OM Focus – Celeste Spink (MO 2013-18)

Last year you completed your gap year in which you spent time volunteering at the Sambhali Trust. Can you tell us a bit about what they do?

The Sambhali Trust is a non-profit organisation based in Jodhpur, India. Sambhali was set up in 2007 by a local family to support women in the city of Jodhpur and the surrounding villages. Many of these women are severely underprivileged, considered ‘untouchable’ by much of society. Sambhali (meaning ‘Rising of the deprived woman’) aims to empower through educational programs, vocational training and social services across nine different centres. The women are taught to sew along with basic maths and English, the end goal being to create greater ‘self-esteem, unity and independence’ (the Sambhali motto). To help with this process of empowerment, the women graduate after a year and are given a sewing machine. This allows them to maintain their independence by taking in sewing jobs, giving them the means to become more self-sufficient.

And what did your roles there involve?

I volunteered with a prep-school friend, and together we taught English to two classes on a daily basis at one of their newer centres called Abhivyakti (the Hindu word for ‘expression’). These classes took place each afternoon while in the mornings I also taught a class on my own at one of their other centres. I soon came to realise that as volunteers we were helping to provide so much more than just an English lesson. While the girls initially came to the centres seeking a basic education, they also found friendship, community and fun – especially on Wednesdays when we held workshops aiming to broaden their knowledge of the world around them. These afternoons also provided the girls with a chance to relax and be creative… and were filled with laughter, felt tips and henna!

How has your time there affected you and your outlook?

My time at Sambhali has taught me such a lot and opened my eyes to the inequalities in this world. The majority of the girls and women at the centres are from low castes and some have backgrounds of physical and sexual abuse. I’ve come away with a better understanding of real lives and society in India, and a far greater appreciation of how fortunate I’ve been to have had access to the education Marlborough offers, as well as the freedom and responsibility that comes with it. These women live in a world where their every move is dictated by men, and to break that tradition by pursuing an education can be met with resistance and disgust. Back at home we are often culprits in taking education for granted and treating it like a chore, while these women are so hungry for knowledge and have to fight so hard to get it. Some of the Sambhali women were so bright and naturally intelligent, and it’s sad and frustrating that there just isn’t the opportunity in their society for this potential to be fully harnessed and realised.

How was it coming back to the College to take part in the Life After Marlborough series of talks?

I feel that Sambhali is such a worthwhile charity and one that should appeal strongly to Marlborough pupils, especially but by no means exclusively for the girls; and for that reason we were very happy to come back and give a talk to the Upper Sixth to raise awareness for Sambhali and hopefully encourage some future volunteers, or possibly even some future fundraising or charitable donations. We also thought some of our new-found appreciation for the amazing education we gained at Marlborough might usefully rub off on the U6 pupils ahead of their A’levels! We were looked after very well and over lunch in Norwood beforehand we had a great chat with some of the prefects, finding out about university and gap year plans (whilst having a pretty good reminisce ourselves!).

What do you hope to do next?

I’m in my first year at RVC reading vet medicine which is hard work but I’m finding the course really interesting so it’s not too much of a chore! At this early stage, I don’t know yet where my veterinary career will take me but as its a five-year course I figure I’ve got sufficient time to work on that. I’d love to spend some time working abroad, and ‘big cats’ are a particular passion, so who knows. Watch this space!


To find out more about the Sambhali Trust or to donate to them, have a look at their website.