A MUSSELBURGH woman spent Christmas more than 4,000 miles from home – working on a project to combat poverty in India.
Monica Young is part of a team of volunteers on a project to empower people in rural Rajasthan, focusing especially on youths and women.
The group is working with the local community to improve standards of education, awareness of sexual health and access to support from the Indian Government, which many people in isolated parts of the country are often denied.
Monica, 21, spent the festive season working in a local girls’ school to set up a youth parliament and teach children about democracy and government systems in India.
She also engaged with youth groups to set up a night school for lower caste communities and a health camp for pregnant women and children to receive medical treatment, vaccinations and nutrition.
Monica, who is on a three-month trip, said: “I came to India because I feel passionate about social injustice and the need for change.
“I don’t mind missing one Christmas back home, although it’s a bit strange spending the festive season listening to Christmas songs surrounded by sand and camels.
“I turned 21 on my first day in Delhi and everyone made sure I had a great time – my team-mate Bhavesh surprised me with cake and balloons.”
She also explained what they had planned for Christmas.
Last week, she added: “We’re going to plan a meal with British and Indian Christmas food.
“My team members from Madya Pradesh and Kerela are Catholic and celebrate Christmas, so we exchanged a vast range of traditions. They were really excited when I drew them pictures of Santa, snowmen and reindeer.
“This Christmas will be one I will never forget!”
During the trip, Monica is living with a local family – an experience she described as “amazing”.
She added: “My Indian counterpart, Ann, and four host sisters and brother sit at night playing games, laughing and talking – it’s amazing how much you can communicate without vocal language.
“On my first week living with my host family we celebrated the Hindu festival Diwali, had pooja (prayers) and went around the village receiving blessings and sweets.
“My family say I’m Rajasthani now, as Monica is a common name in India, and I love the chillies and no longer find the food spicy.”
She admitted not spending Chistmas in the Honest Toun with her family would be tough.
“It’s really started to sink in how much I’m going to miss spending Christmas with my partner and family,” she added. “My favourite part of Christmas is sitting around the table having our Christmas meal and sharing memories.
“Coming to a developing country makes you very grateful for what you have, and I feel very blessed to have a happy, healthy and loving partner and family; I love them all so much.”