College Team 2019

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

Day 1

The excitement of our journey kicked in as we all met at Glengall Street, despite the 4:30am start. Elaine and the St Mary’s crew following behind in the car. We arrived at Dublin airport with 15 large and very heavy rucksacks to be checked on to our flight. A quick flight to Amsterdam from Dublin, allowed us to congregated at McDonalds, for one last meal before things got spicy. Our excitement grew as we got our visas checked and boarded our flight from the Dam to Delhi.

The 9-hour flight was long for some, but Finbar kept himself entertained by making friends with a few Indian men. Even getting some Irish out of them. We were welcomed to Delhi airport like royalty with flower garlands and lots of stares. Despite it being 3:30am, the city was buzzing! Delhi truly is the city that never sleeps.


Day 2

After a quick 5-hour sleep, we were up and about ready for our first day in the big city. We all gathered in Finbar’s room for our breakfast and to hear about today’s itinerary. Our first stop was getting kitted out in our Indian clothes. Travelling to the department store, was an experience for the whole group. The beeping of vehicles, people everywhere and lots going on it was amazing to be in the middle of it all. The girls really enjoyed shopping for our Kurta’s, and styling them with scarfs and bottoms. Finbar was the Gok Wan of the group helping the girls with some fashion tips. Afterwards, we headed to McDonalds for a taste of Indian fast food.

The afternoon of day two was spent at Gandhi’s museum. It is hard to believe that in a city so busy and fast, that there is somewhere so tranquil. The museum was really informative on all aspects of Gandhi’s work, including seeing where he spent his last few days prior to assassination. Later that evening, we gathered with members from ‘The Women’s Programme’, who told us about the work they do with young girls here in India. Their words were so inspiring and they clearly are so passionate about helping young women achieve their full potential in life. It was great for the group to see what our fundraising money goes towards and how it is helping fund their work. The talk was followed by some yummy Indian cuisine that left everyone’s bellies filled, ready to rest for tomorrow.


Day 3

Today was one that has left us with memories that will last a life time and pictures that speak a million words! When the alarm went off at 5.15am we all jumped out of bed with the excitement of wearing our new Indian clothes down to breakfast as we prepared for a day of exploring and sight-seeing.

We set off and made the four hour trip on the bus from New Delhi to the city of Agra. Surprisingly the city was full of life, even so early in the morning there was a hustle and bustle. The journey went really quick as we all were enjoying looking out the windows, taking in the Indian way of life and the countryside and beautiful landscapes. When we were driving through the city of Agra for the first time, I had seen all sorts of cows on the street which was strange to see but what struck me was their calm and gentle nature. They didn't move when all the rickshaws beeped their horns or the big bus tried to squeeze past.

I was so excited to visit Agra as this is where the famous and spectacular Taj Mahal is located. Over the past few weeks I had been teaching my placement class about this magnificent wonder of the world and thus to actually see it through my own eyes was spectacular. The sheer size, ornate design and large gardens left us all in amazement and of course we couldn't leave without a picture holding the top of the Taj Mahal. Finbar went to extreme lengths to get the perfect angles and Elaine had tactics to get a picture with our Indian scarfs blowing in the wind!

The weather today was extremely hot with a high of 41 degrees!! As you can imagine most of us have never experienced such heat but we carried on with a few bottles of water, sun cream and sweat in places we didn't even know was possible!! A few hours in such heat left us ready for some time in shade. We enjoyed a buffet style lunch close by and time to relax, cool down after baking in the sun and recharge the batteries. My favourite dish was the dahl which was full of spice and flavour.

After this we went for a drive through Agra and stopped at a local marble shop to see how the marble products are made. This was very interesting and the men working here showed great enthusiasm and passion which made the experience very enjoyable.

We then made the journey back to New Delhi and as you can imagine, the majority of us had a sleep on the bus! We have an early start in the morning as we prepare to take the train to the Himalayas! We are so very excited for the next part of our trip.


Day 4:

We began our day with great anticipation despite the 4.30am wake up call to be packed and up for a quick cup of tea and a slice of toast. We made our way over to the busy train station where many people were gathered. This was a fast-paced procedure to pass through security with all our rucksacks safely to the right platform. We were all very thankful for Jo who had put great thought and preparation into getting us there safely! We all had nearby seats and settled into our cabins safely ready for our six-hour journey. As the sun rose, we got an amazing view of different rural parts of India. On the journey we enjoyed seeing monkeys, cows, dogs, chickens roam the land. We also got the chance to relax and get some rest to prepare for the busy week ahead. We made some arrangements for our dance workshop which we are all very excited about it. We made a brief stop at McDonalds before making the final journey to the Himalayan Club hotel. This journey was one we will all remember and a lot of us felt exhilarated by the views and the bends. For me personally, it was like a one-hour long rollercoaster. Thankfully Sarah had a sleep mask which I put to great use. We were surprised at the amount of people who appeared to live on this mountain and it gave us a good insight into Indian culture.

We finally reached the top and dropped our bags off and organised our rooms. We then had a bit of a talent show getting prepared for our dancing tomorrow. We were lucky enough to get to explore some of the villages which was a lovely opportunity. We even got to see a monkey perched up on a motorbike. This was a great day for all of us, we have relaxed this evening and taken in the beautiful views. We are all heading to bed early tonight in anticipation of an exciting day teaching tomorrow!

Catherine McGarrity


Day 5:

In the early hours of this morning, it was agreed to get up and watch the beautiful sunrise across the Himalayan mountains. However, some of us appreciated the extra hour in bed while others woke up, saw it was bright and just assumed the sun had risen and returned to bed. Maria and Finbar were the only successful students to actually see the sunrise- the picture was good enough for me!

We packed up all our belongings, had a quick breakfast and set off in our taxis to Kaplani High School. I’ve never been more excited and nervous at the same time.

School started with assembly which was lead by the children of all ages. The children all stood in strict rows and sang their national anthem, prayed and discussed daily news. Once assembly was over we split up into our teams ready to teach the pupils a selection of dances. The plan of action involved each team teaching a class their chosen dance. These involved; A Gum Boot rhythmic South African dance, a mirror dance based on Moana, a German folk dance and jump-style and Katie and Grainne had used hundreds of elastic bands to complete some French skipping with the pupils.

We then rotated around each class to ensure every pupil had the opportunity to learn all five dances. Then, all the classes would come together and perform their learned routines altogether. The whole thing came together really well and the happiness and joy seen in the children’s faces made this a rewarding experience.

Myself, Erin and Laura were teaching the jump-style dance which in my opinion was a favourite of many of the pupils as during their final performance as a whole school they asked to do it again! And again!

We got the opportunity to observe the pupils receiving their mid day meal which was a really valuable experience as it allowed us to clearly see how our fundraising money is being used. The pupils washed their hands, received their metal plate and got a large portion of rice and Dahl. I’ve never seen any child eat as quickly in my life- needless to say, no food was left at all!

Then, we were supposed to set off on a trek in the mountains and take in the amazing views. However, the heavens opened and extreme thunder and lightening prevented us from setting off. Instead we returned to the hotel to eat our packed lunch which we had prepared for the trek.

We were absolutely drenched and freezing (something I thought I would never say in India). Thankfully, Katie, Catherine, Maria and Aisling saved the day by providing us all the cup a soups, noodles and mug shots to warm us all up- I’ve never been happier! Finally, we set off in our taxis to head down to Dehradun. We had time this evening to prepare our lessons in our teaching teams ready for SNEHA tomorrow! Can’t wait to get into the school and start teaching.

Sarah Miller, Stranmillis University


Day 6

The day started with mixed emotions of nerves, excitement and slight tiredness as we prepared to make our way to SNEHA school for the first time. However, there can be no better way to wake yourself up in the morning than a journey in a vikram!

Arriving to SNEHA school, we were greeted with singing voices and smiling faces during assembly, which instantly calmed all nerves and only increased our excitement and appreciation for this opportunity- how can you feel nervous when singing and dancing with 1100 happy faces? I felt that we were in a safe haven despite the poverty that surrounded the school.

Following an introduction to SNEHA school by Dr Reeta, we split into our three teams to teach classes 2, 5 and 7. It felt amazing to be here, in India, doing what we have been planning for and thinking about for so long- and most importantly having fun with these pupils.

To finish off the day we couldn’t forget about the birthday girl who was lucky enough to celebrate her 22nd birthday in our company. Happy Birthday Maria!

Today was a day of learning for the pupils and also ourselves. Personally, I learned that;

  1. English phonics are more difficult than you would expect (thanks Gillian)!!!

  2. Indian names are beautiful but extremely difficult to learn and remember.

  3. Despite language barriers, enthusiasm and energy can be universally recognised and shared between ourselves and the pupils……

Erin Watts


Day 7

‘SNEHA’ means loved. As we got out of our vikrams, there was a feeling of love and warmth as the entire school faced us to get their school photo. It was very special and something as simple as that was enough to energise the team for the busy day ahead.

Before our lessons, we had the chance to browse through the beautiful products created by the girls who took part in the vocational training at SNEHA. We purchased some lovely items but I’ll not give too much away because, if you are lucky enough to have someone special on the team, you may find out what they are soon enough.

In between lessons, we taught all the early years children four dances, led by Elaine. This was very new for the children and their teachers, but everybody had an amazing time and their little faces were beaming with happiness.

After our next lesson, we were taken to visit the marginalised community. We were surprised at how close it was to the school; two minutes from happy, safe SNEHA to an opposite extreme. It was a hard-hitting experience for each of us. Nevertheless, it reminded us why we were here and, personally, I returned to school even more determined to give the children everything I had to make whatever difference I could during my short time here.

During the afternoon lessons, the teachers approached Katie, Laura, Taylor and Aisling because they were inspired by their elephant art and because of this we will be hosting an art training day for teachers in the hotel tomorrow.

At the end of the day, we went to the second part of Gillian’s phonics training. Just before we left, more girls from the vocational training arrived to give us henna ‘tattoos’. The great thing about these programmes is that the girls learn henna art after the school day and are then able to earn money because of their training.

Back at the hotel we began thinking of something cultural to perform at Friday’s assembly. Spoiler alert – it involves us all Irish dancing. I’ll leave you with that image.

Sarah Robinson


Day 8

Breakfast at 09:00, what a treat!! After quite a few early mornings on our trip (yes mum, I managed to get out of bed at 05:00), we were lucky enough to have a little lie in thanks to the local elections. Due to the aforementioned elections, the school and most of the shops and businesses in Dehradun were shut to encourage people to go and vote. This gave us the opportunity to spend the morning in our hotel with the wonderful woman that is Dr. Reeta Rao.

We were able to have some very open conversations about SNEHA school and the Girl Champions programme. This was such a humbling experience to hear all about the sacrifices that have been made by many in order to empower women and children through education.

Following this, we spent some time with a number of the teachers from SNEHA in a workshop devised by the College team following a request from some of the teachers to learn more about educating children through art. It was wonderful to have time to chat with fellow teachers and share our ideas on how to deliver art across the curriculum. It also gave us an opportunity to get to know the staff at SNEHA on a more personal level and build important relationships that have definitely made an impact on each of us.

The rest of the day was spent planning for our final day of teaching and organising our cultural assembly. We finished the day off having a beautiful dinner at Hotel Inderlok and having a Vikram race back to our hotel through the streets of Dehradun!

It is hard to believe that our time here is nearly at an end. It has been an incredible experience to work alongside the amazing teams at both schools who have allowed us to have the opportunity to teach their beautiful children. We have witnessed the resilience of so many teachers who have dedicated their lives to empower through education.

Taylor McCoy


Day 9

Bags packed and resources for our last day at SNEHA gathered around us, we ate our last breakfast and headed for the school. Over a very short period of time we have built relationships with the children and the staff. This would give the impression that we were all very enthusiastic for the day ahead but, for some of us (maybe it was just me), there was a sense of trepidation as we were to start the day with an exchange of cultural dance and music. This began with a beautiful and meaningful display of traditional and contemporary Indian dance from both the older boys and girls. Then it was our turn. The SAPHARA team sang and then performed a Céilí dance. We were also the backing dancers for Erin’s solo Irish dancing. Considering the short time in which we had to put this together, I think everyone at home would be impressed by our performance (maybe not mine).

After the previoarus days of teaching and sharing of good practice, both students and lecturers were pleased to meet with our new friends again. The staff at the school were keen to watch our student teachers deliver the kind innovative art, science, literacy, music and dance lessons they have become accustomed to. In such a short period of time our College students have understood both the limitations and capabilities of the children and the learning space at SNEHA. They have used their knowledge, understanding and the limited resources at their disposal to create effective lessons that have not only enthused the children but fully engaged them in a wide range of topic-based lessons. Teachers, students, lecturers and children all took part today and there were lots of laughs and fun! The teachers at SNEHA have commented on how the children have been displaying new talents that they hope to cultivate in future. They are also very excited to develop dance in the school, to implement the phonics training using the new resources and to develop their use of art in the curriculum with the many resources provide by our students.

Our guests have been so welcoming and generous in every way so it was very difficult for us to say goodbye and head back to the hotel. Aisling couldn’t bear to leave so she left her handbag behind and she had to go back for it! Once we had eaten some lunch, we headed to the station in the ever popular vikrams. The conversation on the train was all about the schools, the children, what we had learned and how we could do more. I think some people will be back in India one day in the future.

Gillian Beck


Final Reflections

Taylor McCoy

Education IS empowerment. The past 11 days in India, working with Saphara at Kaplani and SNEHA, has made me realise just how empowering education really is. I feel truly honoured and humbled to have had the opportunity to work alongside my peers and incredible teachers to help those in their educational journey, if only for a short time.

Leah McCormick

Before joining the SAPHARA team, I knew India had a special place in my heart and I have loved being here over the last 11 days. Meeting the children and teachers in SNEHA and Kaplani helped me understand the value of developing relationships in the classroom. The team teaching with the other students encouraged and motivated me throughout our time in India. Seeing the impact of the Midday Meals and Girl Champions programmes was an experience I will never forget.

Catherine Maguire

My SAPHARA experience has been indescribable. I will be forever grateful to the teachers I met and to the children we taught and learnt from. This whole experience has been amazing and I feel so honoured to have been a part of it. The short but valuable time spent in India, teaching in Kaplani and SNEHA, has developed my educational outlook completely. Firstly, the teachers of SNEHA, are solely driven by the satisfaction of helping their pupils strive for better things through education. Secondly, the children of both Kaplani and SNEHA are so grateful for education and this is reflected in their attitudes to learning. This trip was an experience I will never forget and I can only ask ‘When can I come back?’

Sarah Miller

I will never be able to fully describe the experience I have had over the past 10 days. Arriving at SNEHA in the Vikrams, seeing all the children lined up and singing songs in their assembly will be a moment I will never forget. The passion shown by the teachers of the school was truly inspiring as their hard work and dedication really brought the school to life. The pupils of the school will always have a place in my heart as their kindness and laughter made me smile every day. However, I think the best part of this trip was creating strong friendships with the team members from Stranmillis and St Mary’s which will hopefully last a life time.

Sarah Robinson

We each have a lot to learn from the children in Kaplani and SNEHA. I left home with a very open mind as I had no idea what to expect from the SAPHARA experience. I am coming home with many emotions as I witnessed the hardships that children and their families face to receive an education and even survive in their conditions. Very quickly, it became obvious that we really do take so much for granted. As a team, we were so shocked to realise how much the teachers wanted to learn from us, the student teachers, and how they were so thankful for every idea we shared with them. I hope I can always remember their yearning for more knowledge and training as I go forward in my teaching career. Despite their circumstances, the children in my class greeted me with such enthusiasm and a passion for learning every single day. I will never forget my SAPHARA experience and I will never again question if a difference can really be made in such a short time. Every encounter with a child has the potential to positively impact their life. I am so glad to be connected with a charity that I know really does change lives.

Erin Watts

I expected to come to India to teach children, but I didn’t expect to be taught such invaluable lessons from these children that I will never forget.

Aisling Johnston

My time on Saphara has been one of growth and laughter. I learned so much, not only about the children we taught, but about myself and the kind of teacher I want to be. Jo said the key to Saphara is relationships and this has been proven on this trip. The relationships with the team, with the children we taught, with the teachers we taught alongside, with every person we met. This has been an experience of a lifetime. There are truly no words to describe the beauty of India and the people who live there. I would tell anyone to jump at the opportunity to go. It is inspiring to see the hard work Saphara does in practice in the schools. A small gesture can make a huge difference. "If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children" - Mahatma Gandhi

Finbar Burns

I truly believe that India is one the most vibrant and exciting countries in the world. This Saphara trip was an experience that will live with me forever and has already left me itching to get back to India to help educate the impoverished and keep closing the gap in gender inequality. I made friends for life through an awe-inspiring experience.

Maria Armstrong

My experience with Saphara has been everything I could have imagined and more. It has given me a completely new out look on life. Seeing the children of Kaplani and SNEHA arrive to school so well presented, with smiles on their faces and eager to learn despite where they may come from filled my heart with so much joy. Saphara means journey with a purpose, and I don’t think I could sum up the past 10 days any other way; it is a charity that’s purpose is to help change the lives of those who need it most and from what I have seen this is certainly true. I am so privileged to say I have been a part of this fantastic charity, along side an amazing team and inspirational leaders.

Grainne Clancy

My Saphara adventure in India has been one that has opened my eyes and touched my heart in a way that can't be put into words. I am humbled and honoured to have been given the chance to teach the amazing children in SNHEA and Kaplani who are so lovable and filled with such joy despite the poverty that they are faced with. The work of Saphara is without a doubt changing the lives of so many children in India and seeing where the money is going has given me a determination and drive to help Saphara in the future.

Laura McKillop

My experience in India has had so many memorable moments; from learning I’m not as bad at dance as I thought... to a trip on a moped (sorry Jo). However, one thing I will always remember about India is the genuine joy and enthusiasm from the children and teachers we met in both Kaplani and SNEHA. Another is looking over the wall in SNEHA on the last day and seeing people lifting rubbish from the river below. This really made me realise the importance of SNEHA as a safe haven and a chance to escape poverty and how vital the work of Saphara is in Dehradun.


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