Volunteer and Visitor Experiences

Each year, Guria is lucky to host a some 300+ volunteers and visitors from all over the globe-- some from formal travel programmes and some just on their own; some for a few hours, some for a few months, and some for a few years! Below are their experiences.

I arrived at Guria with a yoga group from the US to volunteer with the children for a day. We had the pleasure of speaking with the founder, Ajeet, about Guria’s mission, the work that they do, and how they are taking action to help end the culture of trafficking in India and beyond. Like all of us, the children that come to Guria need unconditional love and support to succeed in this life. The staff and volunteers at Guria make this possible for anyone that come through their doors through art therapy, meditation, vocational training, and time in nature.

It was immediately apparent to us how dedicated this organization is to their mission. As soon as we entered Guria we saw various potted plants inside the courtyard, each one under the care of a different child. We were able to see children engaged in various activities: practicing for a drama performance, doing arts and crafts, learning computing and typing, meditating, and vocational training. I am deeply appreciative of Guria for all that they do and every brave child who helps end the cycle of human trafficking. After our visit, we are now inspired to follow Ajeet’s lead and take further action in our own community.
-Sydney Batson, USA

Likely one of the most profound moments for us while in India. Few photos due to the safety of the children involved and long explanation.... Our guide, Ashley Nunn, planned for us to do some social work with children who have been involved with sex trafficking and/or are 2nd (or more) generation of prostitution. Our Rickshaw driver got lost the first day and took us to the administrative building instead of where the children are which was fortunate as we got to meet the person Ajeet who began the organization in 1988. We were able to spend an hour with Ajeet as he explained his holistic approach to helping the children build better lives for themselves through creative expression of art.

The next day we were able to get to the building where the children were which was smack dab in the middle of their red light district. A little scary and intimidating....we had to meet their American 19 year old intern "Josh from Princeton" down the road so our drivers would not know where it was located and walk in through the streets. Once in, we were introduced to the nearly 100 children. We first played with the youngest (12 and younger?)....making art with playdoh and getting lots of hugs. Then we were taken to visit the theater group of boys where they performed part of the play (a comedy) they were working on.....on to the older girls who were sewing and learning fashion design and beauty salon where the girls were learning about hair. The girls here enjoyed giving us Hindi Tattoos and braiding our hair. There was art throughout the entire building of drawings the kids had done showing their nightmare lives. Being chained, money being exchanged, knives, guns, lots of symbolism of their life when not in the safety of Guria. Think some of their artwork is for sale on their website. And lastly we played two games of volley ball with all the older kids which was SO MUCH FUN!!!!

Ajeet, Josh from Princeton, and all the other people involved in the organization are Saints! They risk their lives and their families lives trying to help these children have a better life. When asked how best we could help, they only expressed how important it was to start locally, in our own community, one child at a time.

-Jackie McKenzie, USA

"Positivity Check: Guria -- "We are a center that creates human beings who love, with love." 

 (No facial photos of children to both respect their privacy and their personal safety).
Image may contain: 1 person, standingPower-team Ajeet and Manju (husband and wife) provide a safe space, enrichment, and emotional therapy to children of sex workers who, in some cases, have been trafficked themselves (and, in either case, are traumatized by the experience).
Their mission began some years ago when Manju saw a girl of about seven working the slum streets, saying to her husband "We must do something about this." He had previously adopted some red-light district children while in college, the first time any Indian had done so. They managed to rescue that one girl and send her to a village 100km away, and their organization has only grown in scope since then.
The rescues, which continue, and the enrichment/therapy programs are only one part of their efforts. They have successfully shut down and had the property seized of ten brothels in their area, and have prosecuted traffickers and pimps, which has put their own lives in danger: Manju has had a gun placed to her head, keeps a deliberately erratic schedule at the Guria center, and never comes and goes from the same direction.
We saw some of the work that is being done: art therapy, at which we were warmly and affectionately welcomed by the children to participate; a fashion design and cosmetology class in action; a year-long project of building a scale-model water park out of everyday materials. And we experienced a deeply powerful group meditation session in which, one by one, the children began to nod into sleep as Guria adults gently cradled them and laid them safely on the ground. All the while Manju was chanting words of encouragement and care, which-- though we could not understand them-- I think it safe to say we could "feel" them.
Manju emphasized that the children often come to Guria full of anger, poor treatment of each other, or drawn to "easy sex, easy drugs, easy alcohol." She does not preach or sermonize; instead she uses more of a "parable" method in which she relates a story and suggests to the children different choices they could make in response to the scenario, then asking the question "What kind of person do you want to be?" Case in point: "You have one chapati [flatbread] and your friend says he is hungry. Do you enjoy it by yourself, split in two to share, or give the whole thing to your friend? The choice is yours." Teaching them to care for others and to love-- with the hope of balancing against or moving beyond their ongoing painful experiences-- is the first major step towards becoming a full and functional human being with the chance to achieve a greater potential than the circumstances into which they were born or placed.
Image may contain: one or more people, shoes, table and indoorSuch methodology builds an environment of mutual trust and, hopeful, self-agency. When some students slip into bad behavior, student-selected and run "vigilance committees" will visit that student's house, speak privately with him a number of times, and-- if still necessary-- report to Manju and Ajeet the problematic behavior so that Guria staff might then address it. While this "snitch" approach may seem questionable in this "snitches get stitches" era of just "looking out for self" in the West, but since the students do it to and for themselves in order to support each other, this again reinforces both community and positive behavior in a population that has neither.
Guria is an amazing inspiration drawing attention from the world-at-large. Some links appear below for further information.
--Giancarlo Malchiodi, Fulbright Fellowship, USA

"All the frustrations. The tears. The laughter and excitement. The sense of wonder and meaning that would sometimes take me by surprise. Without a doubt, working at Guria has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but also the most rewarding.‘It’s all a training, you see,' Ajeet said, when I marveled at how outspoken the Guria Center kids were. 'For the kids to care. For them to recognize the beauty in themselves.’And I guess all this time, he was training me, too, to see my own life with a sense of wonder, and to be in awe of the simplest things. To look beyond the superficiality and self-importance of a world where privilege cuts us off from life. To care. And that will forever be Guria’s gift to me: that I now know how to care without reason or purpose or even hope. To care because we’re all in this life together, and because, in some mysterious way, our lives and destinies are intertwined." 
--Diana Chen, Princeton University, USA

"Inspired. Humbled. Awed. Incredibly lucky.  This is what I felt in the presence of Manju, the wife of Ajeet, founder of Guria; the most dedicated, brilliant woman I have ever met. Behind her enchanting almond eyes lies an inner strength and fierce passion that she easily draws upon to protect and guide the children of Guria. Self-esteem, empowerment, friendship, a good meal and purpose are offered inside the white gates that the children go to after school each day and of course a bit of Manju's magic.  I was lucky to be a part of Guria for a few days; and how lucky for Azza to spend time with this incredible woman/role model.  Guria and the work of Manju will stay with me for quite some time. I know that I must return. " 
--Jake Cohen, Northwestern Law School, USA

"Coming to Guria, was in actual an accident! I always wanted to volunteer in an NGO, but never actually got around to do it because I thought that I have to at some point, fulfill my parents’ expectations and get a decent education. How I landed up in Guria. Well let’s just say some luck, mixed with a story on Guria published in a magazine, and the fact that I was getting bored at a railway station in Himachal where I actually bought the magazine. But it also took some time and persuasion. Ajeet Ji felt I must come here and spend some time and then decide – is this what I want to do? After around the 2 weeks I initially spent here, and having met Ajeet Ji and Manju Ji, I packed my bags and was back home again in Amritsar. Another two weeks and I was back at Guria! I never planned this. But I am a firm believer that whatever happens, happens for good. Guria is a place where you give but receive a lot more. It’s a place where you both heal others and also heal yourself, but if you ask those benefitted I’m sure they will tell you a lot more, where words actually fall short. It has been a wonderful experience so far. One thing I appreciate is that everyone here does everything. It’s probably through this policy of Ajeet Ji’s that I have got to learn so many things. I should put in a word for him that he is definitely not a man who says things but does not practice them. I have seen him with my own eyes, scrubbing the office toilet, instead of leaving it to someone else! No job is too big or too small for oneself. You must shrink and then you will learn is what Ajeet Ji says. The journey for me here has just begun. I don’t know how long I will be here, but that is not what I think about. What counts is that I make every day count, for both the children and myself. I hope to hear more Guria success stories, both when I am here and also when I am gone. Some stories go on and on and legends never die, and this is definitely one of them!"
--Harneet Kaur, Amritsar India

"When I visited the Guria Non-Formal Education Center on Diwali, I was astounded by the energy emanating from the kids. They had turned the Center into a miniature town, with tiny schools, hospitals, and even a zoo! As we visitors entered the area, we were immediately surrounded by excited, jumping children who dragged us to and fro, showing off their hard work. As the night deepened, the children lit hundreds of diyas, tiny lanterns scattered around the edges of the Center. Watching the lights dance in the soft breeze, I thought about the glimmers of joy and peace that Guria has created in these children's lives. Despite all of the hardships of their existence, the children are able to come to the NFE Center and feel safe and loved."

-Stephen Chao, Princeton University, USA

"My time at Guria was the best time of my life. Through the Princeton University Bridge Year Program, I was able to live in India and volunteer at an NGO. We went to see many different organizations in Varanasi and even though Guria was the first one, I knew instantly that it was where I belonged. The children welcomed me with their smiles and laughed with me at my broken Hindi. Each day I discovered another extraordinary feat that Guria had overcome and each day I learned something new. Ajeet and Manju patiently embraced my quirky self and it is their patient wisdom that I am most grateful for. The students I worked with in computer classes are determined, passionate and brilliant; they inspired and helped me become a better person. This picture hangs on the bookshelf in my dorm room and serves as a reminder for me to work half as hard as they do. If you read this looking for a place to visit in beautiful, chaotic Varanasi—I urge you to see Guria with your own eyes. It will change you. If you read this looking for a reflection to write about your experience at Guria—I thank you for the smiles you inspired in the kids from having a visitor. I know it means so much to them. Ajeet had always told me about “the art of shrinking” and I didn’t understand until I had been at Guria long enough to know that life isn’t about teaching (even if you’re a teacher)—it’s about learning, always learning, and loving everyone and everything around you. Ajeet, Manju, all the Guria staff and especially all the kids made my experience in India very special. I am forever grateful for their embrace and I am proud of the person I am because of the person I became at Guria. Right now, I am working hard to study Urdu and practice my Hindi and I hope to be back soon! As it goes in my favorite Bollywood song (“Tere Mast Mast Do Nain”) the people at Guria “mere dil ka le gaye chain.”  
--Azza Cohen, Princeton University, USA

"The discrimination these kids face in their daily lives is intense. This is all the more tragic as they are obviously so bright and hungry to learn. GURIA's boat school project clearly levels the playing field for them. I wish us kids were half as hungry for learning, community, and growth as these kids are. GURIA fills that need in them and gives them a step up where their formal education or family situation may be failing them. It's an awesome thing to see happening."
-Jacob Steele, UN University for Peace, Costa Rica

"To the children of the NFE center:
I miss you a lot. The time I spent with you was so great. I still remember some specific things: your dedication while doing artwork was amazing. The home you wanted to create with the clay and tree branches showed that you have the dreams to create a space of your own. And I am certain: one day, you will! Besides this, the games we played together reminded me of the time I spent in my village. It brought me back to my childhood. You taught me about being happy in the face of difficulties. One more interesting thing you did transforming worthless bangles into beautiful artwork. I really loved them. You have such creativity within you. You have learned to create and you have learned to preserve. The yoga sessions, the peace in the room during them, and all the activities really moved me. I want to see you all again. Good luck"
-Hira Dahal, Centre for Awareness Promotion, Nepal

"What struck me most about Guria's educational philosophy was how much the ideology matched the practice; every afternoon, the day is ended with a meditation. Every child sits quietly, and does a series of hand motions and sayings led by some of the older children, and then is guided through a mediation by the teacher. It ends, with my favorite part, when the children are able to scream as loudly as the desire for about 30 seconds. I sat in on the meditation a few times, and definitely enjoyed that part. It is so clear how much the children love Guria, and their time there."
--Natalia Shevin, USA

"Throughout this amazing humanitarian experience, we learned a lot about ourselves, the people and India. When we saw Guria’s children for the first time, we were as excited as they were. We just looked forward to knowing them. Gradually we all enjoyed each others company. We undertook many activities such as games, drawing, dancing, music, manual work, fashion design, art therapy, planting flowers.... They were very attentive, they wanted to learn, they wanted us to teach them a lot of things. Art therapy is a concept we especially liked because it allowed us to know more about what children think and what they have in their mind. We cleaned the exterior of Guria center’s wall in order to paint a CANDY WORLD which children enjoyed. The aim was to allow them to evade, to dream…. We went to the boat school nearly every evening and spend some wonderful time with the children. We have noticed that boat school children were quieter and patient. This humanitarian mission with Guria in Varanasi, India was so enriching. We learned a lot and worked on ourselves. We will miss the children so much but we hope we will meet them again."
- Alexandra, Charlotte, El Ghali, Etienne, Laura, Lucie and Salome from Gducoeur, ESG Management School, Paris, France  - From May to June 2014

"I lived in India for nine months thanks to Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program. I lived with a host family, learned Hindi, and worked at Guria. My time at Guria was the best part of my experience. I am lucky to have had the chance to work at Guria. The organization works to fight one of the most difficult and complicated problems, human trafficking, which is laden with corruption. Guria is a different kind of organization. 
Ajeet Ji and Manju Ji have a passion to make a real change in the world. Their efforts are always countered by obstacles, which they willingly and readily face head on. I never once saw Ajeet Ji or Manju Ji mentally tired or unwilling to drop whatever they were doing to do the work they believe in. The stories they told me gave me a better sense of the world and the problems with it and the passion they demonstrated will serve as an example to me for the rest of my life. 
I miss the kids at the Non-Formal Education Center everyday. Their smiles made my day everyday. The children took me in immediately. They forgave me for my not-very good Hindi, and taught me songs, games, and Hindi phrases. And even though I was helping to teach them computer and English, I know that I learned so much more from them than they could ever learn from me. The kids are naturally intelligent, funny, interested, and happy. They will always be my inspiration. 
Guria made me a better person. But more importantly, Guria is creating better lives for people. Guria is making a real change in the world. I can’t wait to come back."
--Ada Rauch, Princeton University, USA

"During my time in Varanasi, it was the time I spent at Guria that had a great impact in my life. I learned so much working with Ajeet and Manju, and really enjoyed my time at the center and the school boat with the children. Working with Guria has made me feel apart of the entire family of staff! I am excited to continue working with them in the future!"
--Aisha Govani, McMaster University, Canada

"GURIA has done really great work. I could easily see the sign of hope in the faces of those little children. GURIA has provided them with a place to share their feelings, meditate, think about their future, play, laugh, and relax. I also noticed that GURIA is now their second home and one of the best places where they can spend time. It has slowly helped them to be strong and self-sustaining. All in all, I believe GURIA has helped them a lot to overcome their misery and suffering which they would otherwise be forced to face. Thanks to GURIA and its good work."
-Sandhya Sitoula, Nepal

 "My time spent at Guria in the spring of 2010 was incredibly eye-opening. Despite the quality of their lives, the children held such brightness and shared such love, laughing and taking care of each other. I still feel inspired by the hope they held, and how they made an effort to make something of their lives. One afternoon when I was volunteering, I brought in a big white cloth, paints, and brushes and they sat around on the floor decorating this flag. I found immense joy in watching them sit quietly immersed in their designs—a room full of talented artists. My life will always be marked by the buoyant souls of these children." 

--Calypso Thomson, Bennington College, USA

"I walked through the gates and stepped up to the stairs. I stepped into the room and all of the kids went wild. I tried to tell them I was Azza's sister, but I couldn't. I wanted to say that I am so happy to meet them, but I couldn't. All of the kids wanted to know what the metal wires on my teeth were. And although we do not speak the same language, I found a way to tell them. Not by English and not by Hindi, but by the human language. This made me realize how much I am like those kids. And how very important connecting to them is.  A hug, a smile, a dance or two we shared; I will never forget my days at Guria."
--Daniella Cohen, Chicago, USA

"My experience working with Guria was incredible. From the opportunity to conduct a personal interview with the founder, Ajeet, to interacting with the children I was continually inspired and impressed with this foundation's work. Not only are all the staff dedicated but all truly believe in a brighter future for women and children out of prostitution. This NGO is taking a prevalent and difficult problem and approaching it with positivity and strength. If and when I am in Varanasi again I will not hesitate to spend time volunteering with Guria and supporting such a powerful organization! Namaste." 
--Laurien Emrani, Global College at Long Island University, USA 

"Ajeet saw me sketching, and we got to talking about the arts. I'd come with my group of 10 to visit the office and center for a day. He said, 'math, science, reading, writing, these things are important. But if this is all there is, we create ugliness around us. Art connects us to the journey, the inner journey. And that is really important.' I couldn't agree more, and decided then and there to forego my plans to travel to Thailand and return to Varanasi to work for this organization. They work fearlessly to bring hope and justice to those who would otherwise be forgotten. At home, I couldn't get the children's faces out of my mind, and they greeted me when I arrived, smiling." 
--Cobie Wentross, Portland, Oregon 

"The passionate staff at GURIA warmly welcomed us to explore how they improve the lives of children and women in dire circumstances. The visit was moving and awe-inspiring. Let not the scourge of prostitution and exploitation render any child or woman its victim. May GURIA flourish and continue to be a ray of hope."

-Rajai Bimbo, USA

"I had no idea what to expect prior to my visit to Guria Sansthan, but if I had been asked to guess what I might find, it would not have been a courtyard of smiling, happy, children. Despite the obvious turmoil that is present in the lives of the children in the red light district, there was an overwhelming spirit of joy present at the school. We sang songs (in Hindi- I hummed and clapped my hands), played games, made clay figures, meditated (yes, a room full of children were *meditating), *and they taught me several new dance moves. I nearly collapsed in laughter when they showed me their version of the 'Macarena.' The experience was both heartwarming and at the same time, heartbreaking. I was enchanted by the children and deeply moved by the level of compassion they received from the staff, yet I kept thinking about the reality of their lives outside of Guria Sansthan."
-Onawa LaBelle, Smith College, USA

"Incredible work, love, and energy is thrown in bounds each day working with these children. Mayhem and sugar high frenzy would be an understatement. Grabbing at me from all directions, pulling my rings off fingers then replacing, rearranging my bindi and hijacking my camera all at once. It was like being in a mini people tornado. Insanity and little soul beauty all rolled into one! After what felt like hours of mini people mania, the kids were coaxed into sitting position forming rows. Amazingly they obeyed Hindi instruction and were chanted into meditation, eyes closed not allowing to touch one another. One by one after much fidgeting and tight eyed focus, they all started dropping off into little balls, laying themselves down and curling up in their saris to rest. This process pretty much left me speechless. After megawatt energy and straight up insanity, every child was now in silent meditation lying on the floor. These children are born from prostitute mothers who work on the same street as the center, so it's a refuge and home for children to be together as family, learn English and other curriculum, interact and be loved by the volunteers. Their energy knows no limits and their caste does not limit their love. Crazy, fun, interested, beautiful and wise beyond their years, the children are old souls in miniature form. It was an honor to witness the work and dedication the volunteers put into this program and a blessing for every child to be a part of it, in a country where poverty and distress have no bounds. Wearing huge smiles all around."

-Yasmin Shima, Sydney, Australia

"Working with Guria is an inspiring experience to all who have a passion for the youth in India who will make a change. There are many bright boys and girls at the foundation who found a way into my heart during the all-too short visits to the school. I can only hope that the reach of Guria expands across the country to reach all the families with so much potential. I don't doubt I will come back to visit!!"

--Rachel Magruder, Global College at Long Island University, USA

"I visited GURIA at the time of the Holi Festival and I was amazed by the energy of the kids. It was a very colourful day and I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for the invitation!"

- Franzi Beierlein, Germany

"The most striking moments while traveling abroad are not the times when you notice the differences between another country and your own, but when you recognize the deep similarities that run between cultures and people. One of my most special experiences during my time studying in Varanasi was the Diwali celebration at Guria’s non-formal education center. The kids could not contain their glee as they showed us the decorations they’d made, as they ate a special meal and watched fireworks. The excitement in the air was palpable and reminded me of holidays during my own childhood. I am impressed by the work GURIA does, through many channels, to end sex trafficking, but I am particularly impressed by their dedication to the children of Varanasi’s red light district. Not only do they regularly provide them with meals, educational support and a nurturing atmosphere, they also make it possible for the kids to just be kids - to experience the delight and wonder of a special day."
-Britta Seifert, Kalamazoo College

"I first visited GURIA to prepare for an observation/interview study, and came to tag along to the non-formal education center to meet the children and look at the organisation there. To meet the kids was great, and the center seem to do amazing work in the red light district thanks to the devoted personnel of the school and the rest of the GURIA staff. It is beyond doubt that the work they do is of great importance to the children at the center, their families, and the community. I look forward to seeing more of GURIA's work and hope to be able to benefit them in their struggle against trafficking in Varanasi!"
-Emma Eliasson Åström, Gothenburg University, Sweden

"The time I spent there was an experience I will never forget. When I first heard about GURIA I felt an incredible amount of adoration. This is an organization with passion, courage and love. I am deeply touched and often think about the colorful children at the center in Varanasi. I am truly grateful I was able to spend time with the kids and found myself learning life lessons from them."
-Callie Smith, Connecticut USA

"I visited GURIA with my friend, Jayne in February 2007, and we absolutely loved it there. Manju and Ajeet made us feel very welcome. It was really heartening to see all the hard work that Ajeet and Manju put into the women and children. Their hard  work and passion gave real hope to women and children who would otherwise have had no choice but to work as prostitutes. Ajeet and Manju showed them that they didnt have to be abused, they gave them new choices. GURIA provides a home and education to children who would not usually get this. I found it very hard to learn that, as children of prostitutes,  they are seen as 'outcasts' and therefore not allowed to attend school. Ajeet and Manju dont see them in this way though, they see them as children who need love and care and they advocate for their right to attend education as well as providing it themselves. Ajeet and Manju are changing peoples lives and giving them hope and opportunity. When I visited some of the women were using their performance skills, singing and dancing at a local hotel, to make money. They were also making things to sell and attending education classes. GURIA had given them new life and new hope. I think often, and fondly, of my time spent at GURIA. Ajeet and Manju are very brave people. they have risked their lives to keep the children safe. They have had threats made on their lives and been vilified by the Police and judicial system for rescuing the women and children. The stories they tell, and there are many many sad and shocking ones, have not been believed and they have been arrested by the very people who should be supporting them. They have never given up though, despite serious personal risk. They are very courageous people and I admire them very much. When I returned to England I spoke about Ajeet and Manju's bravery. I raised some money from English people and sent it to GURIA. I also sent some toys and clothes. It is not enough. The children need more money and more help. This work that Ajeet and Manju are doing will not stop. The attitudes towards these. I  hope very much that I will return to GURIA again soon and see the children again."
-Sue Sammes, Hampshire, England

"I'm slowly exploring and understanding the GURIA project. It was really interesting to see the creation of a space for change which through education addresses structural and cultural sources of violence."
-Fausto Aarya De Santis, Kautilya Society, India

"Diwali was a perfect day for my first visit to the GURIA Center. The festival is a celebration of light, and of the triumph of good and hope over the darkness of night. At GURIA, the firecrackers and children's smiles lit up the night as proof that kindness and hope can succeed." 
-Chhaya Werner, Princeton University, USA

"Being at the Guria Center for Diwali was a wonderful experience. I was blown away by the intricacies of the clay models that the kids made and warmed by their hospitality when we arrived. It's great to see how Guria is such a safe haven for so many of these beautiful, artistic, and talented children."
--Evelyn Karis, Princeton University USA


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