• Kim-Cherie Davidson


With a yearning to leave her known world and material goods behind, this Newcastle resident accepted an invite to live and work in another country without hesitation. It was an adventure dream that sat high on Melinda Lee Harvey’s bucket list. With no particular country in mind, she was at dinner on her last night in India when an opportunity came up to return to the subcontinent.

She had been on a 10-day Taste of India Eat, Pray, Love Shop trip that included five-star hotels, cultural and food experiences as well as an ashram stay.

Included in the trip’s cost was a donation to a non-government organisation Barefoot College, which nurtures, supports and empowers women in the least developed countries in the world.

At a dinner with the college’s founder and CEO Bunker Roy, Melinda Lee was invited to volunteer and live on the college’s campus in Tilonia, a village in north India.

“When I saw his business card with a logo, similar to one I had been toying with for a personal blog – I felt it was something I was destined to do! So, I seized the opportunity,” Melinda Lee said.

On the 14-hour flight back to Australia, she wrote a list on what needed to be done to return to India. Within two months, Melinda Lee had let go of her possessions and established life. By mid-January 2015, she boarded a flight to India with no set agenda or itinerary.

“I was excited to live out of a backpack and have new experiences. To simplify, reduce everything and feel contented. My comfort zone was gone – I had no home, no work, and no possessions.

“At Barefoot College, I was greeted by a local with a chai. I looked at my surroundings, and I was not worried. I knew it was the right decision as I felt settled within myself and at home.”

Within the first 24 hours, she was sitting on the floor, eating rice and dhal with her hands; there was a cold-water bucket toilet, solar hot water bucket for bathing and a metal-frame bed with a thin mattress.

“I was discovering a culture so opposite to mine and learning about living in a rural village on the edge of the desert, especially the extreme temperatures.”

Melinda Lee became a volunteer coordinator, which included showing people around the campus – volunteers, students, dignitaries and visionaries.

“I was meeting people from all around the world, who had the same mindset, to help make the world a better place. It was definitely the time and place to live out inspirational quotes, like Gandhi's ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ and Buddha’s ‘Live in the present moment’.”

Above: Melinda Lee and two Solar Mammas from Kenya

Top: Melinda Lee at a Jaipur temple

One of her volunteer highlights was working with the Solar Mammas, women from remote rural villages across the globe, training to be solar engineers, one of Barefoot College’s programs.

When not working, Melinda Lee travelled with new friends to cities near and far, like Coimbatore, Chennai and Delhi.

“We went with Indian friends and travelled like locals – eating street food, catching trains and experiencing the real India, not the tourist side.”

“Living and working in India cracked me open, peeled some layers away and unlocked new levels of being – a new consciousness of self”.

After the six-month stint, Melinda Lee was contracted to work for Barefoot College and returned to India on a one-year business visa. She went on to travel in the Pacific Region on assignment. In 2016, she returned to Australia and still works part-time on the college’s solar electrification project in the South Pacific.

Her other bucket-list ticks include climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, skydiving, travelling within six of the seven continents and a Global Himalayan Expedition to Phuktal Gompa (monastery) in northern India.

In the future, Melinda Lee aspires to travel to the seventh continent – Antarctica, live in Mexico, travel the Pacific Islands with her daughter and go on a seaplane.

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