College Team 2018

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

Arriving in Delhi

8th April 2018

Upon arriving at Delhi airport, we were welcomed so warmly and presented with necklaces made from beautiful flowers. We were all very tired yet excited to be finally in India after all our efforts of fundraising and preparing throughout the year. Despite being aware of the poverty suffered by many in this country, it did not prevent the shock of seeing people lying or begging on the streets as we drove through.

We awoke this morning very excited for our first day in New Delhi. It began with a trip to the West Side clothing shop to purchase our Indian dress. This task proved to be more difficult than originally expected – we were spoilt for choice! After taking some time to deliberate which dress matched a certain colour of trousers (typical girls), we made our way back to the hotel to get ready to head to the Gandhi Smriti museum.

We spent an hour at the museum exploring the gardens where Gandhi took his last steps before being assassinated. Touring the house in which he lived was a very interesting and educational experience.

After returning to the hotel, we gathered for our first Indian dinner together. There was some nervousness and apprehension regarding whether or not we would enjoy the taste of the Indian food. However, as soon as everyone had their first taste, it was clear that the food was not going to go to waste. Almost everyone had seconds and a few people even squeezed in room for thirds!

After dinner an early night was on the cards to prepare for Day 2, and it’s safe to say we didn’t have to be told to get some sleep!

Michaela Doherty, Stranmillis


Agra and the Taj Mahal

9th April 2018

After a well–earned sleep we awoke ready for a day of exploring and sightseeing. It was amazing to see everyone come down for breakfast in our traditional Indian dress, the colours and designs of the kurtas (tops) were even more fabulous than in the shop.

Following our breakfast, we boarded our bus for the day for our 4–hour journey to Agra, the original capital of India. Although we were leaving Delhi at 6am there was still such a hustle and bustle about the city, it could have been a peak time in the middle of the day. It was great to be able to travel during the day and see the countryside, people on the fields and the sheer beauty of this country. From the last stages of the bus journey we were able to get a glimpse of the Taj Mahal in the distance, this added to the excitement on the bus!

Before going to the Taj Mahal, we had a quick coffee pit–stop and met our lovely (and very smiley!) tour guide for the day, Manoj. He made us feel so welcome and provided us with all the information we would need about the day. As well as being reminded to top up the sun screen and drinking plenty of water – it was HOT!

Walking through the entrance gate to the Taj Mahal and seeing parts of the bright marble through the gaps in the crowds of people added to the anticipation of seeing this wonder of the world in all its glory with our own eyes. There are really no words to describe the picturesque masterpiece, it was so amazing to see. The King had built this for his wife after her death to be her final resting place. She died shortly following the birth of their 14th (!!) child. It took 20,000 men 20 years to build and the descendants of the workers of the Taj Mahal still live in the grounds. The history and story of love behind the Taj Mahal added to its beauty.

We were treated to a beautiful lunch near–by and had an hour or two to recharge our batteries before seeing Agra Fort in the afternoon. Manoj had told us the story in the Taj Mahal about the King wanting to make a replica Taj Mahal in black for his own resting place. The Prince, who didn’t want his father to ruin and bankrupt the kingdom, arrested him and placed him in Agra Fort as a prison. It was great to experience both places, as well as having a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal from the Fort.

Once we had been immersed in Indian history it was time for our bus journey home. Once again by the time we reached our hotel it was straight to bed. We have a day of travelling tomorrow, to reach the Himalayas. Something we are all very excited about!

Claire McErlean, St Mary’s College


Travelling to the Himalayas

10th April 2018

Our day began with an early 5am wake up call. We gathered our rucksacks and made our way to New Delhi train station with a six–hour journey ahead. New Delhi station was bustling with people waiting to board the train. This was definitely an overwhelming experience and we were thankful for Christine and Jo who guided us through security to the correct platform and our allocated seats on the train. On the journey, we enjoyed seeing more rural parts of India, watching farmers harvest crops, children in the fields and seeing the pigs and monkeys roam. Others spent their time catching up on some well–needed rest after our busy day yesterday, and we all made some final preparations for our lessons tomorrow.

We made a brief stop at McDonalds before making the final journey to the Himalayan Club hotel. What a car journey! The twisty road brought incredible views as we made our way to the hotel. We were surprised by the amount of people as we made our way up the mountain. We had an enthusiastic greeting from some Indian children who were excited by our arrival.

This was a day of beautiful views and we are all heading to bed early tonight in anticipation of an exciting day teaching tomorrow.

Suzanne Hamilton, Stranmillis


Hello Kaplani!

11th April 2018

Waking up on Monday morning looking at the spectacular views of the Himalayan mountains was definitely not disappointing. We packed up our rucksacks, had a quick breakfast and jumped into the taxis to head to Kalpani High school. We were all very excited to teach for the first time in India but nervous as we all did not know what to expect!

The assembly in Kalpani High School was definitely an experience to watch. The children all stood in rows with many of them turning around and looking at us with the smiles on their faces. I was very impressed with their English and how well they behaved while the Principal was talking. The national anthem was sung and they read out the news of the week led by the students which was brilliant to see. When the assembly was over, we started getting ready to teach the children.

I was teaching class 7 alongside Michaela and Ciara. The class contained 15 loving and excitable children. I could not believe the level of English that the children had and It was amazing for being their third language! It was such an experience to be a part of.

We then observed the girls’ resilience programme at Kalpani. Seeing the girls come together in the school to take part in activities was brilliant as it allowed them to gain their confidence and to improve their self–worth. It was also great to be participating with the girls!

At lunch time, we went to see the children eat their midday meals. This was the highlight of the day for me seeing where our fundraising goes to and to see the children eat all the food with them getting seconds and even thirds! We then had a trek up the Himalayan mountains. The views were outstanding even though it was exhausting for us all!

We lifted our rucksacks from our hotel then headed back to Dehradun on the long and windy road in the taxis. We arrived to Hotel Relax who welcomed us and gave us our wonderful rooms. We experienced for the first time the well–known way of transportation in India –Vikrams– to a lovely restaurant in the middle of Dehradun. This was a magnificent feast after a long, rewarding and activity–packed day! We went to bed early as we needed to be bright and breezy for teaching in SNEHA school in the morning!

Melissa Robertson, Stranmillis


First Day in SNEHA

12th April 2018

This morning’s wakeup call brought great excitement with it as we knew that we would visit Sneha school for the first time. Outside the hotel, our vikrams awaited and we travelled in true Indian style through Dehra Dun’s traffic. As we approached the school we were faced with the first harsh reality of the trip as Christine pointed out the river bed around which many of Sneha’s pupils live. However, these pupils that come from such humble backgrounds greeted us with fantastic smiles and waves as we approached the school.

Sneha presented itself as a haven within the challenging surroundings. The school building itself is so impressive and paired with Dr Reeta Rao’s story of how it was established was truly awe–inspiring. I was touched by Dr Reeta’s story of how she turned her back on a high–profile medical job to help the children of the marginalised community gain an education, and in turn an escape from poverty. One message rang in my ears throughout the story “You’ve got to keep the faith.” It was amazing that such a simple idea had developed into a school that was home to 1100 pupils and that Saphara had aided this amazing establishment.

A music filled assembly greeted us with a focus on faith, positivity and empowerment led by the year 7,8 and 9 girls. From the beginning we could tell that this was a school filled with love and support. Before we knew it, it was time to step into the classroom. I taught in Year 7 alongside Michaela and Melissa. We were so impressed by the level of English that was being taught as the pupils could fluently engage in conversation as we played ice breakers and got to know them. The pupils enthusiastically participated in our lessons and the classroom was somewhere that we felt right at home from the beginning.

We left Sneha filled with joy, excited for our return to the smiling faces in the morning.

Ciara Rafferty, St. Mary’s University College


Happy Birthday Joe!

11th April 2018

At breakfast this morning no–one knew what to expect before visiting the marginalised community which filled the room with excitement and nerves. The silence in the vikrams ahead of the journey outlined the anticipation everyone felt. Although everyone had an image in their head of what they thought the community would be like from pictures they had seen but nothing could compare to seeing this first hand. I feel this experience humbled everyone in the group and made us stop and think about what really matters in life and these children are already able to do this.

The day followed with celebrations for Joe’s birthday in the school and Dr. Reeta Rao kindly provided a cake and created a huge display board with “Happy Birthday” written on it. Meanwhile, Dr.Gracie presented in–service training for teachers from SNEHA and Kaplani High School. Our team enjoyed conversation classes with Class 11 and 12.

There were seven pupils in my conversation class and we discussed; our families, friends, school, animals, music, food, our dreams and ambitions. This class went so well and I brought pictures of my family to show the children what my family looked like.

The students taught me a few phrases in Hindi and I taught the children phrases in Irish which was slightly hard on both sides. We all gained so much from this conversation class; friendship, confidence and laughter.

Ríoghnach Moore, St. Marys University College


Receiving Letters from NI!

12th April 2018

This morning we were taking assembly in SNEHA school. The team shared feelings of excitement as well as nerves during final preparations. The children responded well to the assembly and were overjoyed to learn a new song we taught them.

Afterwards, we were straight into teaching in our teams and it is amazing to see the pupils’ enthusiasm to learn without fail each day and the welcome we receive. Today Class 5 were responding to children’s letters from Northern Ireland. This was an extraordinary experience for them which was seen in all their faces especially when they found out they could keep their letters personally written to them.

In the afternoon we were introduced to the girls’ resilience programme proven to be an eye–opening experience when hearing the stories, the girls’ shared with us and how they overcame the situations they were placed in. It was great to see the confidence, skills and bravery the girls have gained over the past eight months through the support of this programme.

We also observed how SNEHA provides work–based training for girls and women in the community such as sewing and henna application. This is a brilliant initiative as it teaches them skills for employment whilst receiving a small income. The team were so excited to design and get their own henna done, delving into the Indian culture. We all love them!

In the evening we planned our final lessons to teach tomorrow and rehearsed our final celebration performance for the children. The restaurant “Salt and Cravings” was so good earlier in the week that we returned for a relaxing and enjoyable evening to end the day.

Anna George and Laura Taggart, Stranmillis


Final Reflections

My time with the Saphara student group 2018 was one filled with laughs and learning as we immersed ourselves in a totally different culture. I will bring back with me the passion and smiles of our pupils as a fond memory. From their dancing and singing to their general enthusiasm I have been inspired by their want to learn. I will never forget my time in India and all the amazing people I have met along the way.

Ciara Rafferty

Never did I expect to see such joy from a group of people living in the depth of poverty. We live in a society where we never have enough, we throw out what is broken, and take everything for granted, while the poorest people in India are content with the very little they have. Who would have thought that a 14 year old would be ecstatic to be presented with a simple sticker? That a 9 year old would insist on carrying your books to class for you? Or that an 18 year old would so eagerly request a hand shake? At first everything about India was loud, busy and frightening. As our travels came to a close, I viewed the country through completely different eyes. India is bright, cheerful and beautiful. The culture is strong, the food is great and the children are amazing! I return home with a newfound sense of compassion, the desire to do more to help others and to one day return to this wonderful place yet again.

Corrie Murray

Nothing could have prepared me for the last 10 days in India, the emotions, sights, sounds, relationships made along the way and the beautiful faces of the children we met. It is extremely hard, albeit impossible, to choose just one highlight from our trip. However, for me it has to be the children in Sneha Doon Academy. The warm smiles and handshakes we were greeted with everytime we walked past a classroom made my heart burst. It was hard to think that these children may not be given the same opportunities or reach their full potential due only to their circumstance. That is why it was amazing to see first hand the fantastic work Saphara are doing and the changes they are making to the lives of young people in India & giving these young people the opportunity.

Experiences like this truly change you and I am going back to Ireland a more appreciative and reflective person than before, with even more passion for education. As future educators we have such an important role in young peoples’ lives and our trip has highlighted the difference we can make.

Claire McErlean

The smiling faces of the loving children that greeted me everytime I walked into a classroom in Sneha was incredible! Teaching the pupils of Sneha has been one of the most amazing and enjoyable experiences I have ever had. The love, happiness and eagerness these pupils had to learn was fantastic to witness and to see children with so little aspire to fulfill their hopes and dreams was amazing to see. This is a teaching opportunity I will never ever forget!

Laura Taggart

Before going to India I had an image in my head of what it would be like, and it was ten times different! I had the best experience here over the past ten days and we did things I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to do. From planes, trains and vikrams we travelled to Delhi, Agra and Dekhradum. Arriving in Delhi we soon realised that India was a busy and noisy country, very different from home. The next day we travelled to the Taj Mahal which was amazing, people queued for hours to see this wonder of the world.

We then travelled to Agra where we visited the Kaplani high school and taught 15 year olds. It was clear how nervous and excited everyone felt before teaching however the children’s warm welcome soon put us to ease! After a day of teaching we walked through the Himalayas and the views were incredible.

We then continued our travels to the SNEHA school the following morning which was the beginning of the best week. I couldn’t believe that there were 47 students in each class which made me think if I would be able to control them all, much to my amaze the behaviour in this school is one which I had never experienced before and the children were so well behaved and respectful. We taught lesson from shapes, our feelings, our families, P.E. and music and the children loved every minute! Our last day at SNEHA school was an emotional one and no one wanted to leave. The children and teachers had practised all week to put on an outstanding assembly from Indian dancing to Punjabi Marshal Arts, I just couldn’t believe the talent each child here had. Later we travelled back to Delhi to prepare for the last day. First we went to the girls school to watch the graduation of the new B.E.d teachers, followed by a visit to the peaceful Lotus temple and the busy markets. We ended the day in the Irish embassy for dinner which was the best ending to a life changing trip!

Ríoghnach Moore

Throughout the past 10 days in India, I have experienced things I never thought I would: things that cannot fully be understood through the use of words. Firstly, I have loved being able to work as part of the Saphara team and have met some of the most incredible people. The Saphara staff members and the other students were so supportive and we had a great time working as a group. Along with seeing some amazing sights, such as the Taj Mahal, the Gandhi museum and even trekking through the Himalayas, teaching in Sneha school was certainly my highlight of the entire trip. The children were an absolute pleasure to teach and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to practice in such a friendly, loving and supportive learning environment. In seeing the work carried out by Saphara first hand, the trip has truly helped me to understand the struggles of some of India’s young people (young girls in particular) and has encouraged to me to do as much as I can to support them! This was a trip I will never forget and I am extremely grateful to have had such an opportunity.

Aisling Chada

The past 10 days in India has been an unforgettable experience! Working with an amazing group of girls both from Stranmillis and St Mary’s university was an amazing opportunity, allowing me to share teaching ideas and reflect upon the challenges and experiences we faced in India. Teaching in SNEHA school and Kaplani high school was unbelievable! I could not believe how loving, happy and welcoming these children were who were living in poverty and only had the basic essentials to live upon. These children will always have a place in my heart and I’m really glad that Saphara has give me the chance to participate in such a fantastic opportunity!

Melissa Robertson

The biggest and brightest smiles I’ve ever seen came from the children at Sneha school. I feel so privileged to have met and had the opportunity to teach such wonderful children who continually strive to learn and cherish their education so dearly, despite living in such overwhelmingly deprived areas. The love each and every child conveyed to us every single day was overwhelming and teaching in Sneha school is an experience I will never forget.

Michaela Doherty

I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to be part of an amazing experience with a great team! SAPHARA is doing a great work and the memories with the children of SNEHA will last a life time! My eyes have been opened to the poverty these children are living in and it’s been a privilege to be a small part of making them feel loved and valued!

Anna George

“Complete.” A word some little boys in our Sneha class loved to shout when they finished their task. In one sense our time in India is complete. We have embraced the culture, given 100% in our teaching and most importantly we have loved well. It was an incredible experience which will never be forgotten. Although for us this experience is complete, the work in India is still ongoing. We leave India in the knowledge that the children we loved continue to attend school and have their lives transformed through the power of education. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela.

Suzanne Hamilton


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