Cultural immersion & community service in India

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About

Ask any traveler – India is one of the most intense places in the world when you first arrive. It is an enigma of a country that weaves its ancient past so uniquely into its modern and progressive present. It can embody all the beauty, the sadness, and the intrigue in the world. We hope to facilitate the opportunity for you to challenge yourself and understand why it is such a powerful and distinct place.

At Operation Groundswell, our programs explore various social justice issues like gender equality, environmental sustainability, and access to education. We examine these vast and nuanced issues with local experts and activists, through our work with partner organizations and through our volunteer experiences.

Few other countries are as challenging on your body and your mind. Packed with bitter-sweet contradictions, you will often find yourself as frustrated as you have ever been in one moment and contemplating the beauties of life over sweet chai tea in the next. Ready?

Highlights
  • Broaden your understanding of the complex reality of gender in India by examining some of the religious, cultural, and historical contexts that define this vast landscape, and by collaborating with organizations working to challenge the status quo.
  • Visit Macleod Ganj, home to the Tibetan government in exile, the official residence of the Dalai Lama, & the focal point of the Tibetan refugee community. Explore the history and mission of the Tibetan diaspora, and why Tibet is & was worth fighting for.
  • Collaborate with a charitable eco-tourism initiative working to blend modern sustainable farming approaches to ancient sustainable practices.
  • Hike to remote villages in the breathtaking Spiti Valley and discover the Buddhist communities, culture, and religion of the uniquely beautiful Himalayan plateau.
  • Explore a piece of the vibrant, historic Himachali culture by getting to know the people, the food, and the language of a hill station in the Himalayas.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

98%
based on 12 reviews
  • Impact 9.3
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.3
  • Value 9.5
  • Safety 9
Showing 1 - 12 of 12
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Treva
9/10

OG Mind & Body:

One of the most impressionable 2 weeks of my life will be the time spent in northern India with Operation Groundswell. After traveling several times with a volunteer abroad organization over the years I was initially drawn to OG’s “traveling with a purpose” message as that is something I deeply resonate with. Then seeing that one of their programs was in India, a country I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was young, and that it incorporated the country’s rich traditional practices of yoga and meditation into the program, I knew that I was supposed to be on that trip. Over the course of those 2 weeks that feeling of synchronicity was justified time and again.

India is not a country that one can jump into lightly, I was challenged initially by the intense climate and pollution but more so by trying to understand the controversial societal norms surrounding gender and class that are deeply rooted in India’s culture.

One of the reasons that OG stands out among the many other volunteer abroad organizations is its dedication to focus on the participants growth of knowledge through experience of the country’s social, economic, political, and environmental challenges through direct involvement with NGOs they partner with. The partners we worked with and learned from gave such a personal insight into India’s challenging caste system that systematically leaves so many uneducated and in poverty. But the partners we worked with are actively striving to confront the unjust system and bring education and healthcare opportunities to those it’s been denied.

The second reason are the incredibly competent, open minded and hearted Program Leaders OG places in each program. My program had a few things go wrong that threatened the overall positive experience of the trip but what brought peace and security back to our group were our amazing PLs and their clear and focused problem solving abilities that always put the group’s safety and concerns first. The trip would surely not have been the same without our PLs and I have OG to thank for putting those truly incredible women in my life.

My favorite memory is of time I spent learning a Bollywood dance and performing it for the children at the organic farm we spent a week at near Rishikesh that gives refuge and education to children of India’s lowest caste.

Being in India those 2 weeks with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met allowed me to be challenged and ultimately grow in ways that will affect the way I live as a global citizen and practice as a spiritual person for the rest of my life. For that I will always be grateful and will continue to recommend OG to those who are looking to join the “backpactivist” movement.

My only regret is that I did not stay longer.

-Treva Appugliese

How can this program be improved?
Longer trip dates for the India mind and body program!
Yes, I recommend
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Hannah
8/10

Experiencing Gender and Religion in India

My experience in India over this summer changed how I saw the world and the kind of impact I wanted to make in it. I learnt a lot about my self as well as other cultures, and was challenged to new levels mentally. Some of the toughest parts of the program were actually perhaps the best things of the trip, such as the 11 days we spent in rural Rajasthan. Working with local organisations was a perfect way to immerse ourselves in the culture, and participate in it the way locals do, and with the locals. While you cannot escape the fact that you are a tourist, OG encourages you to be a responsible tourist, and if not able to have a positive impact, to at least reduce and be aware of the positive impact you can have. It gives you confidence as a person, and the independent travel time was the perfect way to put everything we learnt into practice, and demonstrated how much we had learnt and changed over the 6 weeks.

This program is certainly not perfect, and there were several occasions where the ethics of what we were doing came into question, despite the fact we had come precisely because we did not want to be "voluntourists". Cross-cultural communication was challenged, and it was sometimes easy to feel as though we weren't being listened to, by OG or the organisations we were working with. Several of the discussion activities felt prescriptive, as if we were doing them for no other reason than them being part of the itinerary.

One thing to note is the programs will have an impact on you more than the communities you work in. The primary aim, as far as us could tell, was to educate you as the participant, rather than attempting to change the state of education or the Tibetan refugee crisis in 6 weeks flat. However, it is immensely worthwhile and rewarding, and I have made some amazing friends out of it.

How can this program be improved?
Several of the discussions we had felt a little forced and constructed, adhering too strongly to the activities rather than letting the conversation flow naturally and go where it wanted to. This was my main issue with the project. While I understand there are time limits, I think there should have been more time dedicated to them, particularly some of the more intense and complex discussions. On the discussions where we were having the most intense and lively debates which people clearly cared about the most, several times they were cut short or re-routed.
Yes, I recommend
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Katherine
10/10

India: Mind and Body

I enrolled on the India: Mind and body program without really knowing what to expect. I was simply hoping to be thrown out of my comfort zone... and oh boy, was I ever!

OG puts a lot of emphasis on cultural immersion and traveling in a simple and humble way. So, our accommodations were modest and we took sleeper trains and rickshaws to get from place to place. We had a lot of opportunities to learn from the culture and practices of India through structured activities, but I also felt like we had a good amount of free time.
There was a fairly last minute change to the itinerary, which altered the program quite a bit. Rather than staying in the Rishikesh area, we ended up spending a week farther up in the Himalayas on the Ramana's Garden farm. There, we had a lot of time to do service projects and to get to know the many wonderful people there. We also had a lot of time to discuss our impact, and how we could make the experience mutually beneficial for ourselves as well as our hosts. Things didn't go 100% smoothly, but what held the program together was the amount of love and support between all the people in our group, as well as our program leaders. They all became sisters to me, and I wouldn't want to have shared the experience with anyone else.
India was tough for me. The sensory overload, the heat, the lack of toilet paper, etc. was overwhelming at first. However, one I got into the swing of things, I found the whole experience to be both profoundly beautiful and humbling.
If you're thinking about going on an OG program, do it! You won't regret it.

How can this program be improved?
Less time in Delhi, more time in the mountains!
Yes, I recommend
Rosa
10/10

For those who are not afraid to expect nothing, and everything

The 40 days I spent in India with Operation Groundswell (OG) encompassed some of the most challenging, rewarding, and beautiful experiences of my life. No other volunteer organization to my knowledge quite matches OG in terms of transparency, ethical travelling, and all-around mindfulness; from the itinerary, the leaders, community partnership, to volunteering. This program is best suited for a young activist/student (not necessarily in school, but a learner of all kinds) who seeks to challenge their own perceptions and ideas, immerse oneself in the comforts & discomforts of another peoples' culture, and mainly, expand their mental and spiritual space in a constructive way, and do so in a particularly striking physical space that is the Himalayas. The scenery across the mountains is breathtakingly beautiful; and the best part is weaving your own spirit into its beauty by climbing it yourself, driving along its ranges, catching sunrises, rafting down the river, sleeping under the stars, and much more. You will discover so much about yourself and the world, and you will gain much appreciation about the environment within which you discovered these truths in.

Yes, I recommend
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Talia
10/10

Making Connections

Bonding and making connections with people is something I value, be it when I'm traveling or at a coffee shop; it's what I live for. This program brought both to the table. I was able to bond and make connections with my team, with the locals, with the surroundings, and even with the spirituality that saturated the country. I had never experienced bonding like that before. But, going into the program with an open mind, excitement, and making one of my main goals bonding and making connections, really paved the way for that to happen.

Within the first three days, the whole team had bonded, and the bonding took place over the topic of fecal matter! But it helped make us a cohesive group. We were able to be vulnerable with each other, confront each other if there was an issue, and bring things to the table at group meetings that we may have been struggling with and discuss it without feeling any judgement.

When we started working with Students For a Free Tibet, I felt so strongly about reaching out to the community beyond those we were working with, to really grasp the Tibet/China diaspora. By doing this, I made connections with people who I'm still in contact with, who I consider friends. I was able to learn about their personal struggles, learn more about their fight for Tibet, and most importantly, learn how to listen and be an ally.

The scenery in Northern India is absolutely breathtaking! You have mountains surrounding you, lush trees, waterfalls, flowers galore, a cold dessert, and stars in Spiti that look like they were freshly painted because of how bright and clear they were against that dark expanse of sky. I felt so alive when I would take it all in. I felt so grounded and yet so free. I felt balanced. I can't even describe how incredible it felt. It made me connect with the nature and spirituality that was there. It was such an overwhelming feeling.

My connections and bonding experiences could not have happened had it not been for the PL's making me feel so welcome and able to achieve them, and had it not been for the group bonding as quickly as is did. Operation Groundswell does a hell of a good job when they choose Program Leaders. They are able to really help bring you out of your shell, help expose you to new ideas for you to consider, which help you be open to connections and bonding experiences. OG facilitates such incredible programs that should you choose to join one, you will not be disappointed. The people you will travel with will always strive to help you achieve your goals. They did for me.

How can this program be improved?
I would love for this program to be longer than six weeks, that way we could have more time to have Independent Travel Time within the program time. I realize it could be done after the program, but as a first timer, I liked the feeling of having the option of contacting them should something go wrong. But yeah, bottom line, longer than six weeks and more time fort ITT.
Yes, I recommend
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Siobhan
10/10

Becoming a 'Backpacktivist'

I landed in India ready for my Operation Groundswell Gender & Religion trip with no idea what to expect (mmm except crowds, heat & for my curry addiction to get worse...). However, I am glad I had no idea because I never could've imagined the unbelievable journey I was about to embark on.

On my trip I got to travel with the most beautiful people (S/O to all my OG family that I still talk to & visit), have the most remarkable trip leaders (who have become significant role models for so so many - if not all - of us trippers), and experience and learn so much. We were faced with hard truths, tall mountains, flat tires, and a little bit of Delhi Belly, but all of this was worth it, especially with the unwavering support from our new family, and the locals we met and stayed with.

Operation Groundswell gives people the opportunity to travel in an ethical manner, to meet and have deep, impactful conversations with locals and local organizations, to become a more engaged global citizen, and to grow into a 'backpacktivist' alongside wonderful new friends (...family)!

I will never forget my experience and everything that I learnt in India still resonates with me, and still impacts my daily decisions.

How can this program be improved?
On this program we travelled around a lot, and got to work with many organizations and people, to learn about gender and religion in India. This was amazing, as we got to learn from so many inspiring and knowledgable people, however it was a lot of bouncing around in 6 weeks!!
It would've been nice to have one partner that we worked with for a little longer, but I wouldn't change anything about my time with Operation Groundswell!
Yes, I recommend
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Alison
10/10

The best was to spend a summer!

Going on this adventure was a last minute decision for me, but one of the best decisions of my life! I made friends that I still talk to every day and I am positive I will travel with later in life. I got to experience Northern India through the people that live there, rather than just as an outsider looking in. I got to eat some of the best food I've ever had. And I came home with a greater understanding of who I was.

OG's Gender and Religion program is a whirlwind of adventure and an absolutely amazing time! It is a 6 week trip that is so jam-packed if feels like it goes by two days. We hiked through the Himalayas, got lost on the Delhi subway system, met the Karmapa, got head-butted by cows, lived with a local family, and had countless laughs on endless train rides. I can't help but smile when I look back on my trip and have suggested and would suggest it to anyone!

Some logistics... OG as an organization is amazing! All my questions were answered, I had support every minute leading up to and while on trip. They aren't lying when they say they have the whole tripped planned for you. Our program leaders were some of the raddest people I have ever met, and they had our schedule planned down to the minute. They knew where we were going to eat, had medication when we needed it, and went above and beyond to provide support 24 hours a day. And somehow they did this all without feeling like leaders, they were just our friends.

I had done a fair bit of travelling before going on this trip, and I always had something to complain about when I got back. But reminiscing on this trip, there really isn't anything I would change. I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

Yes, I recommend
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Sarah
10/10

Best decision of my young life, I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I went on this program less than a month after graduating college, and my only regret is that I did not stay in India longer! This program taught me so much, not only about India, different cultures, religion, and gender issues, but also about myself. The six weeks flew by too quickly and going on this trip was such an amazing experience I would recommend to anyone. Traveling could be hard at times and I would not suggest India to the faint of heart, but that being said I felt extremely safe traveling with my two amazing program leaders, Claire and James, and even during our independent travel time when we broke off into smaller groups and were without our program leaders. I loved every second of this program and am so grateful that my first time in India was with such an amazing group. That is one thing that really made the trip, was the group and the discussions we would have during our puelas (group activities/discussions). The group we traveled with got to know each other on a deeper level and we were all able to support one another through the hard parts of traveling. I will never forget waiting for a train for at least 3 hours in the heat, which would have normally been an awful experience but the group turned it into a memory I will never forget that included singing, storytelling, and lots of laughs! This program was amazing and I would chose to go on it again!

How can this program be improved?
I wish we could have traveled by train, the timing was off (which happens often in India) and some plans had to be switched around so we weren't able to ride the train, which I hear is magic. I also wish the trip was longer or I had stayed in India longer after the program ended, the time just seemed to go by too quickly!
Yes, I recommend
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Natalie
10/10

Beauty in unexpected places

Operation Groundswell's India: Gender and Religion trip was phenomenal. I went there with the expectation to learn things beyond what I could get from a classroom, university education. I ended up getting that, and then some. The trip is still something I've reflected on almost every day since. Whether it's remembering my amazing group members & program leaders, or remembering the individuals and organizations I got to connect with, to stray dogs I wish I could've taken home with me and to moments where I struggled, but can now laugh about. India is a an amazing, complex country, and as one of my group members put it, you will see stunning imagery in the same frame as something heartbreaking...but it is so worth it. And I would love to go back someday.
As for day to day experiences, our group leaders put together a pretty thorough itinerary which consisted of things like consistently meeting/volunteering with local organizations, going for sunset boat rides and sunrise walks along the ghats in Varanasi, hiking up the foothills of the Himalayas, checking out the delicious curries and treats in local restaurants, and meeting His Holiness the 17th Karmapa (no big deal)!

There were so many highlights from the trip, honestly it's tough to pin down one, or even just a few. Definitely Dharamshala in the Himalaya's was a huge highlight for me, I loved the Tibetan Buddhist influence and learning from local Tibetan organizations was certainly something I found incredibly fascinating to be able to do. Sleeping under the stars was also tops. On one of the nights we slept under the stars, we were in a rural farming area outside of Varanasi, and we had the chance to fall asleep to Hindu prayer chants and hand drums being played all night long from a near by village. And to add one more, our sunrise dip in the Ganga River was the perfect, icy way to cool off from a humid sleep.

As for difficulties...the heat is absolutely a drag. But I found with that, you drink lots of water and it's all about mind over matter...and learning to embrace the grunge life. Especially when you're cramped up on a bus for nearly 30 hours. But these are the kinds of stories you get to humblebrag about to your friends at the bar when you get home later.

It'll definitely be an experience you carry with you for a lifetime.

How can this program be improved?
The itinerary was very go-go-go. I would've liked more independent time to reflect on what was happening and everything I was learning.
Yes, I recommend
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Akriti
10/10

A trip to take!

I completely loved the program and the trip to India. After I got selected and was given the opportunity to join the team, I received an email which said that this will be one of the best summer you would have. I cannot agree more. I have had the chance to meet 13 amazing people. I explored places with the group, completed tasks, met people in certain organizations that inspired me and I can go on and on about it. Even though it can be chaotic at times, India is beautiful. Everyday there is a new experience and all of our team members always had some stories to share at the end of the day. The trip gave me beautiful memories and one should surely think about going there with Operation Groundswell. Thank you team leaders (James and Claire) for being with us and making us enjoy so much.

How can this program be improved?
I would want the program to be a little longer so that we have enough time to spend in all the places. Due to some of our commitments with the local organizations, we had to be on time. Thus, sometimes it became rushed and it was difficult for us to travel in such hot weather.
Yes, I recommend
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Kendall
10/10

Impossible incredible

The OG India Gender and Religion program was one of the best things I have ever done. I'm 21 years old and I'm currently in university. This trip was so amazing because of the connection I created with my group. My grope consisted of all girls, expect for my wonderful PL James! The day to day grind in India can be difficult at times, but always an adventurer. The streets are extremely busy, and chaotic, but you learn very quickly how to get by!
Life happens when you travel, so there are defiantly moments of distress, but that's when my amazing group came in and I was able to learn how to communicate effectively and get the support I needed.
One of the most stand out parts of my trip would be, on the seventh day my group had travelled to rural Varanasi and we were staying at a school called Loc Samite. During the evening of are two day stay, we decided as a group to go for a walk in a field near by. I remember standing in the field thinking "I can't believe Im standing in a field in the middle of India". Totally unreal feeling.
Overall, take the leap and just do it. It will completely change you from the inside out.

How can this program be improved?
I honestly wish we had more time to process what's going on around you. Instead of moving on to the next thing! We just never wanted it to end, never enough time.
Yes, I recommend
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Madison
10/10

Trip of a Lifetime!

I cannot recommend this trip more to anyone and everyone looking for an amazing adventure! From the culture, the people, the views, the activities, the FOOD, this trip was one of the best decisions I've ever made. During those 6 short weeks I learned an incredible amount about myself, about what it means to be a volunteer, and about life in general. I now feel much more comfortable traveling on my own and cannot wait to go back!!

How can this program be improved?
If I could change one thing, I would've increased the length of the program! Never wanted it to end.
Yes, I recommend

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About Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and...