SINGAPORE - Teacher Vemala Valas Supamaniam had never been to India before, not even on a holiday. But she wanted to volunteer and teach overseas.
"After all these years of teaching, I wanted to try something different and I've always thought about how people in developing countries live," said Ms Supamaniam, who teaches English at ISS International School.
In 2011, she managed to both fulfil that wish and make her first visit to India - on a six-month in-field volunteering programme organised by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).
One of the biggest non-profit organisations operating in Singapore, SIF sends volunteers to 10 countries, including India.
In addition to the SIF, tabla! also spoke to the Young Sikh Association and the Praise Evangelical Church - both involved in volunteer work in India.
Ms Supamaniam, 33, taught English to grade seven students and drama to college students at the Parikrma Humanity Foundation in Bangalore, Karnataka.
"I liked how you impact the people there just by being there, and how they changed me during my stay there," she said.
The trip also instilled in her the desire to keep volunteering. Since then, she has been on trips to Jaffna in Sri Lanka to train English teachers there.
On average, SIF organises 10 to 15 volunteer trips to India every year, with emphasis on locations closer to main cities like Chennai and Hyderabad and taking the comfort level of volunteers into consideration.
Said the director for International Volunteerism at SIF Margaret Thevarakom: "SIF has had a presence in India since 2005, and we've had programmes running all this time. We're rolling out new programmes all the time and all of them are new experiences."
Ms Thevarakom, who has been with SIF for 16 years, said: "The focus of the volunteer programmes is really about bringing communities together. You can't change the world on your own, right? So you bring communities together to share ideas, knowledge and resources so that together we can collaborate to make a positive change. The world needs change, and we think we are able to contribute to that."
SIF always works with local partners in the respective countries in order to provide them with assistance for their specific needs. There are three types of volunteering programmes conducted by SIF, in order to cater to the various skills, needs and interests of their volunteers.
One is the in-field programme, where the volunteer lives and works in overseas communities for between six months and two years.
They serve as teachers, healthcare workers, community and social workers, vocational trainers, business and IT advisers, or medical practitioners, to transfer their skills and strengthen the capabilities of their overseas counterparts.
Skills specialist is the second category. Volunteers who are specialists in their chosen career field, work in team-based, skills-transfer projects where they visit overseas partners regularly to build organisational and institutional capacity.