Forging Friendships Overseas

23rd October 2014

Kanakarai 5

Many Raleigh Alumni will have fond memories of the children of their host villages – the smiles, the enthusiasm, and the multitude of questions! Raleigh ICS alumnus Sarah supported their curiosity in an innovative way – by creating a pen pal scheme between her host village and her local primary school back home.

Sarah was based in the community of Kanakarai, India, on a Sustainable Livelihoods project which worked closely with the local school. “We lived on the doorstep of the school, which had an attendance of over 100 students. Each day we were asked hundreds of questions about life in our home towns, about the UK, and even about wider parts of India.

"They had very little knowledge of life outside the village, and I wanted to find ways of showing them different cultures around the world.” Sarah quickly realised that the questions the children were asking weren’t so different to the ones children would ask when she got back to the UK. “It occurred to me that the children in my home town of Widnes would have no knowledge of life in a rural Indian village. Because of this I thought it would be brilliant if the children of Widnes could learn from the children of Kanakarai, and vice versa.”

Kanakarai 5

Cross-cultural awareness and peer-to-peer education are two of Raleigh ICS’ core values, and Sarah was able to bring these into her host community in a new and exciting way.
During her first Phase Review, Sarah got in touch with Oakfield Primary School in Widnes, to gauge interest for writing letters to children in Kanakarai. “The response was really overwhelming. Year 3 children all wrote a letter to the children of Kanakarai, including their name, age, information about where they lived and games that they liked to play. We then passed these letters on to the children of Kanakarai.

“The students were so happy with the letters they received from their new friends in England. We had lots of comments of ‘My new friend is called ...’!"

Sarah and the rest of her team then held a session at Kanakarai School to support the children in writing replies. Sarah then took the letters, written in Tamil and English, back to the UK for the children of Oakfield School.

Sue, a teacher at Oakfield, saw the benefits of the project first hand: "We were really pleased to be able to provide the opportunity for our children to have a volunteer from Raleigh help us to forge relationships with the school children in India. Our children benefited a great deal from this opportunity, and the sheer delight on their faces when opening the letters was priceless!“

Inspired by the scheme's success, Sarah presented at Oakfield about volunteering, as part of the school's careers week. "I spoke about my time on the Raleigh programme, but emphasised that people don't have to go to the other side of the world to volunteer or be an active citizen." Sarah encouraged the students to think of ways they could be an active citizen in Widnes, and challenged them to change their world by completing at least one voluntary task that week.

Kanakarai 6

Due to cost of postage for the school in India, the pen pal scheme won’t be continued on a regular basis. However, Sarah still sends photos to the villagers’ addresses, and both schools carry really positive memories of the friendships forged between Kanakarai and Widnes.

“Even now, the children still recall with great enthusiasm our multicultural week and the links we made, writing to and receiving letters from the children in India.” - Sue

Forging and maintaining links with the countries we work in is a key part of Raleigh's values. Are you still in touch with your host community? Let us know at