Article and photos by Adithan.K (B.E Mechanical, 2014-2018)

Find out what happens in the NSS 7-day camp that takes place every year

Of all the events that have happen in our lives, the ones we favor are the memories that give us goosebumps, whenever they hit our head. Even while writing this article, a strange sense of nostalgia floods through me; though, it has not been a month yet. Every single moment – from the shivering cold, the draping dew and rattling teeth in the morning fields, to lit-up faces of school students and energy of fellow volunteers remains very fresh in my mind.

Camp poster
Camp poster

The early bus on 23.12.2015 had a mixed charge of atmosphere – seasoned campers eager to jump start the day, first timers with an uncertain idea, office bearers trying their best to get things right, faculty in-charges hoping everything goes good. It is some 45 minutes’ journey from our college to the base camp site – Mallegoundampalayam, a compact but quaint village. It has its touch of greenery with a warm feel of serenity; the kind of fresh air one cannot get in the city.

The camp was teeming with National Service Scheme(NSS) volunteers (about 190 students), who were about to stay there for 7 days (with an exception to girls who camp at the hostel instead) and get on with the planned activities. The activities ranged from various fieldwork to awareness camps to interaction with the village’s people. I won’t go into the details of each and everything we did, for a single article cannot contain it. Instead, I will try to give a good idea of our experiences.

Top:  Morning prayer meet. Bottom : Inauguration ceremony
Top:  Morning prayer meet. Bottom : Inauguration ceremony

Our day typically starts off with us getting up as early as 7 (except the catering guys, in most of the cases), bathing in spite of the merciless cold, having our daily prayers after girls arrive (generally 8.45-9.00) and finally, after much waiting, having our breakfast. Then people diverge and get on with their fieldwork until 1 or 2 PM depending on the work intensity. We assemble again for the Student Development Program (SDP) which generally consists of some activities to engage the volunteers. We try to make everyone take up the stage, get rid of their phobia and speak up. If not, there will be some planned or cultural activities. The day typically ends with dinner at 7.30 PM.

Two things are unique to this camp – what you learn and what you provide. Nothing compares to the fun or the load of knowledge the practical learning provides. Learning to adapt with others and away from usual facilities are no different. Let me start with the fieldwork: Major work included fencing, building construction, cleaning work and laying out pipelines. Improvising with the available resources is the key; You will not have a crane to lift the stones, power saw to cut through the overgrown weeds or always have a tape to measure pipes and layout area. That’s when how smart you work matters, instead of how hard you work. Personally, I will never forget how the word ‘Head Loss’ extended my one day of work to two more and the havoc it caused!

Clockwise from top: Building construction, Fencing installation, Primary health center cleaning work, Bus stop renovation, Playground cleaning
Clockwise from top: Building construction, Fencing installation, Primary health center cleaning work, Bus stop renovation, Playground cleaning

In a nearby village VeppamKottamalayam, the trench that we dug extended well beyond the length of the pipes we bought (from 80 feet to 280 feet!) – All that in some two and half days. They simply don’t rest- we had really enthusiastic volunteers, more than what anyone could ask for. Some 30 students worked in that field alone daily. (Plus girls saw the trench that had been dug, and out of the blue, they put up a statement that they wanted to try that too!)

Pipeline laying
Pipeline laying
Energetic volunteers during scavenger hunt
Energetic volunteers during scavenger hunt
People rejoicing at the trial of pipeline installed
People rejoicing at the trial of pipeline installed

In all serene and work-about-to-get-over atmosphere on the 6th day, suddenly there emerged an excited and hysterical shouting at the other end of the pipeline. Above the clustered plants, there was a momentary fountain gushing up until someone placed a foot over the fresh hole we managed to create in the existing pipeline. This was a newer type of situation – this time, the pipe that was holed was not a distributing pipe, but the inlet pipe to the distribution tank from a supply tank some 2 Km away! All the water in the 2” pipe for the whole length was waiting to be pushed out behind the stopping foot. It was around 12.30PM when we managed to empty the stagnant water alone, after the pump failed to cooperate. The collecting bus from other field spots stopped at our place after fetching every other volunteer. It was late already – around 2.30 PM and we did not have lunch yet. But, no one nagged on and were patiently waiting until the final set of couplers were put in place. All stood put when the water was opened up for testing, and the moment when it gushed out of the tap (without any extra flux at joints), no one was able to contain the excitement and joy! Yes, after five days of hard work, blind mistakes, and steady faith, the result was just too good (half of us were already beginning to plan for another day of work).

Clockwise from top: Catering team preparing breakfast, Food on time - Check, Dr.G.Menaka helping with dinner in the camp
Clockwise from top: Catering team preparing breakfast, Food on time – Check, Dr.G.Menaka helping with dinner in the camp

This is hardly a slice of the whole story. Lots of these happenings were taking place collectively – Medical Camp, Automobile workshop, Cleaning and renovating few cardinal areas in these villages, etc.  Every day was filled with something worthy to remember – some mistakes, all the fun and pranks, the team spirit, and lots of moments. When you finish some work and look back on what you did – be a leveled and safe arena, long pipeline, secure fences, or trademark ‘Bread Upma’ (courtesy of the catering department) – the gratification in the last day makes whatever displeasure there might have been disappear. Speaking of the catering department, their involvement in making the single most important activity run smoothly is well appreciated. From dawn to dusk, they toiled hard so that we don’t get too hungry and do anything stupid. We had a cook from our hostel and a few boys assisting him. Of course, all the volunteers were subjected to a little kind of experimentation, whenever there was some scarcity in supplies. However, these kinds of trialing had introduced some addition to the long traditions of the camp.

Clockwise from left: Pongal Celebrations, Continuing traditional values, Student Development Programme (SDPs), Camp fire
Clockwise from left: Pongal Celebrations, Continuing traditional values, Student Development Programme (SDPs), Camp fire

Some things are not subject to schedules and ‘fun’ is the most eminent one of such a case. Especially when a highly blended cluster of talents get together, it was work and have a good time always. Pick a random person and they had something to offer – the types that are usually not seen in college. Absence of the Pongal holidays necessarily advanced our schedule, but it could do nothing about our Pongal celebrations. Plus, debate, poetry, games and cultural programs as per traditions only cherished the experience.  For instance, the chaos caused by a ‘scavenger hunt’ organised was out of charts: Fighting for a piece of brick, concealing a ‘Moto G’ from volunteers’ prying eyes, trying to shake a tree to get some fruits, running around frantically, and down goes the whole list. It was a delight just to watch it all!

Interacting with Transit school children
Interacting with Transit school children

Why do we do this? Sure, to outer eyes, it will just be a bunch of students doing things that are quite insignificant to the world we live in. We never meant to erect monuments; not in the material, outer world anyway. The first motive has always been to incorporate a sense of national integration among the minds of the volunteers. The intention is to train and allow humans to be more humane. As I already said, things you learn when you are confronted by a real situation are the most valuable; life skills they are named. That’s the beauty of it – you don’t teach anything; people ‘develop’ watching and wanting to do stuff. (They are always accompanied by bewildered eyes of friends who never thought he/she will actually be able to do all those). You get to see how nice people can be, and how diverse people actually are, only when you live among them. The baffled looks on our faces when talking to children of “Special Transit” School (one of such schools by an NGO ‘Hand in Hand’ for preparing rescued child laborers for regular school) is quite hard to forget. Being on limited resources and from resilient places, they managed to amuse the college students with their knowledge and wit.

A large souvenir at the end of camp
A large souvenir at the end of camp

NSS is this collection of small hearts doing little, generous things – that’s what makes it real big. Our volunteers are the reasons for the smooth and exact running of all the activities and they have been a blissful addition to our family. We put forth an immense thanks to our principal, Dr.R.Rudramoorthy and managing trustee Mr.L.Gopalakrishnan for their extended support without which half of our endeavors wouldn’t have been possible.

(Visit our website for more information about our activities and this article for an idea of one-day camps)

adithan Adithan.K (B.E Mechanical, 2014-2018) is a high spirited reader, enthusiastic gamer,    who enjoys occasional coding, out-of-the box thinking, and often left awed by the very    twisted fiber of nature and amorphously, by the scientific and engineering  environment.

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