Stranmillis and St Mary's Team 2016


3rd April 2016

Ten intrepid teaching students from St Mary’s and Stranmillis Colleges plus lecturers Gillian Beck and Matthew Martin together with Christine Burnett have reached India on the 1st day of their teaching team.

All the incredible sights and sounds of Delhi plus an afternoon of shopping for Indian clothes have left the team ready for an early night before a pre–dawn start to visit the amazing Taj Mahal tomorrow. We can’t wait!


Day 2!

4th April 2016

First full day in India. Alarms went off at 5am in preparation for our journey to Agra. A 13 seater coach manoeuvred through the bustling Delhi streets as a new day began. We travelled out of the city and made our way through more rural India; a huge contrast with city living.

Four hours later we arrived in Agra; mesmerised by the traffic sounds, vivid colours and distinctive smells. Not to mention the dogs, monkeys and an odd stray cow roaming the streets. To say the Trident Hilton was a contrast would be an understatement; we stopped here to relax over tea and coffee in the beautiful grounds before meeting our guide for the day – Deepak. We could not believe the difference between the lifestyles on each side of the gate.

It’s hard to describe the Taj Mahal in one word. But awe–inspiring (we chose a double barrel instead!) comes pretty close. Deepak provided us with a wealth of information about historical Indian culture. There were many photo opportunities for ourselves (as models on location!) as well as the Indians who wanted us to feature in their family photos. Balmy 40 degree heat meant we were well ready for refuelling at the Hilton.

Next on the agenda was Agra Fort. Our prior knowledge of this stunning area was pitiful; however by the end of the tour it proved to be just as memorable as the Taj Mahal – visible in the distance. Picturing the jungle animals and crocodiles who protected the array of palaces inside was a fitting beginning and end of the tour.

We had an amazing opportunity to witness the marbling techniques used in the creation of the Taj Mahal. Using traditional tools and methods, passed down through 13 generations, the men skilfully crafted marble artwork in front of our eyes. With lighter purses and heavier bags we returned to the coach for the journey back to Delhi.

After a taste of Indian culture we are itching to get to Dehradun to start our week of teaching at SNEHA School.

All in all our first day was incredible! Maria and Aideen.


India By Train

5th April 2016

Our six hour train journey from Delhi to Dehradun was prolonged to seven and a half hours; but despite the longer journey, the blessing of making new Indian friends and receiving a running commentary of Indian life on our travels which was much valued. This allowed us to view the ‘real India,’ see life beyond the capital and appreciate the beauty of country’s ‘bread basket’ where the crops needed for this vast population are grown.

On arrival in Dehradun, we were greeted by SNEHA’s cherished caretaker, Madan, who accompanied us on our first, unforgettable journey on the classic Indian Vikram. Our nerves were quickly put at ease, as we saw the competence of each driver as they dodged between cars, cows and countless cyclists to deliver us safely to our accommodation, allowing us time prepare for our week of teaching.

Tomorrow is our 1st day teaching at SNEHA – we can’t wait!


First Day at SNEHA

6th April 2016

Excitement brewed over breakfast as we thought of our first day at SNEHA School. A localised political protest led to a more spontaneous morning commute, as we travelled by auto rickshaw, laden with resources and games. Seeing the pupils slowly trickle into assembly, our earlier niggles and worries about lesson planning and classroom management quickly faded away, with each child’s beautiful smile confirming to each one of us why we have travelled to India.

Assembly signalled the start of the day, as we enjoyed the children’s morning prayers, songs and reflections in the school courtyard. After an impromptu song by a few of our team members, each class dispersed, excited for the day ahead. Each teaching team was introduced to their individual classes for the week and began their learning on their specific schemes: colours (2nd class), journeys (5th class) and changes (7th class).

An amazing morning was had by all, with each team member connecting with their individual classes; the joy, fun and warmth of the welcome of each pupil was contagious, ever–more increasing our eagerness and zeal for the week ahead.


Inspirational Visit

7th April 2016

Our second day at SNEHA began by welcoming all of the lovely children into the school. Seeing their smiling faces coming through the gates allowed us to appreciate how much school really means to them. After a brilliant first day we couldn’t wait to get back into our classrooms and see all of the children again. As we entered our classrooms we both felt the same joy as we witnessed how their enthusiasm for learning and happiness shone through.


The Amazing Himalayas

8th April 2016

More of a lie in this morning was much appreciated before we set off in jeeps up into the Himalayan Mountains leading to Mussoorie. The hour long journey provided some breath–taking scenery across Dehradun and the surrounding countryside. Twisting, winding roads and typical Indian driving led to some of the team feeling a little travel sick but we didn’t let this dampen our spirits as we arrived at Kaplani Academy; we were not disappointed!

The school is set amongst the mountains over–looking a beautiful valley speckled with littles homes and communities. The 2 storey building and outside area is one of the most welcoming environments and instantly felt like home. On arrival we took a tour of the school and introduced ourselves to the 70+ pupils who attend there daily. Then it was time to get to work and our lessons began…

The pupils were split into 2 groups; one lesson was an outdoor games class were pupils were able to loosen up, warm up, get competitive, get to know us and most importantly have some fun. From sack races to obstacle courses, it was clear that both boys and girls had a fantastic time competing against us and their peers.

Following this, both the team and the pupils enjoyed the midday meal of rice and dahl provided by Saphara before taking part in a very competitive game of cricket (the students were definitely the weakest links!) Some of the girls also braided our hair and there were lots of photo opportunities with the ‘selfie’ becoming a firm favourite amongst the Indian pupils.

The 2 groups then swapped over and each lesson was repeated. The second lesson was science in which pupils were given resources and had to work in groups to figure out a way to slow a tennis ball down when it is dropped from a height. Pupils were so enthusiastic and most groups decided on making a parachute. These were then tested over the balcony of the school and to the children’s joy, it worked!

After this, the students and Surrender had a meeting where it was amazing to learn about the beginning of the school, how it was set up, how it is funded and most heart warmingly, its place and importance in the community and the lives of its pupils. Hearing a story like this served as an important reminder as to why we were there and what we were doing.

Finally, the Saphara team met with the Girls Flourishing group and for me this was the highlight of the day! We were given the opportunity to hear about the impact Girls Group has on their lives with girls able to give specific examples. One girl said that because of girls group she was more able to stand up for rights and at home her brother now also has to help with household chores. It was so exciting to be shown just how much of an impact this group can have and get to know the girls and each of their amazingpersonalities. Today we all finished school felling extremely inspired and motivated.

On the journey home we all agreed it was an absolutely amazing day; it was fantastic to compare the school in the city to the school in the countryside and from this make some massive connections with our schools back home! A real learning curve that will be remembered forever!



Saphara Assembly

8th April 2016

Today was the morning of our assembly, seeing all the children sitting in anticipation on the bleachers was a wonderful sight! The children seemed to really enjoy the new songs and even sang one back to us in Hindi; it was very emotional for everyone involved.

Lessons then continued as usual, the children are so keen to learn and eager to please it makes teaching them such a pleasure. The emotions continued to run strong throughout the school as it was not only the last day for one of the pupils but also for one of the teachers, who herself was a past pupil of SNEHA. During the morning we also had the opportunity to visit the sewing room where young women are given the opportunity to gain a certificate which will enable them to GET jobs as tailors. Their work was outstanding and the detail which they add to the pieces is outstanding.

In the afternoon the girls all had the opportunity to have their hands decorated with Henna tattoos by some of the young women who come to SNEHA to learn this skill. Watching the speed these young women worked such intricate designs was trulyamazing – and we really enjoyed chatting to them as they worked.

When we arrived back at the hotel some of us went to a large market which sold everything and anything. The hustle and bustle was a true immersion into the Indianculture and a real eye opener with all the different sights and smells. I think you could spend a whole day there and still not see everything. The venders were all so friendly and helpful so much shopping was done!

Sadly tomorrow is our last day at SNEHA. So tonight it’s time to pack up ready to head back to Delhi tomorrow, easier said than done considering everyone’s purchases! Sarah


Our Wonderful Last Day

9th April 2016

It is hard to believe just how quickly the past 10 days have come and gone, it only seems like yesterday that thirteen enthusiastic team members willingly hopped on the Dublin–bound coach, setting out on an adventure that would certainly have a very rewarding impact!

After arriving in New Delhi, late Friday night, after a week of tremendous teaching at SNEHA, Saturday morning began with a pleasant and much needed lie in before a full and fun–filled day. Being our last day in India, we were eager to fit in as much as possible. First on the agenda was a visit to Anurag charity and school, situated in a marginalised district of India’s capital. Here, we had the pleasure of meeting the charity director, Prem Gideon, and learning of the incredible work she so passionately manages. Following a short yet touching introduction with Prem, we moved on to meet an incredibly skilled group of girls, in their young women’s programme. Despite these young women’s disadvantaged backgrounds, their sewing, stitching and seamstress skills were second to none as they proudly displayed their work.

Next, Prem led us to the charity’s school, where we were once again moved by a common feature that we have experienced in all of the schools that we have visited. As we approached Anurag school assembly hall, we were met by a wave of joyous and energetic singing that filled the street! It was amazing to see yet another inspirational school in India where children from disadvantaged backgrounds are given many opportunities to flourish. We greatly enjoyed joining them in their singing – and leading them ourselves in some action songs.

After refuelling at the Indian classic, McDonalds, we visited our final cultural landmark: a tour of the Lotus Temple, Dehli. The size and scale of this Baha’i temple was vast. This was a place where each team member had the opportunity to spend time reflecting on an incredible and moving trip, one that we won’t forget with each of one of us taking away something individually unique.

Jill, Jennifer and Hannah


Final Reflections

“My Saphara trip has been filled with laughter, tears and inspiring stories, but it is the smiles of the beautiful children I have met that I will never forget! Their love for learning and life has touched me and I will treasure all of the special memories forever.” Aoife

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I think these children have all helped us learn how to dance.” Sarah

“I’ve heard it said that ‘People who appear to have nothing to smile for, often smile the most’ and after my last 10 days in India, I can say that this is fact. A humbling, emotionaland inspiring experience that will stay with me forever.” Maeve

“A personal journey half way around the world; a part of my heart will always remain in India. An experience beyond my wildest dreams.” Aideen

“Sometimes we look out into the world and see so many problems and so much pain and wonder how we can make a difference, but seeing the smiling faces of the children we met through the work of Saphara showed me that making a difference IS possible.” Jill

“I never imagined just how much my outlook on life could change within 10 days. Reflecting on this incredible experience I can whole–heartedly say that in this world we make a life from what we give.” Maria

“Saphara brings hope to the people of India and the beautiful children we worked with. I feel truly blessed to have been a small part of this; with hope anything is possible.” Ashlea

“They say travelling is the best education and who could argue after such an adventure.” Ryan

“Thank you for this opportunity to teach these precious children – but more to learn from their courage and joy.” Jennifer

“I will never forget the inspirational people I have met or the joy and love on the faces of the Indian children. Saphara has given me the most touching, humbling, lifechangingand purposeful journey I have ever had.” Hannah


Recent Posts

See All