14th February 2015
Today we visited Anurag School in Dehli, which offers an education to women and children from the marginalised communities around the school – there are no school buses folks, all the children come to school on foot through the narrowly winding streets. And yes, they have classes on a Saturday! However, this was no ordinary Saturday morning for the pupils, as we realised when we arrived. The children had spent weeks practicing and making costumes in preparation for our visit, and we were treated to the most beautiful display of traditional Indian dancing.
We then visited the pupils in classes, where they showed us the work they have been doing in their favourite lessons, Geography, Science and English. What struck me about the visit to Anurag was the sheer joy and enthusiasm for learning that all of the young people seem to have.
Without any of the facilities and resources that we enjoy in school back home, they strive to be the very best they can be and grab every opportunity that this lovely little school tries to offer them. What also struck me was their complete lack of inhibition. The girls and boys enjoyed the performances almost as much as we did, with no hint of embarrassment or affectation. It was a joy!
Thank you to all of the pupils and staff at Anurag for a wonderful visit. I hope I can come again soon!
Jacqui Argument – Priory Integrated College, Holywood.
The Taj Mahal
15th February 2015
This was a memorable day. We visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The splendour of these two sights was breath–taking and a reminder of the workmanship and skills of those involved in their creation.
Our guide Sandie was truly inspirational and challenged our skills of empathy and understanding of people in the past. His knowledge was amazing. The religious aspect of life has been sustained and we were reminded of this through the imagery in the gardens and the adjacent Hindu Temple.
The practice of thanking God for such a simple thing as water reminds us of the need to be grateful for the many blessings perhaps insufficiently acknowledged in our daily lives. As the team of principals reflected on the day’s experience, the camaraderie and sense of common purpose increased and will continue in the days ahead.
Delhi to Dehradun
16th February 2015
It was an early start again today from Delhi, as the team headed to the train station to catch the 6.45am train from Delhi to Dehradun.
Whilst on the 6 hour journey the team reviewed the planned workshops for the staff development day we were going to deliver in SNEHA school but the bulk of the journey was spent simply engaging in conversation with other travellers and being enthralled by the sights and sounds of the different views of everyday life as we rattled through the Indian countryside heading north.
Arriving in Dehradun we were struck by the different atmosphere compared to Delhi. Everything, apart from the traffic, seemed to be more relaxed and laid back. We made our way to SNEHA school with some trepidation, hoping it would live up to our expectations as an oasis of learning within a marginalised community. We need not have worried, everything we had hoped for was surpassed. Entering the gates of SNEHA we were greeted by each pupil leaving school in their immaculate uniforms, full of joy and pride, wishing each of us a ‘good afternoon’ in perfect English, their heads held high with beaming eyes.
It was a most touching and memorable scene, knowing that for these children, they were leaving a haven to go out to face challenges of deprivation, servitude, exploitation of which we have limited experience.
Meeting for the first time, the inspirational Dr Reeta and her innovative Principal Esther, along with the SNEHA staff and pupils was a highlight that not one of us is likely to forget. SNEHA school is more than a centre of educational attainment, it is a beacon of hope for a positive future for everyone in its care and it was a humbling experience to visit here. On our journey of purpose with Saphara, we are benefiting from the mutually empowering encounters. The Principals shared with SNEHA staff the wide range of benefits for those young people who come to India with Saphara including the life–changing impact on their self–confidence, leadership skills and a sense of global citizenship. The senior leaders of SNEHA shared with us how their partnership work with Saphara has helped them all to transform the lives of the children in many ways.
These range from improving the quality of teaching and learning, the level of English spoken by the children helping them to access better jobs, the adolescent girls’ resilience personal development programme, the quality of the learning environment including the amazing new ‘Grand Stand’ structure for dining and outdoor events and the personal support given to teachers at times of difficulties in their lives.
Tomorrow we will have the opportunity to visit the districts many of the pupils come from and to meet up with them as they celebrate a Hindu Holy Day. We will also be working with the staff from SNEHA, Donk Primary and Kaplani High and look forward to learning with these inspirational teachers who are demonstrating in practical terms, the words of Gandhi, how to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’
Hope in Distressing Conditions
17th February 2015
Our day began with a visit to the marginalised community which was an experience of hope despite the horrific surroundings.The sights and smells of the conditions in which these people live in the 21st century is profoundly shocking. Yet there is no clearer place to see how education can make the difference for the lives of children. As we walked the mud–clad streets, with the pigs in the gutters and the sewage and detritus seeping through our flip flops, we gagged and despaired inside. We passed the children who don’t go to school. They stand forlorn with hair matted, scantily clad and empty eyes. They are unable to communicate.
We turned a corner and all of sudden the pied piper of SNEHA, Nadesh was surrounded by smiling, happy children with their hairs combed, their shoulders held high, greeting us with cheers, ‘The Saphara people are here, come and see!’ On Saturday, we had met with the head of TearFund in India and he shared with us the plight of many children who are trafficked or sold into forced labour. When they disappear, nobody even asks ‘Where have all the children gone?’ In contrast, in this marginalised community, all the SNEHA children appeared and talked enthusiastically about their love of school and their aspirations for the future. The work of SNEHA through its partnership with Saphara is ensuring these children don’t increase the statistics of forgotten children.
With it being a Hindu Holy Day, all the children were off school and their parents were off work. Many were dressed in colourful Indian dress and we had the delight of seeing the Sally of Govindgahr meet the Sally of Fortwilliam. Her exuberance was infectious despite her challenging circumstances and we were all invited to lunch.
When the rest of Dehradun were off on holiday, the staff of SNEHA, Kaplani and Donk engaged in personal and professional development. They considered how each of them are special with their skills and qualities reflected in lotus flowers, peacock feathers, handprints and hearts contrasting with negative messages that make us wilt, hide away, keep us enchained or break our hearts. We provided a range of workshops on the importance of plan, do and review as a process, different ways to reward pupils, characteristics of effective learning, active learning strategies and leadership skills. The quality of interaction with the teachers was excellent and their questions were profound and insightful. We celebrated all the learning and reviewed the day with one of the teachers stating, ‘God has been here today and I see God in all of you’. What a way to end a staff development day!
A Very Encouraging Day
Today we set out on a three hour trip on windy roads, with steep tiered mountain sides and vultures, cows and monkeys scattered along the road. Holding our breath (and the contents of our stomachs down) as we traversed the thoroughfares with the snowy Himalayas barely visible through the fog in the distance.
After three hours, we went on a short mountain walk to visit a woman’s community group. They had a goat raising project which is funded by Saphara and organised by MGVS. There were nine woman, who had currently twelve goats through which they sustained their families. As a result, all their children were in school and they had developed a credit union and saved what for them was quite a large amount of rupees. They used this to lend to each other for weddings, business opportunities and when times were hard. It was inspiring to see how something so small and simple had such a profound and positive effect. Keep buying goats this Christmas people!
We then visited to Gair High School where we encountered a Girls’ Empowerment Programme. There were four facilitators who were teaching resilience and empowerment life skills to 22 girls. The girls put on two pointed and humorous role–plays for the team, looking at the rights of girls to education and handling peer pressure. It was exciting to hear the difference the programme had made to the facilitators, and they answered specific questions put to them by the team. Their newfound passion was being transferred to the girls and the changes were obvious for all to see.
Lastly we stopped at a local village, where Saru, a young girl with polio, had received help from Saphara which enabled her to see a doctor to get fitted with leg braces along with a walking frame. While previously bedridden, Saru was now able to come out of her house and briefly came out to see us all. This was exciting as are plans for an operation in the near future which will enable her to further progress.
Finally we enjoyed a Chinese meal together and shared in our reflections. A very encouraging day.
All in One Day
19th February 2015
All nine of us arrived home this evening, tired but exhilarated after our trek from Donk. Our time there was short but it gave us great pleasure. Fifteen new desks and benches had just been delivered the day before. Jacqui, principal of Priory Integrated, was delighted that the money her staff and pupils had contributed the week before had been put to such good use so quickly. Donk and Northern Irish teachers encouraged the children as they played ‘tigers and monkeys’ in the yard before the formal school dismissal led by a hugely confident nine year old.
We have had wonderful experiences each day on this trip and today was no exception. We began our morning with a visit to Kaplani High School, an MGVS school which hosts Saphara teams each summer. Although it was cold outside we received a very warm welcome from each class we visited. We were so impressed with the confidence of the pupils as they stood to greet us in English. We visited classes 6 to 10 and gave each pupil a small gift to acknowledge their endeavour. Christine, on behalf of Saphara, presented the principal with a new office computer and printer. It was great to have the opportunity to meet up again with the Kaplani teachers and speak about the workshops we attended together on Tuesday in SNEHA.
We got another insight into the extending work of Saphara when we visited the neighbouring primary school run by Himalayan Torchbearers.
Saphara is developing links with this school and already provides a mid–day programme for its pupils. Here the pupils sang to us about ‘joy in the Lord’.
How fortunate we have been to have experienced so much in one short day.
The Talents of SNEHA
20th February 2015
Last night was our first experience of a thunderstorm in the Himalayas as the sky blackened and the torrential rain pounded on the roof of our hotel. As this inclement weather continued into early morning, our thoughts turned to those pupils we had met yesterday (some as young as 4 years old) who would have a 2 hour walk to Donk school, along a treacherous mountain path.
The sense of being inspired by the determination and resilience of young people, in spite of the barriers they have to overcome, was reinforced as we arrived back in SNEHA school. We were greeted most affectionately by Dr Reeta and her staff and were then treated to a display of the pupils’ talents that was nothing short of breathtaking.
From the youngest to the seniors, the quality of the dance and interpretation was outstanding.
One of the dances originated from the Garwahli region that we had visited a couple of days before, another from south India and included young boys juggling with fire – and even fire eating! All of the dances were enthusiastically received by the entire school.
Following the performance the Saphara team met all of the 1,100 pupils in their classrooms to express our appreciation for the welcome we have received and to look forward to our future work together.
Jacqui Argument and Julie Taggart
As we approach the end of our wonderful trip, we spent time with some inspirational young girls at Kalkaji Government School who, in spite of their impoverished circumstances, were flourishing through an innovative IT programme. Following this we visited the Lotus Temple where we had a chance to reflect on a week crammed full of many experiences, both inspiring and challenging.
Here’s a few of our final reflections:
It was a once in a lifetime experience and thanks to Christine’s exceptional planning, we had a wonderful trip. The highlight was visiting the schools and seeing the joy on the faces of the pupils who were so eager to please. Saphara is a wonderful organisation and we saw the results of all the hard work over the past 10 days. Sally McGahan
My second visit to India with Saphara and all expectations were exceeded. I was privileged to see the schools and the progress that has been made in the past few years. Donk Primary school was accessible this time (unlike during our last visit when it snowed) albeit after a long and challenging hike. I have been humbled and inspired by the truly inspirational people we have met. A wonderful experience! Bernie Devlin
This trip was an overwhelming experience for me, but one that has also left with me hope and determination. The sheer volume of need, the injustice, the needless poverty, the discrimination which all of us have participated and co–operated in is startling. When we have the courage and humility to face up to it, we must change our thinking and behaviour if we really grapple with its implications. This is an enormous challenge and will take time to process and outwork. Saphara, though small, is really making a difference. Thanks to the Principals – it was a joy to work with them with the highlight for me being the teacher training day at SNEHA. Thanks to Christine, Dominic and Cheryl for their care, support and help with reflections. Let’s make a difference! Peter Dornan
What an amazing experience and humbling opportunity to visit all the Saphara schools in India. Fantastic staff and pupils in very difficult circumstances – 50 in a class is not easy. A brilliant journey and a great team.
Looking back on my week in India I will certainly remember places and things I’ve seen but most of all I will keep in mind the children, the teachers and the villagers I met. We saw the great challenges that marginalised and rural communities face but came away impressed by the tremendous courage, resourcefulness and dignity of the men, women and children who lived there. The teachers in SNEHA, Donk, and Kaplani schools and our own N Irish principals worked wonderfully together and I look forward to seeing this aspect of Saphara’s work developing. Thank you to the principals and to Cheryl for making such a great contribution to the work of our Indian schools. Dominic Breen
Exceptionally well organised and planned from beginning to end with a variety of school contexts. A wonderful country of contrasts, of brilliance and of deep poverty and social injustice. However, in spite of this there is the hope for something better for these wonderful children – through inspirational ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary work.
‘Dreams are not those things that we see in our sleep; they are the things that never let us sleep’ (APJ Kalam). This seems to me to encapsulate the indomitable spirit of India. It is embodied in all of the people in the schools, in Surender and Prince David whose NGO work is doing so much to support the poor and the marginalised, and in the lovely Saphara team who I shared reflections with at the end of each amazing day. I don’t know yet how this experience will change me, but I know it will help me to keep dreaming. Jacqui Argument
A huge thank you to our N Irish school principals who generously gave up their half–term break to come to India with Saphara. I know how much the Indian teachers appreciated your workshops and interactions equipping them as they seek to inspire the children to believe in their potential despite their difficult circumstances. Yet I know that the principals felt that they received just as much encouragement in meeting such amazingly passionate educators who make a huge difference to their students. These mutually empowering encounters are right at the heart of Saphara. Christine Burnett