"Your project is fundamentally important to the peace process"
Irish Ambassador to India, Mr Ken Thompson
Dr Christine Burnett is the founder and CEO of SapHAra
When Christine first visited India in 1998, she was overwhelmed by the indescribable poverty as she visited huge slums where many struggled to survive. Yet in the midst of such heart-breaking scenes, she met children whose greatest desire was to get an education – literally their only hope of escaping poverty. As a teacher, she was deeply moved by their plight and determined to find a way of helping these children.
She returned to teaching at Methodist College Belfast, in the hope filled weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Peace agreement. Having been involved in the Peace and Reconciliation movement since her youth, Christine was struck by the great responsibility which educators faced in building a lasting peace across two deeply divided communities. Equally she felt passionate about giving Northern Irish young people the opportunity to see the challenges she had just witnessed facing young people living in poverty in India.
As she shared with her students how determined these children were to get an education, Claire spoke up,
'Giving them money is not enough. We need to show them that someone cares.'
So began the trips to India, which gave final year students the opportunity to join an educational programme for children living in Delhi’s poorest slums. What most excited Christine was that the benefits flowed equally in both directions, with both the Indian and Northern Irish young people learning from and inspiring each other.
Spending time in a different culture with its many issues and difficulties, gave the NI young people time to reflect on Northern Ireland’s own challenges to build a peaceful and just society. A key part of Christine’s vision for this experience was to create a safe place where young people could engage in issues of poverty, justice and faith in the wider world and be motivated to take action.
As each team of young people engaged in these life–changing encounters, Christine felt inspired to bring these transformational journeys to many more young people, and so in 2008 she gave up her teaching career to set up Saphara. She recruited Catholic and Protestant schools who shared her vision of inspiring students to become local and global citizens through Saphara’s ‘Journey with Purpose’.
Over the years this has developed into the year-long Saphara Transformational Leadership programme, where young people discover their potential to change the world, for themselves and for others. Over 30 schools in Northern Ireland are involved in the programme, both selective and non-selective and from all sections of the community. 120 young people and teachers take part in the programme each year which culminates in the India experience.
Watch Christine’s TEDx talk below, which was part of the Belfast Festival at Queens in 2014.
Saphara believes that every child is of immense value and worth and that education is key to enabling disadvantaged youth to overcome poverty. The charity focuses on educational projects which build capacity, and strategic interventions which empower young people. Saphara works in partnership with local NGOs that can demonstrate buy-in and ownership from local communities. Such organisations are uniquely placed to effect long-term and sustainable change.
We have the following objectives:
• Empowerment of adolescent girls from Dalit, tribal (Adivasi) and other marginalised communities through resilience and health programmes run by local NGOs, enhancing their self-esteem and aspirations.
• Support local Indian NGOs in providing education for marginalised and excluded children.
• Engagement of Northern Irish young people with issues of poverty and justice through facilitating transformational encounters with disadvantaged children in schools run by local Indian NGOs. Sixth-form students in teams from Protestant and Catholic schools, who have historically had little engagement with each other, take part in a year-long preparation programme culminating in travel to India.
Where your money goes
Saphara keeps the cost of participation in the Transformational Leadership Programme low, so that it is accessible to all young people who have the chance to take part. The rest of the costs are covered by the fundraising that we do. If you were to donate to Saphara...