Down Team 2017

A New Experience

7th July 2017

They told us that Saphara was a journey with a purpose but I must admit that after 24 hours of non stop buses, planes, and airport lounges, we were really looking forward to it being a journey with a comfortable bed at the end! Just kidding, it was a long trip but a great bonding experience and (the more mature generation will appreciate this) without phones and tablets to keep us occupied, we made the most of the chance to get to know each other and appreciate the opportunity we were undertaking (and the beds at the end were very comfortable).

We began our first day with a well deserved lie–in, followed by an entirely non–Indian breakfast of eggs and cereal which did not prepare us at all for the day ahead. An interesting journey brought us deeper into the heart of Delhi, packed with colourfully arrayed people. Our first stop was Fab India, a hidden gem amongst the hustle and bustle of the busy city. For once, the boys seemed to enjoy shopping more than the girls and certainly didn’t mind showing off for the photos.

The day concluded with a trip to the tranquil and timeless Birla House, the last residence of Mahatma Gandhi. Walking the same path as the “Great–Souled One” was truly eye–opening and highlighted the utmost respect that the Indian people hold for him. There were even some monkey sightings!

No day is complete without dinner, especially when it is our first experience of the Indian cuisine, seconds were enjoyed by everyone (even the vegetarian dish). An enlightening reflection allowed the team to come to terms with what they had seen throughout the day, and voice our feelings. However, I don’t think it will help us to cope with the 5am rise tomorrow. But we’ve been told the Taj Mahal will be worth it.

Roisín Goodman and Robert Frew


Early Starts

8th July 2017

Early starts don’t come easy with a bunch of 17 year olds. We managed to gather for breakfast at 5:30 and hit the bus for 6. Luckily we got to catch up on our sleep on the bus journey to Agra. Although we were half–asleep we were able to get a flavour of India’s amazing sights. Asian elephants were roaming the fields and buffalo enjoyed the easy terrain of the motorway’s hard shoulder. To liven up our journey we decided to sing songs and play games, which made the long drive seem a lot shorter.

When we arrived in Agra we were taken aback by the sights of widespread poverty, with sobering sights of young children begging. We realised that all of our fundraising will be used to help prevent this way of living for so many children. We think these hard–hitting sights truly give us perspective.

We gratefully arrived at the Trident hotel, and were all marked with red bindis as a sign of welcome. It was a great chance to relax and refresh ourselves in preparation for the visit to the Taj Mahal.

As we arrived at the entrance to the Taj Mahal we were struck by the stifling heat, intensified by the hundreds of Indian people visiting as well. The sheer amount of Indian people was profound, and clearly demonstrates the importance of the beautiful monument to their national identity and cultural beliefs. Our tour guide was interesting, he himself was a descendent of the builders of the Taj Mahal, and his passion was clear to see.

With sweaty faces, backs, and everything else, we headed back to the Trident Hotel for a special treat. We were provided with a delicious selection of food from a range of different cultures. An ‘all you can eat’ buffet went down well with everyone, with many empty plates and constant smiles. The bus journey back was a significant contrast to the first, with nearly everyone asleep, cooling off from the heat in the air–conditioning.

Today we have witnessed beautiful sights, amazing colours, and magical sounds, accompanied by some very difficult scenes cohabiting the same city. Agra was spectacular in every way, and we are thankful to Saphara for providing us with a special treat.

Fiona Savage and Clodagh Stitt


Real Life India Experience

9th July 2017

With another early start we began our day at 4:30am. With tired eyes we excitedly crammed all of our belongings into our rucksacks very aware of the fact that our mums and dads were not there to help. Clearly they had some packing magic that made everything fit easily in that we don’t …

We headed to the train station to get the train to the next big city of Dehradun. Boarding at 6:45 we began a long journey on a real life Indian train. The people were very interested in the work that we are going to carry out and it made us feel proud to be a part of the Saphara team.

Later in the day we met the Belfast and Magherafelt team briefly who gave us tips about teaching in Kaplani. We really appreciated all of the facilities in the lovely hotel. After that we headed up to Mussoorie where we will stay for the next six days. The journey was very exciting with picturesque scenery.

Accompanied by the lovely sound of rain (the monsoon season has arrived) we planned out lessons for tomorrow and are looking forward to our first opportunity to teach.

Chloe McCullough and Gabrielle Ross


Ready To Teach

10th July 2017

We began our first day of teaching with a relatively luxurious 7:30 am wake up call! We loaded our anxious yet excited selves into our taxis and began the exhilarating car journey through the country roads of the beautiful Himalayas towards Kaplani High School.

We arrived and were greeted by the beaming faces of the children in their pristine uniforms, which immediately calmed any nerves. We were shown to our staff room and given a pep talk by the amazing Auntie Hils, all of which was very overwhelming and brought us to grips with the fact that we were finally here and ready to teach (in a good way)!

We were introduced to the school during assembly, which was held in the playground overlooking a misty Himalayan mountain range. The assembly was performed to perfection which impressed us all from the beginning. We were all very prepared for our first lessons after our intricate planning the night before which, along with the enthusiasm of the children in every classroom, ultimately made us feel completely at ease and as experienced as Auntie Hils!

The morning lessons ran smoothly and according to plan, followed by recess, during which the girls and Matthew Leneghan did the hokey pokey in the playground, whilst the rest of the boys were totally outplayed at cricket! After recess we continued our lessons, all of which were very well received by the excited and attentive classes. We said goodbye to our individual classes and everyone was in high spirits.

We were transported back down the mountain to our hotel where we proceeded to plan our lessons for the following day, followed by a bit of chill time and a few games of cards before a chinese themed feast, enjoyed by all! We concluded an amazing day with a few team games and reflections before hitting the hay early to prepare for another busy day of teaching!

Corey Fitzpatrick and Katy Fitzpatrick



11th July 2017

After our big sing off last night we found it harder to roll out of our beds this morning! Having already experienced a days teaching we found breakfast a little less nerve wracking and were excited for the day ahead. We were able to enjoy the view more this morning on our way to Kaplani as the clouds cleared for a short time, which was appreciated by all.

Assembly happened outside despite the damp misty weather and the children managed to keep our spirits high with their beaming smiles. We were still amazed this morning by the enthusiastic participation of the children at assembly which could only ever inspire us!

After assembly class 6 and class 10 went straight into teaching their first lessons while the other classes had a free period to prepare. In class 6, they were leaping for joy at the sight of the shiny stickers that we brought, as this increases their desire to learn! We are really enjoying learning from the children in our class too – today we learned our names in Hindi and the class praised us for our efforts!

Later on we did a geography lesson. We have never seen a class more enthusiastic to learn about their emotions and the weather. This really just shows how joyful they are in any situation. It is also amazing how much competition encourages the children to work harder. In class 10, we have teams, each with a leader and the children just love the phrase, ‘find your teams’ as they know this means more one on one time with us and their classmates, which they really enjoy.

We got a friendship bracelet making tutorial from Aunty Hils during our breaks which we will find useful when playing with the children. We came back and were able to go for a walk down into the town of Mussoorie and really enjoyed seeing the local life including the monkeys! But for now, we’re looking forward to our newly invented game “Himalayan wall ball” and the quiz tonight for the wonderful prize of mug shots (it’s the little things in life)

Emily Adams and Adam Bell


Delightfully Marvellous

12th July 2017

After a competitive night of pub quiz (without the pub) with “Jill’s lads” coming out on top, we all hit the hay exhausted but excited for our third day of teaching.

We had the normal wake up of 7am, accompanied by the sound of monsoon rains through the window which dampened our spirits slightly, but after a quick game of Himalayan wall ball and delightfully comforting bowl of porridge we were buzzing for our lessons today.

When we arrived at Kaplani our assembly was washed out so we utilised an extra 15 minutes of preparation before heading off to our first class of arts and crafts alongside some P.E. In the art class we taught the weather through making mobiles and playing snap. The pupils really enjoyed it and were filled with pride at their creations.

The students were delightfully marvellous as always even with their damp and long walk to school. The kids’ attitude towards education, even in such extreme Himalayan weather, is truly inspiring and humbling.

Next class came, and with it more arts and crafts and P.E, this time focusing on body parts and directions incorporating blind man’s buff and ‘Simon Says’, making it a very enjoyable and active learning environment.

Then came recess with continued torrential down fall we played coco– which is a group clapping game that the kids love. Meanwhile others played cards and made friendship bracelets.

Next came Personal Development where every class focused on preparation of their show case pieces to be presented on the final day, with most classes opting for a musical routine. The pupils were all very enthusiastic and gave it 110%.

At this current moment we are just finished lunch and are going to plan our final lessons for our last day at Kaplani high school. Although we’ll be sad to leave the students we’ve gotten to know over the past few days, we are really looking forward to the prospect of teaching again at Donk and SNHEA schools.

Matthew Leneghan and Anna Hogg


Final Day Blues and Blue Skies

13th July 2017

Following the monsoon rain yesterday, the skies cleared this morning giving way to a view that would make anyone stop and stare. With the clouds gone we were able to see the rolling green hills and the houses scattered amongst the trees, as well as the city lights of Dehradun at the foot of the mountains. The view was so breathtaking that we decided to have our reflection, lead by Hannah, outside under the stars.

After a thoughtful reflection we got absolutely whipped at Stop the Bus by Jill and Auntie Hils before hitting the sack. The usual 7 am wake up call didn’t seem as early as we were greeted with stunning views stretching as far as the eye can see. We hopped into our taxis, once again admiring the views on our way to Kaplani. Despite it being the last day the kids were as enthusiastic as ever to learn and lead their assembly with the usual gusto. During the assembly Katy spoke briefly to thank the children for their effort and their willingness to learn throughout the week.

Our first lesson today was Geography. In Class 6 we were learning about animals and created animal masks to be used later in our presentation as well as learning a fabulous animal song, naturally with the accompanying actions. In Class 8 the focus was also animals and we were able to let them make lots of noise pretending to be creatures and, of course, practicing their best sentences describing animals. Older classes were more focused on comparing animals in India with animals back home, ours at home are a little less exciting than the monkeys and tigers that the children are used to here! Our final lesson was prep for the presentation and included a lot of singing, a lot of shouting, and a lot of actions.

With our final class finished it was time for lunch. The building work of the new sixth form centre, which is funded by Saphara, made the playground a little cramped at lunchtime. Despite this we still found room for a good game of coco, some hokey pokey and Himalayan Wall Ball. With lunch finished we had the pleasure of giving the children from the local primary school, Himalayan Torchbearers, shoes which had been gifted by Saphara. It was amazing to see their faces light up at such a simple gift that meant so much to them.

The whole school then gathered in a single classroom for the long awaited presentation. Class 6 gave us a rendition of their jungle song and resilience sentences, Class 7 sang a song displaying their knowledge of the months of the year, Class 8 did a short routine about different types of weather, Class 9 and all their boys enthusiastically performed a resilience acronym, and finally Class 10 showered us with a beautiful song about the importance of school and how much Saphara’s visits mean to them. We were so happy and proud of our classes and we wanted to give them back something and so our whole team sang two songs, This is amazing Grace and Lean on me. We finished with our favourite ballad by the one and only Ed Sheeran, Gimme Love, with Katy on the guitar.

To finish the presentation the principal shared some touching words on how much Saphara has helped Kaplani and Catherine reiterated how much we learned from the school. We had a final goodbye with our classes and gave them small gifts and cards to show how much we appreciated them. It was amazing to see how many of our students displayed their gratitude by making cards for us. We arrived home for lunch and lesson planning for Donk Primary tomorrow. Dominic then arrived and we went for a beautiful walk around Mussoorie. We are all looking forward to our trek to Donk tomorrow and are hoping for the same blue skies to greet us tomorrow morning!

Alice Lennon and Victoria Clarke


Dom and Donk

14th July 2017

After returning home from an emotional day at Kaplani, we were greeted by the fabulous Dominic Breen who is replacing the amazing Hannah who went home to get married in a few weeks. Dom brought with him his wealth of experience gained over the past 9 trips and we are very excited to have him joining us for the rest of our journey. Our excellent Team Leader Catherine led reflections, using a pack of cards to facilitate the event. The official evening’s craic was then led by the wonderful Jill. We played the game Linkee, which revealed each team member’s competitive side as the game got more intense.

We were awoken by the usual 7am wake up call, something that we have gotten very used to over the past 8 days. After a delicious breakfast provided by our amazing chef, Sushil, we set off on the trek of a lifetime.

We drove to the start of the journey where we were greeted by a steep concrete path. Despite this, we felt safe and secure due to the leadership of the inspiring Surender Singh, director of a local NGO. We set off on our hour and a half journey down to the picturesque village of Donk. We all walked as a group at a steady pace with plenty of water and snack breaks. We stopped at the house of Benita and we heard the story of she and her two sisters who are currently studying at uni gaining professional qualifications, fully funded by Saphara, which allows the stereotypes of rural women to be challenged.

We arrived at the beautiful and remote village of Donk, the poverty was immediately striking to all members of the team. Surender gave us a tour of the village. We were all shocked by the basic nature of the primary school and the surrounding houses, however Dominic wisely reminded us that it was only a few generations ago that our own ancestors lived in similar conditions. Matthew was made aware that the first house that we saw as we entered the village was the home of Deepak, a young boy who he had taught frequently throughout the week at Kaplani, and who he had developed a close bond with. It was awe inspiring to see how happy Deepak always was in class after making the long trip to school each day. Shannon was also made aware by Surender that a girl whom she had taught in Class 7, Pretti, lived in one of the houses in Donk, and she saw the toothbrush that was gifted to Pretti yesterday, sitting outside with the rest of the washing kit. It was incredible to see the difference that Saphara is making to the lives of these children. She also found out that the school cook, who provides the children with the main meal of the day, was Pretti’s mother.

After the tour of the village, we arrived at Donk primary school, which is also fully funded by Saphara, including their main meal. The first teaching group taught the 11 children about the weather, whilst our teaching group completed an Arts and Crafts lesson with the children. Their English was limited, but we were able to see the look of happiness that lit up across the children’s faces at the end of our lesson. There weren’t very many displays of artwork around the classroom, so the children loved painting their scene of nature. Shannon made weather mobiles with her group which they could also hang them on the wall. They were so pleased when they saw their artwork displayed. We then gave new uniforms and shoes to all the students at Donk– another programme fully funded by Saphara.

After a long 1 hour and 45 minute trek back to the top of the mountain, we returned to the hotel and had a long, well deserved break before the start of our global awareness weekend. Shannon Conway and Matthew Carrick


River Babies the Musical

15th July 2017

We started our Global Awareness Weekend last night with a group trading game. This involved us being split into six groups, with each representing different world economies. We both ended up in team UK so we had the advantage of more tools and resources than the less economically developed teams such as Ghana and Cambodia. Due to our excellent trading skills and delaying tactics, we managed to come out on top, even managing to beat team USA. The bonds of friendship were seriously strained by the competitiveness of the game and we saw sides to people that we never knew existed. Auntie Hils had to even introduce a sin bin for one of team India’s representatives, and we still don’t know who stole Ghana’s scissors. In the reflection we discussed how the game related to the global economy in both positive and negative ways.

This morning we were treated with a luxurious lie in until 8:30 which was much appreciated after a busy week of teaching at Kaplani and Donk. After a chilled out breakfast, we gathered for the morning’s workshop with Surender Singh. During this workshop, Surender, who grew up in the mountains, shared with us his life’s work and involvement with MGVS – a local NGO that works extensively with Saphara and specialises in rural development. Some of the programmes he mentioned were the girls resilience schemes, clean water schemes, income generation schemes and many more. The whole team were in awe of his work and we now know why he is referred to as a ‘living legend’. We found him to be a highly inspirational man and were fascinated to hear about his experience working with local communities.

After we said our farewells to Surender, and of course never missing the opportunity for a group photo, we again sorted ourselves into teams for “River Babies” – a play that reflects on the difference between charity and empowerment. Each team had a different take on the script. We saw one group take on a musical style, another a western and two teams took us home momentarily, performing with local accents and slang. Great fun was had by all, and we could easily envision some team members heading to Hollywood in the near future.

When everyone had finished laughing, we headed downtown to the busy markets of Mussoorie to show off our bargaining skills and pick up gifts for those at home. After a week of exploring traditional Indian dishes, for a change of scene we had a lunch at the local Dominoes, where the boys devoured a large pizza each with no bother at all.

Now we await an exhilarating night of packing and preparing ourselves for ‘The Happening’ (our opportunity to reflect on what Saphara now means to us) and our journey to Dehradun for a week’s teaching at Sneha. Our day off will conclude with a movie night in room 302, watching, of course, “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Aoife Taggart and Niamh Poland


The Down Happening

16th July 2017

Saturday was a great day because it allowed our students to delve deeper into some of the less obvious issues surrounding poverty, its causes and consequences. Our students worked hard and so it was great to see them enjoying slum dog millionaire and winding down on Saturday evening. Although many of our students had seen it before, hopefully the context made a little more sense after their time in India so far.

Once again we had another lovely lie in until 8:30. After breakfast came packing and tidying our rooms. This was a sentimental affair as many of us were sad to leave the mountains of Mussoorie.

Before jumping in the taxis which would take us to Dehradun, our whole group had a chance to reflect on the journey so far. This is a very special time known as “The Happening” and gives us all time to articulate our feelings and ideas. For us as teachers, it was great to see our students thinking about what they’ve experienced so far, and being able to relate it to their own lives.

The week ahead will be quite different. We’re back in the city and our team will be teaching students from one of the marginalised communities. Their students will be primary’s 1–3 rather than high school and the Saphara team have had great fun practising their reading of some fabulous children’s classic books, complete with actions. We are looking forward to the new challenge of teaching classes of approx. 50!

The team have been fantastic so far, they’re a really talented bunch and they’ve worked extremely hard in Kaplani school. We’ve also been so impressed by their camaraderie as a group. They have bonded extremely well and have made our job so much easier! We’re really looking forward to seeing what they can do in Sneha! Hilary Maguire and Emer Campbell


Hallo SNEHA!

17th July 2017

After waking up from a luxurious and long sleep at the Interlok hotel the team thoroughly enjoyed their journey to school in the Indian taxis called “vikrams”, which was a great experience. After a short drive through central Dehradun, enjoying the sights and sounds, we were greeted by the excited and thrilled faces of the Sneha pupils.

The sheer size of Sneha school was rather intimidating compared to the small rural school of Kaplani. However the smiling students of Sneha were successful in doing away with any nerves the team may had. We were briefly introduced to Dr Reeta, the school’s founder, before we finished of our lesson plans. We were very excited to finally meet Dr Reeta, who we had heard so much about, and we are really looking forward to talking to her more tomorrow.

After planning, we split into each of our classes and taught an introductory lesson which allowed us to get to know the amazing pupils in our classes. With more than 40 pupils in some classes we were faced with new challenges but their enthusiasm and willingness to learn was inspirational! In our opening classes we taught emotions, times of the day, and greetings and in our second classes we taught our assigned books. These were ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’, ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ and ‘Rumble in The Jungle’. The start of these classes was postponed due to monsoon rain, however this didn’t lessen the enthusiasm of either our teams or the Sneha pupils. When we finally started to teach these classes we read the book to the whole class, acting it all out and enjoying getting in touch with our inner child! After this we broke into small groups, giving us the chance to get to know the pupils better while helping them develop their language and pronunciation.

One of the activities we most enjoyed was acting out the story of “Rumble in the Jungle” to the children and then splitting into smaller groups to focus on different animals within the Jungle. Managing a much larger class was a challenge but splitting the children into smaller groups helped us to cope with this. Class sizes are large in Sneha and we have a new appreciation of how good a job their regular teachers do every day.

Straight after this we began our conversation classes. We were split into pairs and were given around ten pupils from either class 9 or 10. Our focus for these classes was resilience and how to react positively to certain situations. Most of the students had very good English which meant that conversations were able to flow well and helped us to learn from each other. We left Sneha tired and a sweaty but having enjoyed our day of teaching and looking forward to returning tomorrow!

After lunch we had the opportunity to stop in a small shop with a vast selection of goods to stock up on snacks. After some free time we planned our lessons for tomorrow, discussing what had went will and what hadn’t in our previous lessons.

We are currently waiting for hopefully another delicious dinner and a night of craic.

Callum and Mark


Day 2 At SNEHA

18th July 2017

This morning two groups set off after a lovely breakfast to visit the edge of the marginalised community that the Sneha children come from. This gave us an insight into the type of background that the children we are working with are from. We were struck by the poverty conditions some families were living in but equally impacted by their warm welcome, and their quiet dignity. Some of the families we met were new to the community and so Dr Reeta explained that they would be working with the families to encourage them to send their children to school and helping them to get ID cards to enable this.

The staff room where we prepare was a little quieter while we thought about what we had seen but we were also highly motivated to do the best job we could for the children of SNEHA. We were all starting with our B classes, so we were introducing our books for the first time, everyone seemed to enjoy these classes and the children were engaged with our enthusiastic actions! After this class, we had a break and then we went into phonics, we introduced a carousel activity here which worked really well as the activities were fun and interactive.

After recess we were then welcomed into Dr. Reeta’s office where she told us about her first foot steps into the marginalised community and how her faith had motivated her to leave her well paid and respected job as a medical director in Mussoorie. The project began as a flooded field, which developed into a small building for 60 pupils. Today it is an amazing school for 1100 pupils! We then had time to ask Dr Reeta questions and this really helped our understanding of the set up of SNEHA school, the community work, the training programmes, such as Henna and sewing and the girls resilience programme. The whole conversation was just truly inspiring. The genuine love and compassion Dr Reeta had for the community around her was so clear.

Later in the day we enjoyed conversation classes with the Y10 pupils. Today we talked with some of the girls about the tough things in life and how we can cope. Two girls, Fariya and Daviya, both spoke about how much they loved the girls resilience class (funded by Saphara) and how they remembered Dr Christine talking to them about how valued they are. They said they were really thankful that Christine and all of the people at Saphara cared about them.

We also met two lovely classroom assistants, sisters Mona and Neha, who are both past pupils of SNEHA and are now working there while studying for their BEd too! What a testimony to the work of the Saphara and SNEHA partnership!

After a great meal we reflected a little on how this trip has started to make us think differently about life at home. Some of the team refuse to think about the fact we only have a few days left! But we have all agreed to make the most of the time we have left together with our Saphara family. (As the Down Team 17 leader I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of the students and staff. #dreamteam #sapharafamily)

Emily and Catherine


Another Great Day in the Classroom

19th July 2017

Well gentlemen and gentleladies, today was another fun–filled (and sweat–filled) adventure in the glory of SNEHA. Class 2 were working on phonics – ph, sh and th sounds are difficult to master when you’re a wee’un. The kids in SNEHA are very different from those we taught in Kaplani last week, and my “teacher voice” is getting lots of practise! Despite that, the kids still want to be our friends and there’s always some little cutie looking for a special handshake or a sticker.

However, every day when asked “how are you?”, there is no variation from “fine, ma’am.” Maybe greetings are an area of vocabulary next year’s team can work on!Conversation class with the 15/16 year olds has been getting better every day and would definitely be a highlight of the teaching experience.

Through the theme of resilience we’ve had great discussions about how we keep going and overcome problems day–to–day. The kids are very ambitious despite having what we would consider huge obstacles in life.

I feel grateful to have the opportunity to get to know peers from such a contrasting culture. After conversation, we had a bit of a treat. We (well, the girls) got traditional henna tattoos on our hands. (Don’t worry, the boys weren’t left out – they had their names written in Hindi.) The henna artists were local women from the marginalised community we got to visit earlier, and they have been trained through SNEHA’s henna training programme, which allows them to generate a little income for their families. They’re very good at what they do, and it was special for us to get to support this work. (Jill has an ambition to learn henna on her return home; but remains unconvinced that stick men henna tattoos will make the cut. Alas, her art skills require some development.)

After school some of the team took the opportunity for a spot of shopping, whilst the wise ones among us remained in the air conditioned hotel, and may or may not have had a 2 hour nap… today has been incredibly hot, and the heat zaps our energy.

Having said that, we are determined to make the most of the time we have left, and leave SNEHA tomorrow with a bang. Tonight we rehearsed a couple of items for a special showcase assembly tomorrow. Fiona has a starring role, and Michael Flatley has some competition… this space!

Fiona and Jill


All You Need is LOVE

20th July 2017

As the song says ‘All you need is Sneha!’ (love).

Today was the penultimate and most rewarding day of our great Saphara journey. Our Vikram ride to school this morning reinforced in our memories the distinctive sights, sounds and smells of Dehradun. The school day began with a special assembly with all pupils seated in the Saphara stadium, ranked in rows with the youngest at the bottom and the oldest at the very top. Our team were given seats in pride of place in the playground. We were honoured by special performances– a gentle dance by Nursery girls dressed in white communion like dresses and a traditional Garwarl dance akin to a slow and intricked Irish set dance performed by Year 10 pupils. Then we reciprocated by singing “This is Amazing Grace’’ and “Lean on Me” and reflected something of our own culture in the combined Feis and Festival Irish dance performed beautifully by Niamh and Clodagh and Fiona’s amazing tin whistle playing.

This was a small token of thanks for all that Sneha has done for us this week. The Down team teachers and pupils were very moved to receive individual gifts from the Sneha pupils towards the end of assembly. Assembly ended on a relaxed note with Sneha teachers and Saphara teachers and pupils dancing the Sha Sha Slide, which is quickly becoming a tradition.

We taught our last few classes which went amazing because we think everyone wanted to give the children everything they had left. We finished the school day with our conversation classes which were rather eventful, meaning all classes insisted on teaching us “genuine Punjabi dancing”. It was quite a scene. Before leaving Sneha we presented the staff with both Pineapple and Chocolate cakes iced with special greetings from the Saphara team. Unfortunately, a great day had to come to an end and it wasn’t long until we were back in our Vikrams back to the hotel to pick up our rucksacks in time to catch our Shabtabdi back to Delhi.

At the time of writing we are enjoying the company of many pilgrims and tourists making their way home on the train from Riskikesh/Haridwar.

Adam and Dominic


The Final Countdown

21st July 2017

It’s a long way to Tipperary and it’s an even longer way to Glengall Street. What a journey it’s been, from the initial hot and busy arrival in Delhi to our even hotter and busier departure from the Lotus Temple.

Our final day started back where it all began, in the Singh Palace Hotel. After another well deserved lie–in and a healthy serving of eggs n’ toast we set off for the Lotus Temple. In the words of our team members, “the scenes were par’ful”. A short walk brought us to the entrance of the beautiful Ba’hai place of worship. Shoes were collected in bags and the team were welcomed into the Temple. A short period of reflection, in complete silence, left many of us much more accepting of the end of our journey. The visit was (of course) ended with a team photo shoot, featuring the team’s now infamous “Indian Glow”.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat in KFC before heading to the Cottage Emporium for a last shopping spree. From incense to scarves, the whole team filled their boots with some last minute souvenirs (and plenty of keyrings). One final stop at Singh Palace allowed us to get changed into “Ambassador–Suitable” clothes which was essentially anything without sweat patches!

We were greeted by the incredibly gracious deputy ambassador and his equally gracious wife with some refreshing drinks and chit–chat in the beautiful garden of the ambassador’s residence. We then moved inside for dinner and it must be said that our final meal in India couldn’t have tasted any better or been eaten in any more lovely surroundings. The whole team was extremely grateful for such a wonderful evening. We are very grateful for the ambassador’s support for the work that Saphara does.

Emotions were running high in the taxi to the airport but Jillilicious’ impromptu rendition of “Lean on Me” was enough to lift the spirits. And so we begin the final length of our journey with purpose…

Robert and Roisin


Final Reflections

I have thoroughly enjoyed my Saphara experience as it provided me with a different perspective on the world!

Matthew Carrick, St Patrick’s Grammar

I am so grateful to Saphara for giving me this opportunity to gain a new world perspective. My eyes have been opened to so many issues surrounding poverty and education and it has inspired me to use my life to make a difference in the work, no matter how small that difference might be.

Chloe McCullough, Assumption Grammar

My ‘journey with purpose’ has left me feeling fulfilled, yet striving all the more to fulfil others. I have gained a new perspective on a wide variety of issues, such as girls empowerment and the building of resilience in those who are under–privileged. Saphara has given me the chance to gain a holistic view of India’s extremes and inspired me to work for change.

Clodagh Stitt, Assumption Grammar

Without a doubt, I can say that this trip has been the most incredible adventure of my life! I have never felt more at peace and yet at the same time I have never worked harder after seeing how much of a difference the work of Saphara has on the lives of the children from marginalised communities around the Kaplani, Donk and SNEHA schools. Each child that I got to work with has left a massive impression on me and I go home knowing that those impressions and memories will never leave me.

Aoife Taggart, Assumption Grammar

If I am going to be totally honest, I was petrified about going away with Saphara, I felt it was a burden, but man was I wrong! Saphara has made me see the world in an entirely different way and has given me memories that will inspire me to achieve my goals in the future. However, Saphara has also acted as a family away from home and I know that wherever I am in the world I will always be privileged to say I have not 1, but 2 amazing families supporting me.

Adam Bell, St Patrick’s Grammar

When I embarked on this ‘journey with purpose’ two and a half weeks ago I had absolutely no idea how much of an impact it would have on me. I can honestly say that it has been an experience of a lifetime, and it, hands down, has to be the best few weeks of my life. The bonds that were made with the children of both the Kaplani and SNEHA schools, as well every minute spent in front of a class teaching have been a truly unforgettable and amazing experience, which I will cherish forever. I believe I will take many things home with me, such as the remarkable resilience of the pupils of SNEHA. What has made the trip even more incredible has to be the fact that I was lucky enough to spend it with 19 of the best people I have ever met and the memories will never be forgotten.

Katy Fitzpatrick, Assumption Grammar

Before coming on this trip I was so scared and anxious about what the 16 days would entail and how we would all get on as a group. I can now say that the past 2 and ½ weeks have been the most amazing days ever. India has opened my eyes and broadened my perspective on the world. The relationships created at both Kaplani and SNEHA will forever be in my heart and something I will always reflect on. The kids have also allowed me to challenge my attitudes towards things – learning from their resilience and their commitment to their education. The past 16 days have been spent with the most incredible people, with whom I know I have friends for life.

Shannon Conway, Down High

My first impressions of India (after the heat!) were the vibrant colours, smells and sights, which together made the country immediately outstanding! I will never forget how hard working the people in poverty are and their desire to keep on working through everything. The children that we encountered both in the mountains and in the city, and also the adults we met who supported them, such as Dr Reeta and Surender, are the most inspiring people I have ever met. It was amazing to hear how they sacrificed so much for the benefit of the communities we worked in. My journey with purpose has been tough, inspiring and joyful and I would drop everything to go back any minute – this has been the experience of a lifetime.

Emily Adams, Down High

I am so thankful that I was able to be part of Saphara, for such a life changing journey with purpose. We didn’t only get the chance to teach amazing children, but also to learn from their strength, enthusiasm and joyfulness. There are no words to describe how amazing it is to walk into a class of beaming kids who have walked miles in monsoon rain just to be able to go to school. Meeting these children, as well as people like Dr Reeta and Surender, who have given up so much to help their communities, was truly inspiring. I am so grateful to have had the experience with such an amazing team of students and leaders.

Victoria Clarke, Down High

It is absolutely unbelievable how quickly our 16 days in India have passed. There are no words to explain how fulfilling and unforgettable it has been, from the moment we left Belfast on the 6th July. Seeing the poverty in India has opened my eyes massively and I can truthfully say it has changed the way I look at the world. Seeing the hardworking ethos each and every child has is extremely touching. At Kaplani, SNEHA and Donk, seeing their smiling faces as you walk into the classroom is indescribable. Also, meeting Dr Reeta and Surender has been such a pleasure and to hear their story has been extremely touching. I have shared many laughs with the team and I am happy to say I have made 19 new best friends for life. Thank you Saphara for my journey with a purpose.

Niamh Poland, Assumption Grammar

One quote that I kept getting in my head throughout this trip is, “in your entire lifetime if you save or better someone’s life, your birth as a human being, your life is a success.” Our main aim as a team was to make a small difference to the lives of those who are less fortunate than us. Our team of 20 young people worked cohesively and strived towards this at all times. I can genuinely say that we have all bonded as a team and supported each other through the slightly tougher times. However, what is even more inspiring is the stories of the children themselves. Their positive attitude and enthusiasm towards learning is extremely humbling. This had an impact on all of us as we contemplated how fortunate we are to have such easy access to education and other life–changing opportunities. I would like to thank Saphara for this experience which has definitely altered my own attitude and levels of gratitude for the better.

Gabrielle Ross, Down High

I’m just a little speechless! From a quiet street in Downpatrick to the hustle and bustle of Dehradun, the beautiful mountains of Mussoorie and the blaring horns and many tuk tuks of Delhi, you cannot come home the same person. I am so thankful to have encountered such a life changing trip. I simply cannot convey how seeing the poverty in India has totally changed my view of the world and how it has highlighted how materialistic we are in comparison to the people of India. Seeing how much each child values school and is willing to learn, turning up each day with a beaming smile warmed my heart. Getting to meet living legends like Surender and Dr Reeta was such a pleasure. I want to thank my 19 new best friends for making my Saphara journey so special.

Alice Lennon, Down High

I have never been more open or comfortable with a group of people in my life. The Saphara family is an experience where you make new friends, family and memories. The work Saphara does is amazing and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Teaching children who are all so special, coming from underprivileged areas has been amazing. People say this is a “once in a life time experience” – however, having seen how the money raised is used by Saphara, I tell you, I’ll be back! Saphara is honestly a journey full of hope, care, love and of course, a purpose.

Fiona Savage, St Patrick’s Grammar

Words cannot describe our journey with purpose. Amazing, eye–opening, life–changing and totally unforgettable. It has made me realise how many people are struggling terribly every day for things we take for granted, such as food, water and education. We have seen first–hand the effects of girl’s empowerment and where our fundraising has gone. As for the 20 pupils who left sixteen days ago, we are not a team but a family.

Roisin Goodman, Assumption Grammar

I can honestly say that this journey with purpose has completely exceeded all my expectations. Every single moment has been unforgettable, from teaching the most incredible, loving and enthusiastic pupils in SNEHA and Kaplani, to meeting the truly inspiring Dr Reeta and Surender. We have seen how education can have such a huge impact on some of the poorest communities of India, but the children taught us much more than we could ever teach them. The journey wouldn’t have been the same without the 19 brothers and sisters gained along the way.

Anna Hogg, Down High

My Saphara experience has opened my eyes to the extreme wealth and poverty that exists within India. I have seen slums 200 meters from a 5–star hotel in Agra, where the super–rich live one street away from the people who don’t know where their next meal will come from. This trip has motivated me not to ignore poverty regardless of how close I am to it and I am thankful to all the members of the Saphara team that have allowed me to realise this.

Matthew Leneghan, St Patrick’s Grammar

This journey across India has been amazing. I’m so glad I was able to meet lots of new people and teach the most enthusiastic and eager children I have ever had the privilege of getting to know.

Marc Savage, Down High

It’s hard to describe the difficulties faced by the children living in incredible urban and rural poverty. However even more difficult to describe is the sheer refusal to give up without a fight which was evident in the children in all of the schools I was privileged to visit, in the adults who help these children, and particularly in those staff who were originally part of those marginalised communities and who, through the opportunity that education provides, are now working in support of those very same communities. Equally impressive was the work of our own students on the Down team who were able to find incredible reserves of energy, compassion, team spirit, and love for each and every individual they encountered. They are a fantastic bunch and their empathy and ability to reflect and grow makes them a credit to their families and schools.

Emer Campbell, teacher from St Patrick’s Grammar

Saphara 2017 proved another amazing experience. Having been on the trip before, it is always so special for me to meet up with people in India who feel like friends after all the years. From the drivers who take us to school each day, or around the madness of Delhi traffic, to the staff in both Sneha and Kaplani schools and MGVS. We are met with smiles and genuine warmth from everyone we encounter and the work Saphara does in India never ceases to amaze me. As for our own team, our young people rose to every challenge thrown at them and then some! They were resilient beyond belief, found humour in every situation and enveloped each other with love, care and compassion. Thank you to all the team leaders and especially Catherine McKillop for her leadership. Thank you Saphara. Thank you India.

Hilary McGuire, teacher from Down High

I joined the team just a month before departure, and consider myself so privileged to have done so. The last few weeks have been incredible – my heart is so full. Returning to SNEHA and seeing familiar faces was a total joy, but so too was being adopted by 20 seventeen year olds into their Saphara family. Coming home is hard; as I write this I’m looking out at a beach filled with children splashing and giggling, and yet I have tears in my eyes knowing that this is so far removed from life for my Indian friends. But I’m reminded that even though my perspectives change, I have a God who remains the same yesterday, today and forever; and he holds me, the Down team, our Indian friends, and indeed the greater picture of the whole world in His hands. May He take and use us as He sees fit.

Jill Mulligan, Saphara

Saphara is about empowering individuals to effect change. While this is a high ideal it can in fact happen on many levels. The Down 2017 team did not just visit India but set out on a journey, open to be transformed as individuals. It was an amazing privilege to be alongside a great bunch of young people from Assumption, Down High and Red High as they rose to and surpassed all the challenges set before them. Their contribution to the work of Sneha, MGVS and Saphara was outstanding. I was blessed to be a small part of the team that facilitated this.

Dominic Breen, Saphara and retired teacher from Assumption Grammar

“My heart is full of thankfulness”. Never has the opening line to this gorgeous hymn been more true to me. The Saphara Down team 2017 have been simply amazing. Two memories stand out from this trip: firstly, after a week of heavy rain and mist, when the clouds finally cleared at Kaplani and we were treated to the stunning mountain scenery. This is a view I will never tire of. However, one that tops this is meeting some of the past–pupils of SNEHA school who are now working as classroom assistants in the morning and then studying with the Open University in the evening, some to become teachers, with the desire to inspire young people as they have been inspired. These young ladies are a wonderful testimony to what one person can achieve when they are shown compassion and nurtured. It is wonderful to see the funds raised by Saphara and its supporters making such a tangible difference.

Catherine McKillop (team leader), Saphara


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