India Office

It all started with a boat ride along the Ganges in 1994 – a traditional requirement for visitors to India’s holy and ancient city of Varanasi. The waterfront is lined with beautiful old palaces, temples and crumbling monuments that add to the city’s feeling of mystery and inspiration.

In 1994 WLC was looking for a permanent base in India in order to help strengthen and oversee its programs and work more closely with its local partners. Varanasi (also known as Benaras), in the state of Uttar Pradesh where most of WLC’s programs were located, was the ideal location.

After meeting with the Maharaja of Benaras, who owned several buildings on the river, WLC signed a lease for the Ganga Mahal, an historic building located in the community of Assi Ghat, on the banks of the river Ganges. WLC was the first foreign development agency to move into this city of over one million people. The Ganga Mahal has come a long way from its sordid state as an inexpensive guest house when WLC first took it over. Many months of clean up transformed the building into the calm and clean space that was admired by all who visit and loved by everyone who works there.

WLC had become a well-known part of the Assi Ghat community as a result of the local office. Since its official inauguration in 1995, the Ganga Mahal was a central part of WLC’s programs in India.

The Ganga Mahal was much more than just an office – as well as being the base and workspace of WLC’s 20 local staff, it served as a training centre for WLC literacy teachers, health workers, partners and staff on a regular basis each year. From 1998, the Ganga Mahal also hosted Canadian youth internships and volunteers. It was the “home away from home” for the many WLC volunteers and staff from Canada who have spent weeks, and often months, working in India.

The Ganga Mahal played a valuable part of enabling WLC to build a strong, locally accountable program in India with Indian staff and community support. All of the energy and enthusiasm of our donors, staff, volunteers and supporters were made concrete inside the Ganga Mahal. This was the place where our local staff, Canadian interns and supporters were transformed into global citizens; where our ideas about social justice were able to take shape and become tangible efforts; where our imaginations were permitted the freedom to imagine beyond “what is” to “what could be.” Here, we drew the inspiration for our work from the beauty of the Ganges River, the energy of the vibrant and dedicated Indian staff, and the strength and determination of our partners. It is our hope that we can all be inspired by the transformations that took place inside and outside the Ganga Mahal and take action to transform our own lives, and the lives of others in a positive way.