St Mary's and Stranmillis Team 2014

Wacky Races

Saturday 29 March 2014

There were a lot of sleepy heads this morning as we made an early start to miss the “Wacky Races” of Delhi.

Dressed in our FabIndia purchases, we left the hotel in military precision at 6.45am – and not a minute later. Tooting and beeping, we made our way out of Delhi and headed towards the much anticipated Taj Mahal. Three and a half hours later we arrived in the sweltering Agra, and firstly made our way to the beautiful Trident Hotel for some “elevenses” – the air conditioned welcome was greatly appreciated, as was the tea, coffee and complimentary chocolate cupcakes and banana loaf. Feeling refreshed we stepped back into the heat to visit the Taj Mahal – greeted by our well informed tour guide Deepak Parashar. He was able to advise us on the “attention” we might receive on the way to the Taj. It was safe to say we were all blown away by the beauty of this famous building and the tragic love story of Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz. Shah Jahan was devastated by the death of his much beloved wife during childbirth and fulfilled her three dying promises. 1. To never marry again. 2. To look after their seven children. 3. To build a monument in her memory. The latter thus became the Taj Mahal.

After returning to the Trident Hotel to sample a selection of Indian dishes in a fabulous buffet lunch, we headed back out into the Indian heat to visit the Agra Fort. Thankfully the crocodiles and tigers that once protected the Fort are no more and we were granted entry. The Fort continues the story of the life of Shah Jahan. After the resurrection of the Taj Mahal it was rumoured that he planned to build a replica, only this time in black marble. However, his son, worried about his father’s extravagant spending and angry about being only third in line, he killed his two brothers and imprisoned his father in the Agra Fort until his death. During this time Shah Jahan gazed out towards the Taj Mahal, mourning the loss of his wife. We were overwhelmed by how stunning the architecture of this building was, as well as the celebrity treatment we received. We were in regular demand for photos (due to the contrast between our Indian clothing and N. Irish skin!) and quite enjoyed this A List treatment. Kim Kardashian eat your heart out!!

For Jonny and Niamh the visit brought back happy memories of their trip to the Taj with Christine and the Saphara NW team in 2011. All 3 agreed that the Taj is just as good second time round! Heading back to Delhi now to prepare for the 6 hour train journey to Dehradun

Getting Ready

Sunday 30 March 2014

Last night was very short and the maximum amount of sleep was only around 3 hours.

One group of girls had an even shorter sleep as they spent well over an hour trying to figure out how to get their electric sockets to work. It turned out you need to flick the switch to the ‘on’ position. Michaela says that this trip is now developing her life skills as well as her teaching skills!

We arrived at New Delhi Railway Station at the early time of 6.00am to start our seven hour train journey north to Dehradun. This gave everyone the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep and to add to their reflective journal.

After the long journey we finally arrived to the hustle and bustle of Dehradun Station and caught a taxi to our hotel ‘Inderlok.’ On arrival all of the girls were in for a very pleasant surprise. They had all been given a complementary upgrade to the Presidential Suite!! Lesson planning followed the mad dash for the best beds. We added the finishing touches to our first lessons for tomorrow morning. All was going to plan until an announcement was made that there were clothes for sale downstairs. The planning was immediately halted for a considerable period of time for some well–deserved retail therapy. Finally we are now all set for tomorrow’s big debut in SNEHA School.

Louise & Jonathan

Emotional Rollercoaster

Monday 31 March 2014

The day finally came where we got to teach after our days of being tourists.

Today was a rollercoaster of emotions to say the least. We all had a nervous excitement this morning when we were waiting for our Vikrams (small taxis that swerve through lanes of traffic) to SNEHA school. However any nerves subsided when we saw some children walking to school who smiled and waved at their much anticipated visitors.

We met the entire school at assembly at 8.30am and were pleasantly overwhelmed by the reception the staff and children gave us. Many of us agreed that tears were coming to our eyes as the entire school sang songs to welcome us and clapped as they chanted “welcome friends!” We were then shown to our classrooms where we met with our classes. The excitement on the children’s faces made all the travelling worth it. We taught four lessons today and the respect received from the children was unbelievable with each child calling us ‘mam’ and‘sir.’ The children in the school are the most beautiful, polite and ambitious children we have ever met. It was a real pleasure to have conversation classes with the older children in the school who discussed marriage, hobbies, and their love of the school. It was amazing to contrast our lives to theirs and realise the joys and happiness the children find in the school. ( We were also thrilled to see piles of new books bought with our fundraising!)

By the end of today we are feeling fantastic with everyone elated after their first day of teaching. For those who are reading you will find it difficult to imagine what the school looks like, what the children are like and how different it would be to teach in this environment. For those of you finding it difficult think of an oasis in a life of poverty, a family away from your home and a place where all children can flourish and strive to achieve their dreams.

Rebecca & Hollie

Hollie’s Birthday

Tuesday 1 April 2014

We began the day with a big celebration as it was Hollie’s 21st Birthday and what a way to spend it.

She was sung Happy Birthday by all 1200 pupils. We also got the opportunity to do a rendition of Our God is a Great Big God for the school assembly, we are now taking bookings…! The pupils learned about the importance of education in their assembly using a role play about tea and how education is a vehicle for improving their lives and standard of living.

First lesson came and what a joy to be back with the children – they are so enthusiastic and eager to learn. Our topic is around Treasure Island and piratesand today we were imagining being a pirate on a ship and writing a story about what the day would be like. Even though English is not their first language they came up with excellent adjectives to describe the sky, ship and sea. The pupils had the opportunity to carry out a science experiment about evaporating water to leave salt in the Saphara science lab.

During our break we visited the marginalised community from which the majority of SNEHA students come. This was an extremely challenging and emotional journey for the group as a whole. As we entered the marginalised community it was clear to see that the conditions the children and families were living in were far below the poverty line. The first sight that greeted us was children standing knee deep in rubbish along the river bed rag picking. As we ventured further into the community we got more of a taste of where the children originate from. They are living in cramped squalid conditions with their shelter being made from whatever they can find. It was so difficult to see people living like this and knowing that the children turned up every day so immaculately turned out came from such poor conditions.

As we journeyed away from the marginalised community we were all quite quiet and reflective, this was helped by the inspirational words spoken to us by Dr Reeta. She explained that they unfortunately cannot help everyone in the community but the people they do help aids the community as whole. She explained that the work would not be possible without the support of partners such as Saphara and us being there provided love and joy to the kids which they may not receive at home.

We then had to jump straight back into lessons and had our conversation classes and we were treated to some Bollywood dancing from some of the teachers and students and we even joined in. They are so talented and happy to show them off.

To round of a roller coaster day we are getting glammed up in our India outfits to have dinner and celebrate Hollie’sbirthday.

Lauren, Nicole and Niamh

Moving on Up

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Today we became 13. Our party of (not) unlucky 13 gained a new member in the form of Graham, who we were all amazed to see still standing after a journey of what seemed to be a week. With Graham providing a boost of energy and us dosed up on our herbal/non–herbal anti–travel sickness tablets, we set off on the white–knuckle ride to Kaplani in the Himalayas. Kaplani, a secondary school situated high up in the beautiful Himalayan Mountains, relies so much on the support and funding of Saphara. It was therefore a privilege to get the opportunity to visit this wonderful school, and work with the young people there (and a welcome opportunity for Niamh and Jonny to see the children they had taught 3 years ago – and yes they did remember them!)

After having our breath taken away by the stunning views of snow covered peaks (not to mention the nail–biting road–trip), we were all very keen to get into our classes and meet these inspiring young people. What struck me most about these children was how much they valued their education, as well as, the high ambitions and wishes they held for the future. Aspirations, within myself and Michaela’s Class 8 of 14 year olds, ranged from being a doctor to a teacher, from a professional cricket player to a hotel manager. When the boys and girls talked about these future plans it was clear that these hopes wouldn’t exist without the support and encouragement of Kaplani High school, and we could really see that the fundraising for Saphara benefits, not only the children’s present, but also their future.

All of the student teachers today felt so energised by these young people’s motivation and positive attitude and as a result, the atmosphere was electric. The smiles could not be wiped off our faces – until we realised we still had the winding roads of the Himalayas to face on the journey home. It was unfortunate that we were only able to spend one day at Kaplani as both the setting and the young people there were so beautiful, and it was a struggle to tear ourselves away. On the journey back to Dehra Dun, apart from closing our eyes and imagining our feet back on solid ground, we thought about how vital education is for these young people and how much can still be done to help them.


Taking Assembly

Thursday 3 April 2014

We began today nervous but excited about leading the morning assembly in SNEHA school.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing this you would be astounded by the sheer magnitude of the thought, care and attention given by the students and teachers alike. We spent the previous evening carefully planning what we were going to do. The programme revolved around the theme of everyone being special and involved lots of songs, drama, prayer and poetry. We have it all on tape for you to see!! We will let you judge for yourselves the quality of our performance. We were particularly moved by the presentation of certificates to selected pupils for achievement and improvement in written and spoken English by Pamela and Martin.

This is Graham here for a second. Having just arrived a couple of days ago this was the first time I was able to see the student teachers in action and I was so impressed. I never knew that teaching the names of fruit and colours could be so invigorating for the students (and the teachers!). Highlights from the other groups included sensory learning with maps of desert islands and seeing students working in science lab sponsored by Saphara. I feel like I learnt a lot about what is important in teaching today and was privileged to be able to document it for everyone see.

In the afternoon we were really honoured to listen to the life story of Dr Reeta Rao the founder and director of SNEHA School. As Martin reflected in the evening we were in the presence of true greatness. Dr Reeta then led us to the women’s sewing workshops, one of their adult learning facilities. Completion of the sewing course allows the young women to receive a certificate enabling them to explore employment opportunities in the manufacturing industry. This demonstrated the extensive work that SNEHA do in empowering the local community to build a better future for themselves.

The girls of the group were very excited to have the pleasure of experiencing the art of henna by trained artists from the surrounding area. Jonny and Graham were then on hand to cart our baggage and are still waiting on their tip! (It will never happen.) The girls “culturally inappropriate” excuse to carry anything remotely heavy is starting to grate on their nerves!

Tomorrow will be our last day in SNEHA with many joyful activities planned. We will treasure every minute of it before our journey back to Delhi.

Speak soon! Love you all xx

Michaela, Clare and Graham

That’s a rap

Friday 4 April 2014

Today was our final day teaching in SNEHA.

The day began with a special assembly during which Hollie and Martin took part in a very improvised drama and the team sang alongside Nadesh, one of the teachers. He performed a very unique rap with an ‘interesting’ chorus line sung by the student teachers. The time then came to teach our final lessons of the week. We used this time to conclude on what the children had learnt and see the progression they had made both in their spoken and written English. The Class Six teaching group (Hollie, Lauren, Jonathan & Niamh) concluded their fun filled week of Treasure Island activities by making eye patches and compasses to complete their treasure hunt. The children thoroughly enjoyed this lesson and the teachers were sad to leave them. The Class Five teaching group (Michaela, Nicole & Rebecca) created coral reefs using colourful tissue paper and assorted materials which the children loved. The Class Two teaching group (Hannah, Clare & Louise) concluded their teaching by setting up a fruit market in their classroom during which the children had the opportunity to choose a piece of fruit of their choice.

Each teaching group gave their children presents such as pencils, rulers, stickers and sweets to thank them for the wonderful time spent with them. We all found it very difficult to say goodbye to the children for the last time and many tears were shed by both pupils and team members!

Before we left, we were treated to two traditional dances performed and choreographed by the pupils. The girls were dressed in beautiful traditional dress made by the seamstresses of the SNEHA Sewing Program. This was followed by exchanging gifts and an emotional goodbye from the staff and the Saphara Group. Following this, there was a mass clear out of the hotel and a mad dash to the train station. Everyone has arrived safely in the hotel in Delhi for our last night in India. Emotions are starting to run high as our journey is coming to an end. We are very excited for the last shindig tomorrow, lunch with the Irish ambassador – hope you’re impressed!

Louise, Jonathan and Hollie

Irish Embassy

Saturday 5 April 2014

It was a fabulous end to the student trip with a visit to the Irish Ambassador’s for lunch.

Feilim McLaughlin, the ambassador, was very gracious in welcoming us to his beautiful home in one of the greenest parts of Delhi, somewhere I had the pleasure of spending St Patrick’s Day over six years ago. After ten days in India I think all the students appreciated a taste of the craic from home as well as the beautiful buffet lunch laid out for us. The ambassador seemed very impressed by the young peoples stories and as did the incoming women’s group who head up to Dehradun tomorrow. All too soon however, the students had to say au revoir to India, and after one quick game of song charades they hopped on a plane to Dubai and the back home.

One special mention has to be made of Lauren and Michaela, who were put on the spot to relate the events of the past week to a captive audience. They both spoke fantastically well about their experiences and even made Christine tear up.Michaela summed up Saphara’s ethos of transforming encounters when she said, “…those teachers and children will never realise that we have actually gained in abundance, we have gained so much more from them than they have from us.”

Look out for one final word from the students and if you want to check out how the women are doing, don’t forget to look at their blog above! – Graham

Final Reflections

Sunday 6 April 2014

This was an amazing trip and a wonderful experience that benefited us both personally and professionally as student teachers. Here are just a few words from each of us, to sum up as best we can, our Saphara journey;

Rebecca (St. Mary’s University College) – This has been the most amazing and influential journey which has made me a better person and teacher. I am so grateful to have received the opportunity to experience the beautiful Indian culture as well as teaching the most beautiful children in the world in the oasis which is SNEHA school.

Michaela (St. Mary’s University College) – What an experience this trip has been! Our team has bonded so well and have worked so professionally in planning and teaching lessons. We have had the absolute honour of teaching thee most gorgeous children in the wonderful SNEHA school. I have left with complete confidence in the amazing work which the teachers and staff are continuing to do with the invaluable support of Christine and the Saphara charity. Thank you Christine and India for this wonderful journey. I will never forget it!

Louise (Stranmillis University College) – This trip to India has been simply incredible. Teaching the beautiful children in SNEHA school was such a privilege with each day being filled with love and laughter. The school is such a special place of strong community where education is so highly valued. I am so thankful for the amazing people who I shared this experience with and made it so enjoyable. I will treasure the memories made on this trip to India for the rest of my life.

Hollie (Stranmillis University College) – This trip to India will be an experience that I will never forget. It exceeded all my expectations and allowed me to meet some truly inspirational people. My heart has been touched and my eyes have even opened by the amazing children. Their smiles are contagious and love for learning is something I will never forgot.

Niamh (St Mary’s University College) – I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Saphara journey for the second time. It truly has been an incredible experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I will never forget all the smiles that I was greeted with each day in SNEHA School and how enthusiastic and amazing each and every child was. One of my highlights of the trip was having the opportunity to return to Kaplani School, to teach and witness the progress and confidence gained by the same children I had taught 3 years ago. It has been an inspirational and emotional roller coaster that I will cherish forever.

Hannah (Stranmillis University College) – I will forever be indebted to Saphara for giving me this experience; I knew working in India would develop me as a professional but I didn’t think it would change me so much as a person. The staff and children at SNEHA school have captured my heart and given me more than I could ever give them.

Jonathan (Stranmillis University College) – It is a real privilege to have spent time teaching in SNEHA School. Seeing the impact Saphara and the teachers of the school have on the children is truly inspiring and long may it continue. I would like to thank Christine, the school children and of course my fantastic team members for making this such a brilliant and memorable experience.

Nicole (St Mary’s University College) – The whole trip from start tto finish was an experience of a lifetime for me – I loved every minute! The staff and children of SNEHA Doon Academy are amazingly inspirational and will always have a place in my heart. I can’t wait to return! X

Clare (St Mary’s University College) – Saphara has given me an experience that I will never forget. To have the opportunity to work with a wonderful team of student teachers has been a real privilege and the pupils in SNEHA have forever touched my heart. Christine is a truly inspirational woman who has shown me that we all have within us the power to affect change and through change wonderful things can happen. I will hold the memory of this trip forever in my heart and look forward to the day when I return.o finish was an experience of a lifetime for me – I loved every minute! The staff and children of SNEHA Doon Academy are amazingly inspirational and will always have a place in my heart. I can’t wait to return!

Lauren (Stranmillis University College) – It was a truly inspirational and life changing trip. The children were rays of sunshine and a delight to teach which was made all the more difficult to comprehend when you saw where they came from! I have not only developed personally but professionally during this trip it has been amazing!


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