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Down Team Reflections

Wednesday 1 August 2018

I would describe my Saphara journey as a whirlwind of emotions, travelling and teaching, with the most extreme highs and lows. Everyday has brought new inspirations, from our taxi conversations on the way to Kaplani, to singing Ring a Rosie’s with a group of girls in a tiny playground in the midst of the Himalayas, trekking through the Donk community with Surender, standing with Dr Reeta, a pillar of strength amongst the devastation of a flooded SNEHA and simply sitting laughing with the team. Saphara has awakened a heart for social justice within me and a deep sense that we must do more and do better when faced with the most extreme circumstances of poverty. It has been a privilege to be part of this team, and I walk away from Saphara having learned immensely more, from our team, our staff, our students than I could ever have taught.

Rachael Jordan, Assumption Grammar School

My India journey with Saphara has been a whirlwind of emotions and a fundamental learning experience since day one. Through the children I have worked with at SNEHA, Donk and Kaplani, I have reconsidered and changed my outlook on education and have been humbled in more ways than one. From the unfortunate event that occurred resulting in SNEHA being temporarily closed to the joy on the children’s faces at Kaplani during lessons has represented some of the highs and lows of the trip. This experience lives up to the reputation of being a ‘journey with purpose’ as I have been overwhelmed and in awe of the young Indian children’s positive outlook on life. They are the epitome of the adage ‘the glass is always half full not half empty’, which should be something we should all aspire to be. I have also learnt of how fortunate I am to have everything I have in life, from food on the table, to a supportive family and I can safely say this experience has opened my eyes to the rest of the world and given me a more positive mindset for almost everything in the foreseeable future!

Charlie Griffith, Down High School

My Indian experience has most definitely been a Journey with a Purpose. I have enjoyed every moment of it. This journey has taught me many things such as, the simplest things in life can mean so much to people. I have totally been inspired by some of the people I have met on this journey for example, Surrender Singh, Dr. Reeta Rao, her son Ronjoy, teachers at both Kaplani and SNEHA who all given up their time to better the lives of these children and most importantly the wonderful children themselves that I met and got to know. They are a credit to themselves and their schools. I thought I understood the meaning of the word ‘poverty’ until I came here and experienced it first–hand. It has changed my outlook on life completely. I feel so lucky and privileged to be part of this Saphara team and have shared so many happy memories with the team and leaders who made the experience all the better. Safe to say I can walk away from this journey having a new outlook on life and having learnt so much. I hope to return soon!

Eirinn Braniff, St Patrick’s Grammar School

India has definitely been a once in a life time experience for me. I have learned so much about myself and about how poverty affects people around the world. Working with my Saphara teammates has afforded me so many opportunities to learn about others and myself and has enabled me to gain new friends. Teaching at Kaplani and SNEHA was an incredibly rewarding experience and has impacted my life dramatically; the level of commitment shown by the pupils to learning and their true desire to further their English understanding was inspiring to see. Furthermore, along the trip I have met so many wonderful people who have offered me new perspectives towards how I act in life: Surrender’s commitment to the local community and to helping others was incredible; and Dr. Reeta’s life journey through SNEHA was insightful to learn about. Throughout the trip, my perspective towards poverty around the world has thoroughly shifted. I have learned that despite living in such a negative environment, people and communities will rally together to achieve more and inspire others. Finally, I have learned that although our time in India has been brief, it has helped so many others and has truly made an impact.

Owen Edwards, St Patrick’s Grammar School

One word I would use to describe my Saphara journey is incredible. I have enjoyed every single moment. Although there were a few challenging times, they allowed me to gain a new perspective on our world today and grow as a person. I feel so lucky to have been able to meet and work with some of the most inspirational and humble people, including Surender Singh, Dr Reeta, the pupils and teachers at Kaplani and SNEHA, our leaders and my peers. This experience has taught me that true happiness is found in simplicity and selflessness. The craic has been great, I will honestly miss the Indian experience so much. I’ll be back soon enough!

Claire Hanna, Assumption Grammar School

During the course of the last sixteen days I can safely say that Saphara has changed my life. Every single day I have learnt more and more about the world and just how different other cultures are in comparison to the life we live. We met many inspirational people including Dr Reeta and Surender who are some of the most inspirational characters I have ever met. The whole trip really opened my eyes not only to the injustice in the world but also to just how important education is and the tremendous empowerment that Saphara provides for these less fortunate children. We saw a lot of things over the last fortnight, some that were a lot harder to process than others; however, I couldn’t have asked for a better team. The leaders and teachers were all amazing and so supportive. I feel as if I have found a purpose to help bring education to the lives of children who have grown up in a world of poverty like you cannot imagine. I definitely don’t think this will be the last time back to India I realise now just how important it is to help provide education in order to create a way for these young children to find a route out of their life of poverty. I can safely say that going on Saphara was the best thing I have ever done with my life and I hope that I will be able to come back some day. Until then I will continue to spread the word about Saphara’s amazing work!

Dylan Scullion, St Patrick’s Grammar School

I was never sure that Saphara was something I could do – going to India with a group of young people from Ballynahinch and Downpatrick. But I can honestly say at the end of this journey, it has been one of the best experiences of my life. It has been a trip with mixed emotions with many ups and downs. Getting to meet inspirational people who have shaped the way I look at situations has been such an honour.  The children I have met changed the way I look at my education – I now realise how much of a gift school is and I will never take it for granted. I have loved every moment of this trip and every single person on this Down team has made it so worthwhile. I have made new friends for life and cannot wait to share my experience with others. 

Ellen Brown, Down High School

This Saphara trip to India has been filled with many ups and downs and memorable moments that have changed the way I think and act. I can safely say that the people I have met on this trip: including Surender, Dr Reeta, the students at Kaplani and SNEHA and my team members have all truly inspired me to do the best I can and be grateful for all I am given. We never truly appreciate all we are given until we have seen how easily it can be taken away. I know that I will never forget this amazing trip in years to come.

Niamh Gibney, Assumption Grammar School

My Saphara journey has been the experience of a lifetime. It has been packed with extreme highs and lows. Throughout this journey, I have met the most amazing, motivational people such as Dr. Reeta Rao, Surender Singh and of course the students at both Kaplani high school and SNEHA. I have witnessed scenes of poverty that have shocked and saddened me, yet I have also experienced extreme feelings of happiness and fulfilment. It has been a privilege to know that in some small way we have tried to make a difference. The journey would not have been the same without my amazing team without whom I would not have laughed half as much! India has a piece of my heart and I know I will be back some day.

Caitlin Hale, Assumption Grammar School

When I first applied for and then got onto the Saphara team, I was nervous about the experience that I was about to have. Once in India with the team my fears faded quickly. With this amazing team I quickly discovered the enjoyment I got from teaching the kids of SNEHA and Kaplani High school. Seeing the enjoyment on their faces every morning drove me to create better lessons that they would learn from and enjoy. The best experience I had on the trip was playing rugby with the team and the children at Kaplani. The trip did, however, did come with its challenges. Visiting the marginalised community was one of the most difficult experiences of my life and it was truly heart–breaking to see how little these kids have. This trip has been the best experience of my life and I am glad I shared it with such an amazing group of people.

Jack Murnin, St Patrick’s Grammar School

I never could have prepared myself for the multitude of emotions I felt in India, from a sense of achievement and happiness when the kids in Kaplani and SNEHA understood something we taught, to a feeling of utter despair upon seeing the flood at SNEHA fill the playground. Saphara has allowed me to become a better person and be part of a team that has grown from strength to strength since we first met. We have taught together, we have lived together, but most importantly, we have grown together. After seeing the work first hand, I believe that we have made a massive impact on the lives of the kids and we all realise that, with the help of Saphara and other supporters, this is not the end of SNEHA – it is the beginning of an amazing new chapter that we will look back on in 10 years’ time and be proud of what we achieved.

Aodhán Caldwell, St Patrick’s Grammar School

To say that that our trip to India has been life changing would be an understatement. This trip has given this team an opportunity to put our lives in perspective, to allow us to see how privileged we are, but also has allowed us to recognise our ability to make a change in this world. This experience has opened my eyes to another side of the world; the children we worked with in Kaplani and SNEHA were truly amazing, the extent they travel and their engagement with learning is nothing short of inspiring. I will never forget the children we taught, and their pride in their learning and most importantly their smiles despite their circumstances. My Indian experience was enriched by the people I shared it with. Our team became a family and I believe this experience will encourage us to make a difference everywhere we go. In conclusion, the last sixteen days have changed my life. I will never forget the friends I have made, the children I have taught and the difference a smile can make.

Lorcan Quail, St Patrick’s Grammar School

When I first applied to be part of the Saphara Down team I thought it would just be a good experience and something else to add to the CV but that all changed when I took my first steps in India. Seeing the culture was breathtaking and I’ll never forget my very first moments in Delhi. I also never thought I would feel such a sense of achievement teaching the children from SNEHA and Kaplani schools and how quickly I could form bonds with all the children. These children have such a hunger for learning and that hunger has inspired me in such a way that I too have that hunger for learning. Saphara has also been a range of emotions for me, from pure happiness watching the children showcase what we have taught them to utter devastation seeing the effects of the flood at SNEHA school. Also, I never knew I would be privileged enough to meet such an inspirational woman as Dr. Reeta Rao hearing what she has done and what she sacrificed to build SNEHA was nothing less than inspirational and I know I will take her words “Be the change you wish to change in the world” everywhere I go. Another highlight of my Saphara experience was working with my team. All my team mates were so compassionate and caring towards the children and so respectful of the Indian culture. The bonds I formed with all my team mates truly made Saphara an unforgettable experience and I hope in the years to come that this can be an experience we can talk about again and again. The teachers of the Down team were also an inspiration and I hope in the future I can be as kind and responsible as them. The founder of Saphara, Christine Burnett, is another inspiration of my Saphara experience. How she founded this amazing charity is truly nothing less than inspirational. My Saphara experience has been nothing less than amazing and I now know the true meaning behind the famous Saphara motto “Journey with Purpose” because this trip has been exactly that for me.

Jennifer Quinn, St Patrick’s Grammar School

This Saphara trip has exceeded any expectation I had. It has been so inspirational and has definitely been life changing. It has given me a new perspective on the world as we got to see so many different sights. After meeting so many inspirational people such as Surender and Dr Reeta, they have given me so much hope for the world and that there are such godly people who are making such a difference. I never thought that in such a short space of time I would create such strong relationships and I wouldn’t have asked for a better team to experience this with. They have all been so supportive and caring throughout the trip especially when members were feeling down. I truly think going on this trip to India has helped me to experience the true India and I would not have wanted to spend it any other way.

Helena Mitchell, Down High School

To say that this trip to India with Saphara has been one of the best experiences in my life would be a very big understatement. To witness what we have over the past two weeks has been truly eye–opening. These experiences have impacted all of the Down Team in many different ways and from this our team has become closer. We had the opportunity to meet amazing people who have impacted all of their community and all of us at the same time. Knowing that Surender and Dr. Reeta gave up all they had to help people and provide the things that were lacking was truly inspiring. Everyone in the team has been positively influenced by these amazing figures to do something for other people in the world. Helping the children in both SNEHA and Kaplani was a wonderful experience and I’m grateful to the teachers for allowing us to spend those moments with the children. I will never forget what I have witnessed in these two weeks, both the happy and the sad moments. For me that was the best part of the trip – knowing that you never knew what was going to happen or what you were going to see and that’s something I’ll be able to reflect on in years to come.

Keely Hagen, Down High School

In the beginning I was apprehensive about the Saphara experience – spending more than two weeks in a country that I knew very little about was a daunting but exciting prospect. However, as I started to meet the team and when we arrived in India my fears and doubts immediately disappeared. India has been a once in a life time experience that I will cherish greatly. There have been many positive experiences during the trip, the predominant one was seeing the children in Kaplani and SNEHA. Teaching them was an absolute joy as the children were so grateful, excited and ready to learn. Seeing their faces when they understood a question or got the right answer was magical. However, India did have its challenges. The poverty in large cities like Delhi is shocking and one will never get used to it. Seeing children beg or try to sell items just to get food is heart breaking. In conclusion India is a country and an experience that I will hold dearly in my heart and if there is a chance to come back to India I will jump at it!

Thomas Fitzsimons, Down High School

My experience with Saphara had been nothing but extraordinary. The company, the places I visited, and the people I met were inspirational and exciting, and I hate that I now have to leave it all behind. I have learnt so much from this trip, especially from the children at SNEHA and Kaplani and especially from Dr Reeta and Surender, who are the most passionate and compassionate people I have ever met. I have seen poverty in a way I have never seen, and I can say that my Saphara experience has ignited a fire in me to help the underprivileged in any way I can and fight for justice and equality for everyone in the future. It has also made me so much more aware of what I have at home, and what others lack in the world, and I feel that I have grown as a person. It honestly has been a lifechanging experience for me on so many levels. It tested me emotionally, and physically, from the trek to Donk, to the heart–breaking day when SNEHA was flooded. But these are the events that made this trip so unique and special, and I know that this is not the end of my Saphara journey, but just the end of one chapter, and I will be eagerly waiting to start the next one!

Jenny Jose, Assumption Grammar School

My Saphara journey has without a doubt been the most amazing experience of my life. The people we encountered at each stage of the journey have inspired me in so many different ways from my Class 10 pupils at Kaplani to Surender, to the young pupils under Dr. Reeta’s care at SNEHA. The inspirational SNEHA teachers after the devastating flood and of the course the best team and teachers! This has been the most life changing journey and opened my eyes to a world of poverty I thought didn’t exist beyond the television screen. Saphara has shown me the importance of raising awareness and the joy that goes with making a small difference to the lives of those less privileged. I can safely say I hope to see India again!

Lucia Paolonelli, Assumption Grammar School

I don’t think words can really describe what my trip to India truly felt like. The overwhelming enjoyment that I felt on this trip was nothing near to what I thought it would be like due to the amazing team that accompanied me and made the experience much more exciting. The day that stood out the most for me was my final day at Kaplani; this day was made special because firstly, the spectacular view of the Himalayas but saying goodbye to the pupils (although emotional) seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and the bond that I formed with the children was truly overwhelming. The trip consisted of many ups and downs, one of which was seeing how SNEHA was affected by the downpour of monsoon rain the previous night. Although what happened was devasting, seeing the local community coming together to repair the damage showed no matter how little you have you can make a difference. During the trip I learned the importance that education serves in the local community – how it transforms families is something that I will never forget. I could never have asked for a greater team, and the experience that I had was truly the most amazing I have had so far and I will never forget it.

Harry Cross, Down High School

Since arriving in India, every day I feel like I’ve learnt something new about myself and the world around me. Watching amazingly pure people like Dr Reeta and Surender Singh transforming struggling communities was a true inspiration. It showed me that positivity and resilience can allow you to build whatever you want, from the ground up with support from only a small few. During the trip I also realised how privileged I am to have free education at home and how I can sometimes take it for granted. The children in Kaplani, Donk and SNEHA are truly role models in their outlook on not only school but life; they make me want to better myself not only as a student but as a person. This trip has completely changed my mindset on the way I live out my day to day life – it was most definitely a journey with purpose.

Jack Martin, Down High School

My second journey with Saphara has been wonderful in many ways. Through the interactions with my fellow teachers, our wonderful pupils and our very special hosts it has served to impassion me more than ever to love the poor. If I were to share my key learning points they would be summarised by two words; courage and listening. Seeing the difference that acts of faithful courage have made in the lives of the pupils of Kaplani and SNEHA has been truly humbling. Secondly, seeing the wisdom in the leadership of Surender, Dr Reeta and Ronjoy in how they listen so intently, and give a voice to the poor has taught me much. As one of our students quoted anonymously, ‘Real courage is sacrificing the things you have for others without the guarantee of success’. These earthly saints demonstrate this quality every day. It is a privilege to partner with them.

Andrew Miller, teacher, Down High School

I have been so lucky to be a part of the Saphara experience this year. I have found this journey to be extremely rewarding and fulfilling for not only our students but also for the students at Kaplani and SNEHA. It has been very evident that our students have developed a deeper understanding of the injustice within the world as well as an appreciation of the Indian culture. Although, at times it has been emotionally challenging, it has been a great experience, especially with such a supportive team and group of teachers. I have loved being a part of this amazing journey.

Michelle Black, teacher, Assumption Grammar School

Saphara 2018 has most definitely been a Journey with Purpose from the outset. It has been an extremely rewarding experience which has made me more thankful for everything I have. It is only when you experience the poverty and social injustices first–hand, that you realise that no matter how small an action you do, can and does start to change the lives of others for the better, which was evident in our work in Kaplani High School and SNEHA. Surender, Dr Reeta and Ronjoy are at the forefront of change and give selflessly of their time for the better of others through education. I could not have imagined doing Saphara without the excellent group of teachers, who all brought so much more extra to the Saphara 2018 experience. I’ll be back!

Vincent Toner, teacher, St Patrick’s Grammar School


Posted in Down Team 2018
on Wednesday 1 August 2018