Down Team 2018

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

The Beginning

30th June 2018

After nearly 24 hours of travelling, we were warmly welcomed in Delhi with orange Marigold necklaces and, unsurprisingly, it was hot and humid! Although the volume of traffic delayed our journey, it allowed us to see the bedlam of vehicles and hear the cacophony of horns! A late breakfast was followed by a visit to the Ghandi Smitri Museum where we witnessed a recreation of Gandhi’s final steps and learnt about his inspirational and humbling life. We saw how his life’s work influenced and empowered a new generation of Indians to become independent and determined. One memorable quote was: “Simplicity is the essence of universality”.

In true Saphara fashion, we spent some time buying our traditional Indian clothes. Needless to say, the boys were kitted out in no time at all. We can’t say the same for the girls, however, who took more time and spent more money. We look forward to modelling our new outfits when we visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort tomorrow.

Claire and Charlie


See the Amazing Taj Mahal

1st July 2018

Our morning began with an early breakfast, to fuel our visit to one of the wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal. The four–hour bus journey to Agra seemed daunting. However, time flew by due to the group games we played and was that journey worth it when we were exposed to the beauty of the Taj? A first impression was the vast numbers of people queuing to see the building but we were in good hands with our guide Mohammed. He was very knowledgeable and brought more to the tour as we heard the history of the building. The Taj Mahal was originally built by the 17th century King as a tomb for his wife and cost 14 million rupees at the time. We passed through the Taj and saw the chamber where the tombs of the King and Queen lie. What we found most interesting was that King wanted to build a black version of the Taj Mahal for himself but his son locked him away in the Agra fort because he thought he was greedy and mad. We were also in awe at the symmetry of the building and how the 4 pillars were tilted to exactly 92 degrees to protect the dome from damage if an earthquake occurred. This was particularly impressive especially since they had no advanced machinery or calculators to achieve this and they had the foresight to carry out measures to protect the Taj. For lunch, we had the pleasure of going to the Trident, a 5–star hotel, where we were treated to a buffet of amazing Indian food. Afterwards we went to the Marble Shop and Factory and saw first–hand how marble is still made, using the traditional methods used when the Taj Mahal was built. We were also shown the handmade pashminas (shawls) and silk scarves and were given the opportunity to purchase our own.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was the 40–degree heat which we found ourselves in throughout the day. Words cannot describe the feeling of getting back to the air–conditioned bus and hotel after spending hours in the sun. However, before we travelled back to the hotel, we saw many young children begging for food and money as well as cows and sick dogs roaming the streets. It was heart–breaking to witness first–hand the poverty they live in, especially in India, where a third of the world’s billionaires live. It made us realise how privileged we really are.

Aodhán and Jenny


From Delhi to Mussoorie

1st July 2018

After another early morning call at 4:45am, it was with heavy hearts we left Delhi to travel to Mussoorie which involved a bus, train and taxi journey. We arrived at the train station at 6am to crowds of people, an overwhelming experience for many of us. Our bags weighed a lot more than many of us could carry. In fact, it is surprising that no one fell over.

Within the train station there were many homeless people who were still sleeping. This was shocking for us, especially as there were so many children. As a team we embarked on the train journey which took around 6 hours. The view was very beautiful. We witnessed the second–class train carriages which were overflowing with men, women and children.

To pass the time, we played cards and Monopoly, as well as catching up on some much–needed rest. We also got some time to prepare for our lessons for the next day. This reinforced the reason for our journey. On arrival in Dehradun we enjoyed what tasted like the best McDonald’s of our lives!

Our taxi journey to Mussoorie followed small, bendy roads through the beautiful Himalayas. After arriving at the hotel, the rest of our time was spent preparing our lessons for the next day at Kaplani High School, after which we appreciated a much needed “early” night.

Helena and Ellen


First Day at Kaplani

2nd July 2018

For the first time so far in India we all got a great night’s sleep! A ‘lie in’ to 7 o’clock seems unusual for those of us used to waking up in the early hours of the afternoon but it was greatly appreciated by the entire team. Everyone excitedly ate breakfast in anticipation of our first time experiencing teaching within India. Preparing for a whole year as part of the Down Saphara Team had led us up to this moment and we were all eager to get started.

Kaplani High School was only a 25–minute drive away and this flew by as the teaching teams were finalising the preparation of the three lessons we would each lead. The mountain views in the morning were a breath–taking spectacle along the drive as the fog had cleared to reveal the steep cliff edges of the Himalayas. With Kaplani situated at 7000ft in altitude, the school had a seriously amazing view, which we had little time to fully appreciate before we were in the staff room to gather our resources.

Assembly at Kaplani High School surprised all of us with how organised and well–disciplined the pupils were at the school. We lined up and participated in drills before hearing the morning news and listening to the students singing the Indian national anthem. Before long, the assembly was over and we were finally ready to head into the classrooms. After all this build up it was the moment we had all been anticipating nervously, yet excitedly, as we stepped through the threshold of our respective classrooms to teach for the first time. We had all been awaiting this for so long that it didn’t seem fully real, even when stepping into the classes.

Each teaching group was scheduled to deliver three lessons throughout the day to their respective class: P.E, Science and English. This gave us a wide scope to cover within the time given, especially as we were thrown into uncharted territory for most of us. We were all heavily impressed with the level of commitment and value placed in school by the pupils who were in attendance; each pupil truly valued the purpose of education and appreciated why the Saphara team’s guidance in English would be so helpful in allowing them to better their skills within this foreign language. All the children were eager to participate in P.E. and were able to lead different sections with our help, which was truly rewarding to see. Science definitely provided more challenging for the junior members of the school as we had to adapt as teachers to ensure that they were all able to comprehend the difficult concepts of physics and were all involved in the active learning process. By the end of the school day, we were all heavily exhausted but feeling really rewarded as we had already begun to see the impact that our work in India had.

Leaving Kaplani, we travelled back to the hotel to grab some lunch before heading out on a walk of the local town; the houses and shops within the narrow streets are truly fascinating to see and at night the illuminated cliff side is astounding, with the lights of the town glowing through the fog. Returning from the walk, dinner was greeted gratefully and the sweet and sour chicken was delicious, meaning that we were all going up for seconds and even thirds! After dinner we entered into a viscously competitive tournament of ‘Spit’ and are waiting now to see who the overall victor in the battle against the tenacious card–shark Michelle Black will be.

Owen and Lorcán.


Teaching in Monsoon Weather

3rd July 2018

We were abruptly awoken this morning to the monsoon rains and the unique experience of a group of Himalayan monkeys jumping on the roof. The view from our balcony across the Himalayas was absolutely phenomenal, with clear skies stretching across the mountain ranges, down to the city below and beyond. After breakfast we eagerly gathered our teaching materials and set off for our second day of teaching at Kaplani.

After the twisty road punctuated with plenty of the traditional Indian beeping, we arrived at a very wet and misty school; a totally different experience from the whole school buzz of yesterday. It was a shock to many of us to see just how much the rain had affected the lives of the children with only a third of the school able to make the walk.

This really drove home for us the reality of how harsh the lives of the Kaplani children are with many of them walking between 5 and 10 km through the mountains to school. We faced our first teaching challenge, having to quickly adapt our lesson planning and merging Class 6 and 7 to give us a grand total of five pupils!

We had to rethink our lesson plans as what seemed like a normal rainy day to us at home had a massive impact on the normal school day. Therefore, we began to teach the children different forms of English through song and dance. We all agree that the highlight of our day and what will inevitably be a major highlight of our time at Kaplani was the school wide rugby game at recess, with boys, girls, Saphara and even Andrew and Vincent having a go. The smaller class sizes really helped us to connect with our students, get to know them on a deeper level and find out what life is like at 7,000 ft.

The scenery at Kaplani was surreal today and gave us all a sense that some things in life cannot be captured on a camera but can only be seen through one’s own eyes. We have all had our eyes opened today to the stunning scenery but also on a much deeper level to the very harsh reality of life for these young children who always have a smile on their faces, boundless enthusiasm, deep appreciation of the simplest things of life. Indeed, we learn nearly more from them than they learn from us.

After the intensity of Kaplani we welcomed some downtime and a trip to the shop as the sugar supplies were dangerously low. We are all looking forward to an early night ahead of Day 3 at Kaplani but our hearts are already breaking at the thought of leaving our new–found friends.

Rachael and Thomas


Even More Monsoon Weather

4th July 2018

We awoke this morning at 7am to yet more heavy rain. We packed our rain coats and Saphara hoodies and set out for another day of teaching at Kaplani High School. It was with great excitement that we greeted all the children after many couldn’t make it in yesterday due to the monsoon rains. The journey to the school was accompanied with laughter, fun and excitement as the anticipation built for yet another day of teaching. The journey, as always, brought stunning views of the Himalayas, and, in the distance, we could see Donk Primary School which will be the destination of Friday’s trek.

A short and empowering assembly this morning saw the kids sing the Indian national anthem in the light rain. With no monsoon rain to hold them back, the children were able to make the long trek to school, which makes our walk from the bus, up the Red High and Assumption hills, look easy. We were able to do our planned lessons for the day rather than improvising and therefore we had a successful day’s teaching. Our first lesson was Science, during which the children were excited to make the wheels representing the colours of the rainbow. It was really encouraging to see the children’s English progress whilst developing their creativity. The children wrote our names in Hindi. This was humbling for us, as we have only been with them for two days, yet it shows how great an impact we have made on them.

Our second lesson of the day was English. We began by recapping on yesterday’s lesson of places in the town and then split the class into groups and played games teaching the children directions. It was evident through the children’s laughter that they were learning through simple games. At lunch, we played yet another game of rugby and didn’t even lose the ball this time! The younger girls wanted to play games in a circle with us rather than play rugby. Our last lesson of the day was PE. Assisted by Michelle, we taught the children traditional Irish dancing. They found it strange, although, with practice, they quickly picked up the steps. They then showed us some Hindi dancing and we finished with one giant game of ‘hokey cokey’.

After much needed rest we planned for tomorrow’s presentation. Despite being very excited about our final day, it will be sad for us as we have developed such good relations with our classes. It will be so hard to leave the children after such an enjoyable time!

Caitlin and Jack (Murnin)


Final Day at Kaplani High School

6th July 2018

After another ‘lie in’ until 7am, our day started with the standard omelettes and a strong cup of coffee. Today was our final day in Kaplani High School, after a very special few days working with the amazing pupils. Our final goal for our time here was to prepare a short class presentation which would be showcased in front of the pupils, teachers and principal. Each presentation would feature elements of what the pupils had been learning this week in English, Science and PE/PD. The team was very excited to watch our pupils perform as we had observed them progressing during the course of the week and were waiting with great anticipation to see whether they would remember all they had learned.

Teaching in the morning was emotional for many of us as we knew that we were approaching the final lessons with our pupils, of whom we had become so fond. Most of the morning lessons were devoted to preparing for the showcase in the afternoon, but we were able to incorporate elements of English and PE/PD activities such as dancing and singing to encourage the pupils to have the confidence to perform later. Pupils from our classes had created small goodbye cards for all of us which made many of us feel sad that this would be the end of our time at Kaplani. However, the children were able to cheer us up as they were fully engaged within the preparation for the showcase.

Kaplani’s showcase was introduced by Surrender, Director of MGVS, whose commitment to the local towns and villages and commitment to the pupils of Kaplani is exceptional. After Surrender had spoken, Class 6 began the showcase with their presentation about animals. Class 7 talked about the differences between culture within India and Ireland, while Class 8 spoke about their future careers. Class 9 outlined luminous and non–luminous objects which they had learned about in Science and Class 10 concluded the performances with questions about life within the local community. We were all so proud of the children as they had fully devoted themselves to performing to the best of their ability and had demonstrated their newly learnt knowledge to their entire school, which was a daunting task which we couldn’t imagine doing, least of all in a foreign language. Sadly, it was now time to say goodbye to all of the children, and, with heavy hearts we were waved off from Kaplani by all the pupils.

Today was also special for another reason: it was Eirinn’s 18th Birthday. While shopping earlier in the day, we had bought a card, cake and party poppers to surprise her with later on.

To mark the occasion, we dressed in traditional Indian style clothing and had a surprise dinner in the Clock Tower Restaurant, a pizza parlour in Landour Bazaar . Pizza was a much appreciated change from the regular curry at the hotel and Eirinn was very pleased to spend her 18th birthday with her Saphara Team. We were then treated to a lovely chocolate fudge cake which had been personalised for Eirinn and finished the night with some photographs of the spectacular views of Mussoorie by night.

Dylan and Eirinn.


Donk Primary School

7th July 2018

Waking up for breakfast at 8 o’clock, which was our best lie in yet, we had the usual of cereal, toast and omelettes. Afterwards, we were split into groups and travelled by taxi to Donk. After a thirty minute journey we arrived at the start of our trek. We were accompanied by the Saphara University Team and were all eager to get started. Surrender gave us a brief overview of the trek and the conditions at Donk. The village has a small primary school fully supported by Saphara, which is located in a remote area of the Himalayan Foothills. The primary school has only 8 pupils in total and relies on Saphara’s support to continue functioning. This made the trip even more special for us.

The path to Donk was initially a very steep descent, with a small and narrow passageway beside steep cliff edges. On our way down, Surrender made frequent stops to explain aspects of life in the area and to point out the homes of children who attend Kaplani High School. We got to see the buffalo kept as cattle in a small hut, which is the primary source of money for many families. Seeing the living conditions of some of the pupils whom we taught at Kaplani was emotional as we now appreciated the lengths they go to have an education. The descent took around 1 hour 15 minutes to get to the small village of Donk.

Arriving at Donk, we saw the schoolhouse building, which consisted of two separate rooms, one of which was not being used due to the fact that there weren’t enough pupils currently in attendance. While the university students taught the children, we were given a tour of the village by Surrender and some of the locals. We were told stories about the impact that the leopards have on the farming community, as some of their livestock had been stolen and the young children were under threat.

After a brief lunch we played some games with the children. They enjoyed the range of games, with us playing ‘hokey cokey’ and the ‘Animal Song’. Whilst the children’s English is very limited, it was clear that they were enjoying the activities that we played. We spent a very limited amount of time at Donk before we began the long journey back up the mountain. Going back up the mountain was a difficult trek to say the least, but we all managed it successfully. Everyone was able to go at their own pace and we really appreciated the journey the children from Kaplani have to make every single day just in order to attend school.

Back at the hotel, we had a few hours of free time to sleep and shower. After dinner we gathered to play ‘River Babies’, led by host Andrew, and judged by Bernie, Michelle and Vincent. Each group had to perform a dramatic enactment with a different genre: Kung Fu, Elizabethan Tragedy, Western, Pantomime, Soap Opera and Superheroes. Performing the acts was very enjoyable and it was abundantly evident that there are some budding actors and actresses amongst the Saphara Team. We discussed the metaphorical meaning behind the story and interpreted the effectiveness of the charity delivered in the story with relation to our purpose in India.

Keely and Harry


Our Global Awareness Weekend

8th July 2018

On Sunday morning, following Saturday night’s preparation, we began what we referred to as ‘The Happening’. This is an event included in the Global Awareness Weekend where everyone is given the opportunity to reflect on the Saphara experience and share his/her thoughts on the journey so far. We shared deep and meaningful feelings, allowing everyone to have a voice without any judgement being passed. This brought us closer together as a team and gave us the much–needed opportunity to take a weight off our shoulders by reading aloud: quotes from the Bible, personal reflections, significant song lyrics and well thought out poems.

After this emotional event we began our descent from the peaceful Himalayan mountains to the busy city of Dehradun. With the change in altitude and heat the group had become significantly more tired and in need of a nice warm bed.

After some downtime the team reassembled in the new location – Hotel Relax – to eat our ritual dish of curry (with some nan) for lunch. With the day quickly passing by we began to plan our first two lessons that we would teach in SNEHA the next day. After spending more time than expected on planning, the leaders treated us to a well–earned home ritual dish of McDonalds nuggets (fish fillet for Jack and Caitlin). After filling up we were allowed some free time in Dehradun to grab a quick ice cream, stack up on snacks and watch Jack Martin become the new Virat Kohli (when finding indoor cricket nets above the arcade and ice cream parlour).

After a long day we returned to Hotel Relax by a new mode of transport, the Vikram. With a group of 20 restless teenagers the leaders made a swift and smart decision, to ‘call it a night’. We thought it was best to get a good night’s sleep before embarking on the second stage of our Saphara journey

Jack Martin & Lucia


Hello SNEHA!

9th July 2018

Early start this morning at 07:00 with breakfast at 07:15. We needed to be ready to go at 8 as we had booked Vikrams again. It was a short 10–minute drive in the Vikram to SNEHA. However, the short journey proved to be quite the eye opener as we saw a queue of men waiting for work outside a large clocktower in Dehradun and we passed by the slums from which the SNEHA pupils come. We were shocked by the extent of the slums and the sight of young children walking through a rubbish littered river – scavenging to find items to recycle for money.

The school itself is very formal and well built with children taking the upmost pride in their uniforms and looking immaculate despite the conditions they live in. We were shown the staff room where we were given time to prepare for our first class at 9:20. The team was split into 3 groups, each group taking either year 1,2, or 3. En route to our first class we were blown away by how welcoming and kind the students are. All along the corridors we were greeted with warm welcomes and smiles. First and second class that day consisted of two 40–minute periods with classes A and B from each year in which we read a story to them then split into groups to make name tags and go through the story in more detail. Each member of the team had a group of 5 – 7 pupils. The third class was spent with class A and we did literacy–based learning, fun games and interactive reading. Straight after this we began conversation classes with the Year 9 and 10 classes. We were split into new groups and we then took around 4 – 5 students and asked them questions on a topic to improve their spoken English, which was already impressive. Some examples of the topics included hopes, dreams and aspirations, culture and clothing. Conversation classes ended just after 13:00 and we were soon back in the Vikrams going back to the hotel.

After a very exciting day, we returned to the hotel to get much needed showers. We got our lunch in the hotel’s restaurant before we left for a coffee shop which was combined to a bookshop; an opportunity for some relaxation following an exhausting week. We got a chance to do some shopping while we were out before returning once again to the hotel. Following our first day at SNEHA we began our planning for tomorrow’s craft lesson, which allowed a chance for some creative thinking and for a lesson which we hope the children will really enjoy. 300 paper plates later, we sat down in the hotel’s restaurant once again for our hot dinner, during which we tried three different types of indian bread. Following dinner, we had a heated game of “celebrities” with accusations of cheating thrown across the room. We were then sent to bed to catch up on some much–needed sleep to energise us for teaching in the morning.

Lorcán and Charlie


Visiting the Marginalised Community

12th July 2018

Today was another early wakeup call with breakfast at 7.15am. Shortly afterwards, we got into the Vikrams and set off for SNEHA. When we arrived at the school, we left our bags in the staff room and headed off towards the marginalised community. Visiting the community was an eye–opening experience for the whole team. Some of the residents invited us into their homes where we found out that they sleep, cook and live in one room. We couldn’t believe that these people pay rent for these houses and that 95% of the family’s income goes towards the rent with the risk of being exploited by the slum lords. It was challenging to see young children brushing their teeth with dirty water. The river around which the families live is also in very poor condition, the sewage floats in the river and the children scavenge the river for plastic or anything they can sell which could earn them up to 100 rupees (£1) a day. On the opposite riverbank livestock bathe in the river. On our way back to SNEHA, we noticed that the children who attended the school had to walk through a rich neighbourhood before reaching the school which is in stark contrast to their home life.

Today in SNEHA we developed our relationships with the students making crafts inspired by the different books we were reading. After our two periods teaching, we had a very inspirational talk from the founder of SNEHA, Dr. Rita Rao. She explained why she founded SNEHA and how she felt inspired to give people in the marginalised community a right to education. It transpires that the reputation of SNEHA is such that parents of children from the wider community seek places for their children. We were also informed by the school administrator that this is the first year that SNEHA has turned down applications because the school is oversubscribed. We ended the school day with our conversation classes during which we developed our discussions about topics of mutual interest.

After a very full day of teaching, we relaxed over lunch at McDonalds and afterwards went to the arcade where we found out that girls are better at air hockey than boys. We then went back to our hotel where we planned for the next day of teaching and prepared for the final presentation. We were delighted to see a delivery of our favourite “Dominoes” pizzas which really lifted our spirits for the rest of the evening. We also found out that in the team we have a few magicians amongst us! Before heading to bed, we had our usual reflection which included revisiting in our minds today’s experiences. Individually, we wrote on single sheets of paper something we had learnt today and something we wanted to change. These were pinned up on the white noticeboard and we were all afforded the opportunity to read each other’s points. Lights out was at 10.30 pm, although some members were asleep even earlier!

Jennifer and Keely


The Effects on the Monsoon Weather

13th July 2018

We woke up early in the morning with high hopes for teaching in the day ahead – we were all really looking forward to continuing with our craft lessons for ‘Walking Through the Jungle’, ‘Monkey Puzzle’ and ‘The Gruffalo’ for Classes 1–3, and our English conversation classes with pupils in the upper school of SNEHA. Vikrams arrived at 8 o’clock to take us to SNEHA and we set off with expectations for the day ahead.

However, driving through the local community, it became evident that the torrential monsoon rains had caused devastation and a crisis awaited us when we arrived at the gates of the school. The dismay on the faces of gathered pupils and staff members was very clear to see. Dr. Reeta and Ronjoy had already arrived at the school and we witnessed their absolute despair at the shocking scene they had discovered that morning as a result of the overnight rains which caused structural damage to the school walls. Walking up the road to the school made it obvious to us all how serious the damage was – houses were flooded and people were attempting to pour out water from the ground floor using buckets.

Approaching the school filled us all with nervous anxiety as we anticipated what we would see. As we reached the gates of SNEHA, we saw the devastation caused by the river. The wall beside the water tank had collapsed and water from the river beside had flooded the playground of the school. Many of the pupils, past and present, as well as teachers of SNEHA had already gathered and began trudging through the murky brown water, attempting to remove litter from the school. Seeing bits of the brick wall floating among the debris was really difficult, and the worst thing was seeing pigs scavenging through the litter too. This was particularly devastating as Dr. Reeta had begun her school on the streets of the slums with pigs disrupting lessons, and it appeared almost like a full circle had occurred. Downcast emotions filled everyone’s faces and Dr. Reeta looked utterly heartbroken as she witnessed her years of hard work marred by this natural disaster. We could clearly see how panicked the Sneha community was, as they surveyed the extent of water damage and attempted to filter water out of the classrooms.

For both the Down Team and the University Team, the entire situation was devastating to behold. It was shocking to believe that the flooded and rubbish–filled playground had been in use the day before for P.E activities and the uplifting nursery school assembly, and we were all incredibly emotional on our journey back to the hotel, as we hated feeling helpless about this situation that was out of our control.

Unfortunately, our team was only able to stay at SNEHA School briefly as the stagnant water posed risk of disease and Dr. Reeta was concerned about keeping us protected from this. We all felt conflicted, as we desperately wanted to help. However, we recognised that in this situation, the best thing we could do was to follow Dr Reeta’s advice and leave. For all of us, Dr. Reeta remained a figure of strength and hope for SNEHA School and surrounding community. Despite the damage caused to the school, we all knew that Sneha as a community would strive onwards and progress – this would be far from the end of the story of SNEHA’s community and would simply be another obstacle that the community would conquer.

Returning to the hotel was difficult after we learned how badly the flooding water had impacted on the marginalised community from which the children of SNEHA came – houses had been swept away, and others were damaged beyond repair. However, we had reflections about what we saw, and how we felt, and we realised that although we couldn’t help the Sneha community physically, we could help them with our time. So, we rallied together as a team and committed ourselves to actively providing support for SNEHA by creating boxes for resources to send to the school. We did arts and crafts that could be sent on to the pupils to help reignite the sense of community when the school could reopen. Our team donated resources for the classes, toiletries for the children and art material based on the lessons that we missed. While we all felt disheartened that we wouldn’t be able to return to SNEHA School, we were able to feel hopeful that our investment of time creating these resources would be valuable. Owen drew giant posters of the animals from the “Gruffalo” and everyone gathered together to help him colour it in.

After spending a few hours working on the boxes we were to give, we had the privilege of hosting Dr Reeta and three of the girls from SNEHA who had recently completed the Henna Training Programme. Whilst Dr Reeta discussed plans with staff, both the girls and boys had their henna done.

After assessing the day’s work, we headed out for a special 18th birthday meal for Owen at ‘Salt and Cravings’. Although the day had been an emotional rollercoaster, we were glad to find positives at the meal and were still able to enjoy the night. Coming back to the hotel, we spent some time practicing songs for a performance to be given to SNEHA School staff and pupils. Ending the day on such a high note was uplifting for the entire team, and the singing talent of Saphara was ‘fully alive’. The entire atmosphere of the night was filled with hope and positivity and felt like an inspirational closing to our Saphara journey.

Owen and Jenny.


Heading Back to Delhi

13th July 2018

Waking up with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be teaching in SNEHA today was hard for our team to contend with. However, this morning we had the privilege of hosting twenty pupils and all of the staff at SNEHA. As our wonderful leaders Bernie and Jo hosted a Staff Development Programme, we had the opportunity to practise our singing and a bit of dancing for our presentation later that day. We as the Down team felt that singing to the teachers of SNEHA after a devastating day could hopefully put a smile on their faces. It is humbling to hear that one student who joined us had lost his house, another nearly drowned and the majority of them were at the school from early morning to attempt to clean up the mess. It’s safe to say that music really does bring people together. After singing “Perfect” and “Magnificat” we then attempted to sing “Telephone to Jesus”. This song was taught to us at the assembly at which we took part on Tuesday. The teachers’ reactions to this was priceless and before long the entire gathering was singing and dancing.

The SNEHA teachers taught us some traditional Indian dances. This was hilarious for them as our dance moves were definitely not as good as our singing and that’s saying something! As the teachers and students left, it was an honour to see how grateful they were for our small token of appreciation as they are all very inspirational people.

The rest of our day was spent packing and preparing for our 6–hour train journey to Delhi. We returned to Hotel Saar where it all began over two weeks ago. What an incredible journey!

Ellen and Caitlin


Final Reflections

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

Rachael Jordan, Assumption Grammar School

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

Charlie Griffith, Down High School

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

Eirinn Braniff, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Owen Edwards, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Claire Hanna, Assumption Grammar School

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

Dylan Scullion, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Ellen Brown, Down High School

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

Niamh Gibney, Assumption Grammar School

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

Caitlin Hale, Assumption Grammar School

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

Jack Murnin, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Aodhán Caldwell, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Lorcan Quail, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Jennifer Quinn, St Patrick’s Grammar School

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

Helena Mitchell, Down High School

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

Keely Hagen, Down High School

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

Thomas Fitzsimons, Down High School

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

Jenny Jose, Assumption Grammar School

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

Lucia Paolonelli, Assumption Grammar School

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

Harry Cross, Down High School

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

Jack Martin, Down High School

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

Andrew Miller, teacher, Down High School

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

Michelle Black, teacher, Assumption Grammar School

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

Vincent Toner, teacher, St Patrick’s Grammar School


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