack some playing cards and try all the different indian foods!
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
The best and most worthwhile thing i have ever done!

Hermina Patel gives this project
8/10

Here is what Hermina had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
The highlights of the trip were meeting a vast variety of like minded people. Working with the children and young adults in the school as well as having a range of cultural experiences.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Come with an open mind and a posoitive attitude. Be prepared for a whole new eating experience. Interact with the locals and you will have a whole new experience.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A once in a life time experience.

Angela Brooks gives this project
10/10

Here is what Angela had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Volunteering at the Cottolengo Special School. Meeting and mixing with the locals. Sampling the Keralan cuisine.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Bring an open mind. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent. Bring plenty of smiles and learn some basic keralan words.
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A humbling, rewarding and life changing experience.