Down Team 2014

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Oven

11th July 2014

Hello all! Claire and Conor SS here writing from the Singh Palace Hotel in Delhi! Hope you’re all missing us.

We finally arrived today around noon after 26 hours of travel, from Dublin to Dubai, and Dubai to Delhi! The 7 hour flight was something else, with a hot flannel on arrival followed by complimentary drinks and a delicious chicken tikka masala main and hot fudge brownie dessert. The entertainment system had every song, movie, TV show and puzzle you could want, so it wasn’t a surprise that the flight flew in (pun intended). After arriving in Dubai Airport, we discovered duty free where we stayed for the next three hours! The fellow travellers in the airport as well as the staff were very welcoming and interested in our trip and what our ‘Journey with Purpose’ was! After a two and a half hour flight we finally arrived in India, where the 40 degree heat immediately hit us as we stepped outside. We then split into three groups and travelled in Indian taxis, and that was an experience in itself! The traffic was crazy and it’s safe to say that Indian driving is an entirely different experience to our driving! Aside from that, we arrived at our Hotel safe and sound where we took a quick power nap before our next outing.

In the afternoon we then split up into our taxis and travelled into the centre of Delhi where we ate in McDonalds and bought our Indian clothes in FabIndia.

There were lots of vivid colours and patterns to choose from and the staff were extremely helpful in colour coordinating our outfits!

After this exciting day we were brought back to the reality of where we were when beggars approached us. Although it was difficult to ignore them, it gave us an insight to what we may experience in the next few weeks.

This evening we had our first group meal in the Hotel along with our first Indian cuisine, butter chicken, traditional roti bread and Indian rice. After the meal the team leaders surprised Conor SS and Erin with birthday cake! Erin’s birthday was 9th July and Conor’s was today. Finally, to conclude the meal the students and leaders gathered in a circle and Dominic briefed us all as to what our journey would be tomorrow! We ended with a prayer and are now heading to bed! Good night from India with love from all the team and keep an eye on the blog!

Claire and Conor SS xx


12th July 2014

We left the hotel at 6:30 to begin our four hour long awaited journey to one of the world’s most famous monuments, the Taj Mahal. After our journey to Agra we made a stop at the Trident Hilton Hotel. Then walking off the bus we were greeted like royalty into this cool, dry air conditioned hotel. In the courtyard garden we cold see a large pool full cool blue water which was tempting to jump into, and we looked enviously at the people swimming. At the hotel we received refreshing cold drink which was definitely needed. After our refreshments we were introduced to our tour guide who would be taking us around the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Getting off the bus the poverty we had talked about for the previous months leading up to our journey became a reality. There were hawkers everywhere, coming up to our face and trying to sell us things such as bangles, postcards and whips…? We were feeling guilty but all we could do was continue to walk. Arriving at the Royal Gate of the Taj Mahal we were gobsmacked, it felt like a dream!

The heat was on a complete different level from anything we had ever experienced, it was unbelievable!

We posed for photos and heard the wonderful romantic story of Taj. We couldn’t quite believe that we were actually here. As well as us taking photos, people were taking photos of us which was very unusual and Bronagh and Claire were asked for a photo by two Indian women!

We went back to the Trident Hotel for a buffet, the buffet was unbelievable with a full three courses. After we cooled down and filled up on food we returned to the bus for tour around Agra Fort, which was no less interesting in the humid heat which was nothing compared to the heat. We ended our tour with a trip to a marble factory where we were given a demonstration on how the marble in the Taj was decorated and learnt how much time and effirt was required! We ended our day in Agra with a visit to Costa Coffee and Pizza Hut. While at Pizza Hut Emma, Erin and Jenny went to the restroom and we’re stopped by Indian girls birthday party and we’re persuaded to learn ‘Happy Birthday’ in Hindi. Today was a very memorable day in what is going to be a trip of a lifetime. We would like to thank our teachers for all their support and help throughout our preparation for and now on journey in India!

Sarah and Johanna xx

On the Road Again

13 July 2014

This morning we had another early start at 4.45 so everyone was looking and feeling rather tired!

We had a six hour train journey to Dehradun, during which we planned two lessons for our teaching at Kaplani tomorrow. Many of us commented on the levels of poverty we saw along the railway lines and at stations. We had the chance to speak with some passengers about our trip. When we arrived at our destination we went straight to McDonald’s for lunch. We may fall out of love with Ronald soon. After we were sufficiently fuelled we headed across the road to the hotel to see the Belfast and student teams. They shared some insight into the workings of the classes at Kaplani and gave us some tips for the rest of the trip. After this we made our way to Mussoorie along very busy and scary winding roads; we saw a few monkeys too. We have settled into the Gateway Hotel where the views are magnificent. We had Indian food for dinner and after our first reflections played a few games and now we are heading for an early night to prepare ourselves for a day of teaching ahead. We are glad the travelling is over and we can start what we came to do.

Love Orla and Jenny xx #GossipIndia

Monsoon Fog

14th July 2014

Greetings to family and friends at home. We are all well and enjoying our time in Mussoorie. Today began with a less early rise from our slumber, but it was still fairly difficult to remove ourselves from our comfy beds. The journey to our first school in Kaplani, along roads like something from Mario Kart, was in thick monsoon fog but in truth the journey was worthy of the reward.

We entered Kaplani High School and were greeted by the children in assembly and the teachers awaiting our arrival. The assembly was amazing and the kids were so disciplined yet sang out their national anthem with great gusto. Each class received a similar greeting of many smiling children staring at them in anticipation of what they would bring to their classroom and the immediate connection was indescribable. The connection strengthened as the day went on and the stories are far too extravagant to fit in a mere blog but the memories will truly live on the hearts of the SAPHARA team.

We took lessons in Personal Development and Science alongside our introductory class. Many of us already know the names of many pupils in our classes and were greeted by pupils calling out, for example, “Goodbye Conor! “. Our lessons went really well and we are looking forward to continuing where we left off today. After our late lunch we went for walk in Mussoorie to acclimatise ourselves for the walk to Donk on Friday. After our Indian Chinese dinner and reflection Catherine led us in a scavenger hunt. The winners received chocolate goodies and the losing team had to perform for us. The hunt was both enjoyable and revealing (coughDOMINICccough) who we now discovered is very competitive. Our reflections tonight were really personal and showed the impact our Saphara journey is having on all of us.

Yours sincerly

George and Patrick

Quick March

15th July 2014

So today saw the start of our second day of teaching. We were incredibly excited despite our initial tiredness and we were greeted by the same smiling, happy and cute faces!

We made history by starting the first ever Kaplani–Saphara choir! “Mussoorie today, tomorrow the world!”

Today’s lessons were amazing and included games and songs, ranging from the ‘Macarena’ to ‘Old McDonald’ and ‘The lion sleeps tonight’. It was amazing to see all the children getting involved and improving on their English. Both teachers and children felt more at home today and this made lessons so much more fun and productive.

At midday today we experienced first hand where some of the money we raised goes to! Every child received a warm and nutritous meal of chicken curry and were even allowed seconds! This was incredible as this was started previously by Saphara and is often the only meal children receive in a day!

It was so lovely to see the full benefit of every penny you donate.

So as it is becoming a regular occurence, today’s afternoon trek was more daunting and difficult than previous. Dominic decided to march us to the top of a mountain (okay, maybe it was a very steep hill!!) At 7,000 feet this isn’t a stroll down the street as the teachers would argue!! As we descended the very steep hill tiredness had hit just after we stopped for photo opportunities. However, the craic was mighty– ‘talk about a funny half hour’. Somehow Erin and Jenny still found the energy to entertain us all with their highly amusing and spontaneous dance off! #sassy

As we head for an early night with tomorrow’s lessons planned we feel confident that every small step creates a better future for the children! We have discovered that we can be the change we want to see in the world!

love Emma and Bronagh xx

Nutella Masala

16th July 2014

Mixed weather but a perfect day.

After being woken up by Dominic we had a delightful Indian breakfast of nutella and toast. Our unusual morning continued when we came across a minor landslide on the road to Kaplani; the monsoon rains have finally arrived. While making our day a little more difficult, the rains are appreciated as they fill up reservoirs and nourish the land. However the rains also have the potential to cause damage.

When we arrived in school we were greeted by the smiling faces of our pupils who seemed genuinely pleased to have us teach them for another day. We continued the themes of our previous lessons. Assembly was cut short due to a torrential downpour; we have to take shelter and then run to get indoors. It rained for much of the morning forcing most classes to have a form of PE in their classrooms. Later, as the mist parted we soon became aware of the stunning views, a pleasant contrast to mist of the previous days. Kaplani School continues to amaze us in its progress with its wonderful pupils, who we are so lucky to work with. We will be greatly saddened when we leave but proud of the children at Kaplani. As the school day ended we were filled with dread when we realised Breeno’s cunning plan to drag us unwillingly across the Himalayas for our afternoon walk. Despite this set back we remained willing to devour our beautiful dinner. Despite the weather we had a perfect day.

#Down Team by Doyler and Maynesy

Kapsaph Choir

17th July 2014

Hi everyone, fourth and last day at Kaplani, emotional day for everyone.

This morning we had class as normal among the leaches and the clouds. Of course it was special since it was our last day but we still had to remember that we were there to teach, an amazing experience for all of us. Each class was given gifts which we all brought and it was surreal to see how happy such a little item to us could mean so much to one of Kaplani pupils. The kids spoiled us however with their cute little cards and bracelets.

Later in the day we had a concert with the whole school, which included the kapsaph choir debut.

The concert included some traditional Indian dancing by both girls and boys and special performances, some of which included a rendition of a One Direction song and a very creative yet undignified penguin dance.

Afterwards we all said our goodbyes and nearly all broke out in tears. Its so sad to have left Kaplani but we are all excited about going to Donk after planning lessons, despite the challenging trek to get there. Lots of love from all of us on the Down Team.

The beauty queens Ginette and Anna xx

A Ri-Donk-ulous Day

18th July 2014

Setting off towards the general route of Kaplani school, our workaday journey was cut short as we set off for an hour–long trek down Donk mountain.

As the sky wept, so did we, faced with the knowledge of our impending journey. We made many acquaintances today: our favourite was Surender Singh, while our least favourite were the leeches, whom we had hoped to say goodbye to once and for all.

To avoid the risk of exsanguination via leeches, we gingerly tucked our socks into our walking shoes. This seemed to work well until we arrived at Donk Primary School an hour later. We removed our shoes and found that our socks were full of leeches! Salt was very effective in removing them.

The hour–long journey opened our eyes to the shocking truth that most of the 23 students have to navigate this long, tiring journey every single day.

Donk Primary School has two classrooms and we both taught the younger class how to say their name. They were extremely adorable but didn’t speak a lot of English. We would have loved to take each and every one of them home with us but someone might have noticed! Surender Singh of MGVS, an organisation working with Saphara, gave us a very interesting tour of the surrounding area. We met a girl, Babita, whose university fees have been paid for by Saphara.

We also had the opportunity to witness the children of Donk consuming midday meals which Saphara also provides.

To say that the walk up was very exhausting would be an understatement– to make matters worse, we got caught in the monsoon rains. Thankfully, everyone survived to enjoy the rest of the day of games and dinner.

Also, Catherine knocked an hour and twenty minutes off her personal best which was utterly fantastic! Well done Catherine!

Tonight we began our Global Awareness Weekend with games that helped us see the importance of effective communication in overcoming inequality and the necessity of fair trade in the sharing of the world’s wealth and resources.

Written by Keith McLeeches (McAuley) and Kate O’Leeches (O’Rourke)

Hard to Beat

19th July 2014

After a hectic week of planning, teaching, walking and de–leeching, today began with a welcome lie–in. Before going any further I feel compelled to reflect upon what can only be described as a fabulous week. God has been so good to us. It has been such a joy to work with this amazing group of young people. I am truly impressed by their professional attitude to their teaching, their commitment to all we do and their unbreakable team spirit. I have worked with many teams: Down 2014 Saphara will be hard to beat.

Today we continued our Global Awareness Weekend, starting with a thought provoking and insightful session with Surrender Singh, the director of MGVS, the organisation Saphara partners with here in Mussoorie. Afterwards we got to spend some time in Mussoorie town, eating pizza, shopping and people watching!

The day ended with a trip to Movie Theatre 201 (Dominic’s room) for a private viewing of Slumdog Millionaire. Watching this movie after what we have seen put it all in a new context. Lots of laughs at a brilliant movie. Suddenly it was all a bit real…

I’m so excited for next week. If the last week is anything to go by we have an awesome time ahead of us. Thanks to everyone back home for their prayers and support.


Salt and Cravings

20th July 2014

We celebrated our week in the foothills with a special service or in Saphara terms a ‘happening‘. One of the team read from the gospel text “You are the salt of the earth”. All the readings and quotes used spoke of the team’s desire to continue, the work we are doing in India, in some form or other when we get home.

After the beautiful but winding journey to Dehradun in the valley below the hill stations of Mussoorie and Landour we arrived and settled into our beautiful hotel. The new team arriving from Delhi appreciated hearing about our experiences before they then departed to Mussoorie to take our place.

We spent a great deal of time planning our lessons for tomorrow and are very much looking forward to the challenge of teaching in new and larger classes at SNEHA. Many of us cannot wait to meet Dr Reeta Rao, the inspirational person behind the charity.

We went out for dinner at the now infamous ‘Salt and Cravings’ and had a great evening together.

We will keep you up to date with news from SNEHA and do appreciate your prayers and support for our team.



21st July 2014

After what can only be described as a most glorious night’s sleep, we were once again awoken from our slumber by a gentle rapping at our doors. After beautifying ourselves and filling up on a delicious breakfast, we were prepared for our exciting first day at SNEHA.

Our journey to SNEHA was an experience to say the least. Loading into our four vikram taxis – the ride began. Slaloming through the bustling traffic with horns blaring and the monsoon rain thundering we made it through the gates of SNEHA unscathed. We were greeted through the rain by over a thousand school kids as we hurried into the staff room to prepare for our first lesson. We were teaching classes 3A and 3B while the other team members taught 1st and 2nd classes.

In our first lesson about telling the time, and despite our initial nerves, the kids seemed to respond really well but it was a very different teaching experience from our time at Kaplani. The kids themselves were very different – many coming from the marginalised communities around the school. SNEHA itself is very different, being much larger and much more of a city school. We are really looking forward to returning tomorrow and starting to teach the kids using our class book. We are also looking forward to continuing our conversation classes with the older children in which we get to exchange cultures and help to refine their English conversational skills. After an all too short day of teaching, we hopped back in our vikrams and headed off to continue our trend of sampling traditional Indian cuisine, aka MacDonalds.

After spending a relaxing afternoon shopping and a lovely meal out, we planned our next lessons and reflected on our time at SNEHA today as well as our thoughts on bustling Dehradun and the trip so far. Now it’s time to sign off and grab some beauty sleep for our next vikram adventure. Lots of love, Erin and Lenny

p.s. India shout out to Shirley and Philip Lennon on their 25th wedding anniversary, sorry that I can’t share it with you!

Animal Noises

22nd July 2014

We love SNEHA school and its pupils.

Yesterday we found the transition from a small rural school to a large urban school difficult. Today we found that all the long preparation work we did last night paid off handsomely. We were enthusiastically greeted by each class and the large numbers were no longer daunting. We used artwork, phonics, carousels, small groups, song, dramatic reading, in our teaching. The animal kingdom and the Jungle were at the heart of our lessons. We had the raising of elephant trunks, the hissing of snakes, the screeching of apes and monkeys alongside intrepid class 2 going on a bear hunt and not being scared. Pupils were eager to learn and loved the more active teaching approach that we used. We were assisted wonderfully by SNEHA teachers who helped translate for us when necessary and who even joined in the great animal adventures. Our conversation classes also were great. Many of us found that, maybe not surprisingly, the Indian pupils had much in common with us.

Michelle met with the SNEHA science teachers for a sharing of ideas and with a view to helping them design new practicals to use with the senior classes. Lorna met with the junior class teachers and was encouraged by the eagerness of the staff to learn new ways of teaching.

Some of us went to the marginalised community and found it upsetting but were consoled by the obvious pride that people take in their homes and families.

After school we went to McDonalds but were stuck there for over an hour by heavy monsoon rain which turned the Rajpur Road into a fast flowing stream. Tomorrow morning, we are teaching the school a new song at assembly, led by our choir mistress Catherine. Both boys and girls are getting henna later in the morning.

We miss folks at home but don’t want to leave, just yet.

The Down Team

Heart Tattoo

23rd July 2014

Our penultimate day in SNEHA began slightly earlier than the previous days to allow us to attend morning assembly.

The pride the SNEHA pupils and teachers have in their school was evident in how they belted out the words to ‘If you are happy and you know it’ and ‘Our God is a great big God’. Led by Catherine, we contributed to the assembly by singing ‘Rejoice India’ and SNEHA pupils and teachers joined in the chorus.

The lessons today, in typical ‘Down Team’ style were extremely well planned and delivered. The principal dropped in on some of the lessons and she was amazed at the different teaching strategies she saw and how her pupils responded. Between lessons, the second half of the team visited the marginalised community where many of the pupils live. This was the part of the trip I was not looking forward.

However, aside from the living conditions, what we witnessed was a community which worked together and where the people supported each other and were hopeful of a brighter future for their children.

Some of the SNEHA children came with us and Rachid, one of the boys in Class 1, was very proud to introduce us to his mother and baby brother, Rahul.

In a day full of highlights, probably the biggest was meeting Dr Reeta Rao, director of SNEHA. As we sat in her office, a poster on the wall caught my attention. It read: ‘Impossible says I’m possible – Try and try again, then you will reach your goal’. This really sums up everything about Dr Reeta, who, with assistance from Saphara, is giving so much hope to the children and families from the marginalised community and making what many would consider impossible, possible.

Later in the morning I had the opportunity to do a seminar with the Science teachers in which we shared teaching strategies. I was deeply impressed by their openness to new ideas.

Before we returned to the hotel, all of the team decided to get tattoos which would remind them of the colourful and vibrant Indian culture when they return home. Our evening activities involved planning for our final lessons and practising songs for tomorrow’s concert before we packed our cases for the final leg of our journey back to Delhi.

Join in the Dance

24th July 2014

So today our blog comes from the Shatabdi train from Dehradun to Delhi on our final full day before beginning our journey home tomorrow. This afternoon we completed our last day of teaching and had a celebratory assembly of singing and dancing. The traditional Indian dancing which we witnessed was incredible and the whole performance was completed with vibrant and sparkly dresses. Some of the Saphara team were even asked to join in on the dance.

It was sad to leave the children but what struck us most about SNEHA was that there is incredible hope as we had seen the long–term benefits of education in the community. Dr.Reeta addressed us all today and explained the origins of the school, her incredible faith and the encounter she had with Sapahra which has benefited the school in many ways.

Saphara facilitated a generous grant from the Irish Embassy in India which led to the building of a new hall called the “Irish” hall which is so new and modern. Toilet blocks for boys and girls, a science lab, and classrooms were also built with the funds given by Saphara. We left school feeling proud of what we had managed to do in such a short time.

Lunch today in Dehradun was a mini feast as we will be travelling late into the evening. It was lunch and dinner combined. We are nearing Meerut and enjoying our journey. The six of us in a separate carriage with Dominic have had a lot of banter with an Indian man– helping to pass some of the six hours. Well that, along with some chocolate and a wee nap.

We are all very excited about visiting the Lotus Temple tomorrow, shopping in the Cottage Emporium and having a posh cup of tea in the Imperial hotel before our flight. No talk of home yet still some great sights to see and memories to be made.

From the train buds Emma and Claire xx

From Dubai

25th July 2014

Greetings from Jenny and Paddy!

We are sitting in a glorious lounge in Dubai enjoying a lovely 5 hour wait until our next long haul flight. Yesterday we began the day with a welcomed later start at around 8; that to us is now a lie in. We came down to breakfast and a moment of Deja vu passed as we realised we were back where we started nearly a fortnight.

After breakfast and our last and somewhat emotional reflection, we headed into the Delhi heat and then into fabulous air conditioned taxis for our journey to the Lotus Temple. Feeling sad that it was our last day, our kind taxi driver accommodated our wishes and pumped up the Bollywood tunes whilst we danced (as well as you can in the back of an Indian taxi). Once arriving at the Temple, we were all stunned by the beauty of the building and surrounding gardens, and took advantage of the amazing photo opportunity! Approaching the Lotus we removed our shoes, and hopped about as our feet sizzled like bacon in the frying pan. We entered into complete silence in the Temple, with the exception of some tweeting of the birds. We all had a moment of reflection in the Temple, and appreciated how magnificent it was.

After leaving the Temple and attempting to get some more photos without completely grilling our feet we jumped back into the taxis and heading to McDonald’s for a much needed greasy but filling lunch. For the boys, our time at the Cottage Imporium after lunch could have gone much quicker; however the girls needed much more than an hour in order to fulfil their shopping needs. We then walked to the majestic Imperial Hotel where we enjoyed a delightful pastry and afternoon tea. We were all in awe of the grandeur of the hotel, however, it was a stark contrast to what we saw outside the walls. This brought us to catching our flight in Delhi for a three hour jump to Dubai and we are now sitting waiting for our next flight. We will be home soon!

Signing out Jenny and Paddy


The Down 2014 Team arrived home safely this afternoon. We are grateful for all the support we received before going to India, for your prayers when we were away and to all who followed us faithfully on the blog. Today’s posting takes the form of individual reflections on the trip ad a whole. Thank You!

This was a challenging but immensely rewarding trip. We achieved a lot, in our teaching and in the support we were able to offer to different groups of teachers in each school. Our young people were a great credit to their parents and schools. They were great workers and did so without ever complaining. They were a fantastic team who came to understand why the Saphara Schools Programme is so important. – Dominic

This Saphara experience has definitely changed my life. It’s opened my eyes to educational issues and how we have so much compared to others. The team has been awesome and we’ve become really good friends. I think everyone has surprised themselves by their teaching abilities and by how close we got to the children. I miss Class 6 at Kaplani and Class 5 at SNEHA very much. I’ll also miss being surrounded by my Saphara family everyday. I don’t want this to be over. – Erin

“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give”. This quote from Winston Churchill simply sums up my Saphara experience. It was eye–opening, exciting and often breathtaking. The relationships made on this trip exceeded my expectations, and the people I met in India will stay in my memory forever. Saphara – “You can be the change you want to see in the world.” – Conor M

This trip has been the most unforgettable experience of my life and I will carry the sights I have seen and the things I have learnt for years. This trip had changed me as a person – I have learnt a lot about myself and my abilities. This has happened at an important moment in my life when I have big decisions to make. I have learnt that changes to people’s lives can be made but that they often happen slowly. People with commitmentare need. India and Saphara will always be close to my heart and I have been privileged to have been with a great team. – Clare

While most people regard the Saphara trip to India as a simple ‘charity trip’, for me the it was something quite different. It was an opportunity to meet some truly inspiring people who have a passionate belief in the power of education. For two weeks I was faced with such people at Kaplani, Donk, and SNEHA; for two weeks I planned and taught lessons and may have brought about a change, however small, in the lives of some of the children I taught. This trip is testament to the fact that one person is all that is needed to make a change in the world. – Keith

Being on Saphara the past two weeks has been better than I ever imagined. Teaching the kids at Kaplani will always be one of my favourite experiences and I cannot put into words how special every single pupil at that school is. SNEHA was eye–opening and the work that Dr Reeta has done there is extraordinary. Each day of this journey was amazing and every minute unforgettable. I’m so so happy to have been part of the experience and got to spend it with the best group of people. – Anna

India was the most incredible experience I have had. It changed my outlook to focus on what’s important, that is justice and equality. The team and all the inspirational people we met made it an amazing journey which I will never forget. – Emma

This is an experience that will stay with me forever and which has given my life more meaning and purpose. Saphara has taught me the important life lessons and I have made extraordinary friendships in the process. This marks the beginning of an important chapter in my life. I have been inspired my wonderful leaders and children in India. – Conor D

It’s difficult to know where to start when trying to sum up the Saphara trip in one go. One thing that surprised me the most was the bonds each of us formed with our classes, and those in Kaplani in particular. There was a genuine interest from both the Saphara team and the pupils to engage and to gain the most from each other. The other main aspect of the trip that struck me greatly was the friendship created within the team. Each one of us really came out of our shells, some more expected than others. I know for a fact that it will be difficult getting used to home life again after spending so long with such an unbelievable group. – Jenny

Going on Saphara was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back, if given the opportunity. I met so many interesting people and I loved meeting and teaching the children at Kaplani and SNEHA. Throughout the journey everyone on the team grew closer and I know we will stay that way for a long time. – Kate

My Saphara India experience had surpassed all of my expectations for the trip. I imagined that our sole purpose while in India would be to inspire and excite children about going to school. I never thought that this experience would actually inspire me to value my school, my home and my family. An important thing I learnt in India was to value more the little things in life and to be more content and happy. I’ve seen people living with next to nothing and yet they were so proud and happy to show me their homes. I really enjoyed teaching. The Saphara trip continues to surprise me. – Orla

Can’t believe it’s actually over. An absolutely amazing 16 days that we had all been looking forward to for the past nine months. I’ve loved every second of it, from the unbearable heat at Agra/Taj Mahal to teaching amazing kids at Kaplani and SNEHA alongside 17 incredible team members. So many great memories were made that I am confident that they will never be forgotten. Alongside the enjoyable sightseeing and great time teaching I got the opportunity to meet some inspirational people such as Dr Reeta Rao and Surender Singh. Hearing their stories has confirmed my belief that one person can really make a difference in the world. Finally I would like to take this opportunity to thank Christine, Dominic, Michelle, Catherine, Deborah and all the Down team for making the trip possible and for making my journey the best it possibly could be. – Conor SS

This trip has been one of the best experiences of my life as it has opened my eyes to the problems around the world that we don’t ordinarily see, problems that are hidden from us. The great divide in wealth we encountered in India shocked everyone on the team as we didn’t realise before that such inequality could exist. The trip has undoubtedly made everyone on the team a better person and created lasting friendships. We bonded very quickly and I am proud to call myself a member of the 2014 Down Team. To those thinking of applying next year I implore you to take the chance before you. – Paddy

Going to India wasn’t just an amazing experience but a life changing one too. Meeting inspirational people such as Dr Reeta and Surender and hearing their stories has made a big impact on me. The best part of the trip for me was the teaching. I loved the eagerness of the children and it was a pleasure to enter class each morning and see their smiling faces. I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to meet a new group of friends, encounter many hardworking people and learn to live some wonderful pupils. – Sarah

The trip has come to an end but it really has been an amazing experience that I will never forget. I have met some awesome people such as Dr Reeta, Surender and the whole Down team. We have all become close friends. Kaplani was my favourite place to teach as I had time to make personal connections; but I also really enjoyed Donk and SNEHA. Seeing the Taj Mahal and the Lotus Temple was unbelievable and I will never forget this trip. – Johanna

For me India was a truly unforgettable experience. Hearing about poverty in third world countries is nothing like actually seeing it. The slums in particular were so insightful and really highlighted the unfair circumstances that exist. They made me sad but angry at the same time. It’s heart–breaking how much poverty can exist on the doorstep of extreme wealth. The areas we worked in have such potential and I believe that in years to come, due to the help of Saphara and similar organisations, they will develop into really special communities – they truly deserve to! – Ginette

This journey has been eye opening and life changing. Over the 16 days the team has experienced a range of emotions. Where initial despair at what we saw was replaced by hope when we saw the effects/outcomes of the fantastic work being carried out by Surender Singh and Dr Reeta Rao in conjunction with Saphara. As we return to our normal lives in Ireland, the work this Saphara team has done in empowering children from marginalised communities and improving their self–confidence and self–esteem has been invaluable. – Michelle

Overall this trip has been amazing. This time last year, I would never have imagined myself in India; let alone be in India for the reasons that I was. Our whole team has become so close since the first time we met. I’m so glad I was picked to go on this trip and experience both extremes of India. All the kids, the team and all the Indian teachers we’ve met are truly amazing. They have taught me that although you can’t help everyone at the same time, helping just a few people at a time can cause a chain reaction and can in fact make a big difference in many people’s lives. Just because you can’t help everyone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help at all– even the smallest things make a difference. I would like to thank all the people I encountered as they gave me more than I could ever give them. – Bronagh

When I was accepted for this trip everyone I spoke to said it would change me and I would come back a very different person. I dismissed this thinking that was a very clichéd statement. I was wrong. This trip had opened my eyes in ways no blog can tell, shown me things I could never have learnt in classroom and changed me towards being a better person. The kids we taught, the families we met and the people we saw who had nothing but were generous and happy all had an impact on me. The trip has been amazing for the team but even more important for the children we taught. They were so happy to learn and so appreciative of what we said and did. If we have helped even one child reach his or her life goal then I will be perfectly content. I think I particularly inspired a young boy at Kaplani to believe in himself and to dream dreams. This trip has shown that the smallest things can change someone’s outlook and that “You can be the change you want to see in the world”. – George

Looking back, it’s amazing to see the full extent of the journey we have gone on, the places we’ve gone, the things we’ve done but most importantly the people we’ve met. It is these relationships that will be the lasting legacy of the trip long after the memories of the places we visited and our henna tattoos have faded. In some small ways we have helped to change the lives of others but in so doing they have changed ours in ways that we could not have possibly imagined at the outset. For that fact I will be forever grateful. – Matthew

What a journey! From Glengall Street to Donk Mountain and back: this trip has been one adventure after another. I distinctly remember meeting this team for the first time. They seemed lovely, but, truthfully, they seemed like any other group of 17 year olds: friendly, bright, but generally an overriding sense of being tired and hungry! I really had no idea of the potential in each of the young adults I was soon to have the pleasure of travelling to India with. I only wish you could all see how each one of them was transformed as they stepped into the classroom to teach – you would be so proud, and probably a little surprised, at their energy, their creativity, their flexibility and their confidence. It was simply a joy to watch them teach each day and to plan with them each evening. They have gained so much from this experience, but they have given so much too. Not only have they encouraged and enriched each child they worked with in Kaplani, Donk and SNEHA, they have shown each child, in a way that can only be achieved in person, that they are valued, that they are worthy, and that they are loved. That’s why trips like this are so important. Equally each student on the Down team has gained immeasurably from their Saphara journey. I think some parents will be pleasantly surprised at the changes they will see in their young people, changes that I believe will continue to manifest for many years to come. As early as day 2, one of our girls said they would never ask their mum for anything again as she realised she has so much (I wonder how long that will last Bronagh…?). Later in the trip one of our boys reflected that, initially, he believed this was a one–off trip, but now he knows he wants to keep helping those who have less than him. Despite, trekking in Monsoon rains, teaching all day and planning through the evenings, slightly unusual food (not the curries – the peanut butter, Nutella, banana and crisp sandwiches…), long days and early starts, I can say in all honesty that I never heard one team member complain. We have all worked hard, but we have laughed hard too and the team spirit had been unbreakable. I have worked with many teams: this one will be hard to top. During our Global awareness weekend, I reflected on one of my favourite verses, Jeremiah 29:11. In this verse God tells us that He has a plan for each and every one of us. Its been a privilege to see part of His plan for the Down Spahara team come to fruition. If each one of us who has more than enough, give to those who don’t have enough, this world could be a very different place. Finally, just as we did one evening during reflections I would like to honour some people. Firstly, my co–leaders, the wonderful Deborah (D–Lo), Michelle (Roomie and fellow haribo lover!) and Dominic (banana–man): the dream team… I couldn’t have wished for a better bunch. And of course to each and every student on the Down 2014 team: it’s been class! It amazes me how so many individual personalities got on so well together. You are all stars and I cannot wait to hear where life takes you next. Don’t forget what you have learned – be kind and loving to all you meet and you won’t go far wrong! Be the change! – Catherine


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