Clashing Colours and Culture
3rd July 2017
After a delayed flight in Dublin, a four hour layover in Amsterdam and a total of 24 hours of travelling… WE HAVE ARRIVED IN INDIA. Fortunately enough, taking the weather with us as our first day in Delhi involved torrential rain fall and a high humidity level. With the warmth in the air and our new attitude of embracing our sweat patches in public, we went to ‘Fab India’ to get kitted out in fab new clothing for our Indian adventure.
Having raided the shop in search for the brightest and boldest colours to wear, we then went to visit the Gandhi Museum, an experience we will never forget. Learning about Gandhi’s life and how so little possessions allowed for him to lead a settled life. Ending our tour on a high by watching the wildlife marking their territory around the facility, i.e. finding a lizard in the girl’s bathroom and a family of monkeys abusing the locals with fruit they had taken from the nearby trees.
Later this evening, we experienced our first taste of the Indian culture with rice, nan bread and buttered chicken. All of which went down a treat as everyone ventured for second and third sharing’s of food.
A brilliant start to a brilliant adventure… much more to follow!
At the Taj
4th July 2017
An early 5:30 wakeup call this morning to start our four hour bus journey to the Taj Mahal, Agra. When arriving in Agra, we stopped for some refreshments in the luxurious Trident Hotel.
While making our way to the Taj Mahal, excitement started to rise as this was a once in a lifetime experience! With heat most of us had never experienced before, it wasn’t long until our kurtas turned a shade darker in colour. Temperature reached 35 degrees however humidity levels made it seem much hotter! Although we were at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Indian people were also amazed by us and we were approached for several pictures!
After a hot trip to the magnificent attraction, Taj Mahal, we were grateful for the air conditioning on the bus as we made our way back to the Trident Hotel for a beautiful meal adding to our Indian culture experience. To avoid further melting, our sightseeing of the Agra Fort took place within the confines of our air conditioned bus (Thank you Mr Aurora).
We are all geared up for our train journey to Dehradun in the morning with an early 4:30 start to begin our SNEHA teaching experience.
Starting as we Mean to Go On
5th July 2017
After a much more reasonable 7am wakeup call we all got up rearing to go, ready for a fun filled day of anticipation and excitement as we made our way to SNEHA school.
Arriving in our vikrams we were greeted by the lovely Dr. Reeta, director of Sneha school and her son Ron who then guided us and directed us towards our assigned classes which were class four, five and seven.
A small classroom filled with vibrant, enthusiastic and eager students immediately made us feel at ease as we began to unpack our well–prepared resources and begin our variety of lessons with the students.
The bright and happy faces of the children as the lesson progressed reassured us that they were thoroughly enjoying the lesson and were so very grateful to have us in their class with them.
The conversation classes with both class 10 and 12 also proved very much a success where we were able to discover and find out about out the students school life in Dehradun and their hopes and aspirations for the future. The conversation flowed naturally with the students as their bilingual ability allowed them to communicate effectively with us in what was for most their second language.
Collectively we left on a high on the success of today’s lessons and filled with much excitement, we cannot wait to be back for day two in SNEHA school tomorrow.
6th July 2017
It’s safe to say we have all settled into our classes and the teaching and learning is well underway! Today Annie, Rebekah and I took Class 7 to the science labs to continue with our lessons on the human body and keeping healthy. The students and teachers explained to us that they love using the science labs so I think the lesson went down a treat! We decided to show the students the effects of sugary drinks on our teeth by boiling a bottle of diet coke and a bottle of coke. The smiles and shocked faces from the students showed us that they were learning something–as well as “havin’ a bit of craic.”
In the afternoon we had conversation classes with our Year 10 and Year 12 classes. Today we talked about our hobbies and interests. The boys explained to us the rules of cricket while the girls showed us some traditional Indian dances. (NOTE: Don’t talk about Pakistan beating India!!!) The students in the conversation classes are definitely becoming more confident which is great to see.
Christine had arranged for Semeda Steves to speak to us about her work and her vision for the future. A truly amazing and inspirational woman who brings so much joy and hope to the woman of India through her work with Christian Aid and the local churches. Hopefully, Semeda will team up with the Saphara team in the future!
We’re really looking forward to the week ahead and the weekend activities in Mussourie!
All in a Day’s Craic
7th July 2017
Another fun filled day in SNEHA for the kids and student teachers alike! The schoolyard, where yesterday we were lucky enough to hear the heart–warming sounds of SNEHA’s daily morning assembly, was today’s chosen stage for a dance masterclass!
Myself, along with Claire and Lauren led 2 full classes of enthusiastic eight and nine year olds in a ‘creatures of the rainforest’ themed boogie. Three of the kids’ favourite animals were imitated in what I, and anyone else who bared witness to the routine would have to say we’re some pretty groovy dance moves! The bright smiles and echoing belly laughs assured me that everyone had fantastic craic.
The dancing worked up quite a thirst. During my well needed water break I took a look around to see what everyone else was getting up to. I saw Ross, Connie and Lisa orchestrating a choir of cheerful faces who belted out a catchy jungle rhyme. Ross told me the kids grasped it within the first few renditions which comes as no surprise. The final group focused on healthy eating. They got the kids to place different kinds of food in their respective categories, highlighting the importance of a balanced diet.
We all had a great day overall in SNEHA – a beacon of joyfulness and love!
8th July 2017
Today was our last day of teaching in SNEHA school until Monday, we had some very happy children when we told them we would be back on Monday with more fun filled lessons! Today me, Annie and Ruairi took over the courtyard with a PE lesson.
We were worried about the weather because it is monsoon season here and it rains A LOT!! However, being from Ireland we are well used to the rain and decided to take the chance, thankfully it definitely payed off! I carted PE skittles and balls half way across the globe, sacrificing a lot of bag room, but the smiles on their faces were all worth it in the end. The kids had a blast!
We had the pleasure today of hearing the story of how SNEHA school started from Dr Reeta’s son Ron. Each one of us members of the student team were so inspired by the story and felt so grateful to be a part of the school.
Our conversation classes took the topic of food, music and movies this afternoon. This was a topic I really enjoyed as everyone loves food, therefore the conversation flowed and the time with the group flew in. It was lovely hearing some of the girls singing Indian songs, and seeing the improvement in their confidence from the first conversation class on Monday now was amazing.
A Climb with a View
9th July 2017
Today was the day, the two hour trek deep within the Himalayan mountains to Donk primary school.
A 6.30am wake up call was the beginning of our journey from Dehradun to Mussoorie–which was not the most straight forward of roads. The twisting, zigzagging road above the clouds is notorious for making us students travel sick and this time it did not disappoint.
We arrived to the start of the trek after a few close shaves – the road from Draperstown to Derry wouldn’t have a look in. We started the trek smothered in insect repellent with all guns blazing and were excited but nervous for the leech infested, slippery and muddy terrain that lay before us.
The trek would not have been half as enjoyable if we did not have our very own tour guide, Surrender Singh with us. A powerful and inspirational man both within the marginalised communities and to us as supporters of Saphara. As I listened to Surrender reminisce about the work Saphara has done to help the children and families connected to Donk primary school it helped me to understand the benefits and opportunities my fundraising has created.
When we arrived to Donk primary school it was surreal to see such a happy bunch of children in such a remote and secluded part of the Himalayas. A highlight for me was seeing the look on the children’s faces when they were presented with gifts from Saphara. The two hour trek really put it into perspective as to how eager these children are to receive an education as some made this rough and rocky journey twice each day.
Of course when we left Donk primary school it began to rain, making the trek much more dangerous. The trek back to the comfort of our car was very tough and we were more than happy to see them on the horizon as we overcame our last hill. A very tired and exhausted group of students made it back to the hotel, and as we crawled through our bedroom door we collapsed into a tangled heap needing a well deserved rest.
Life’s a climb but the view is great.
10th July 2017
We awoke this morning at 8am to the breath taking views of the Himalayan mountains in Mussoorie. After spending almost a week in Dehradun we welcomed the peace and quiet of Mussoorie with open arms and even got to have breakfast outside with a view… which couldn’t have been more perfect until the banana snatcher (aka monkey) darted from the roof and robbed Claire’s breakfast. Note for future: never leave bananas unattended when there are monkeys lurking.
We were then privileged to attend a workshop with Surender Singh, a truly inspirational man. We were amazed to hear his story and the journey he undertook in becoming a key member in the MGVS chairty who work with the marginalised communities. Being able to hear Surender explain the impact that Saphara has had on supporting his work not only through education but in other ways e.g building toilet facilities. This made our previous fundraising efforts even more fulfilling!
Leaving on a high and feeling inspired, the student team set off to Kaplani high school to host a party to celebrate the outstanding examination results of the students in class 10. We recognised their success by providing each excellent achiever with a certificate, medal and saphara hoodie. Looking around I felt like they were not the only ones that had been rewarded in the room as the student team were beaming in response to the proud faces of the graduates. The celebration was made even more special by recognising those who achieved the highest accolade, First Division and that of Deepika who was presented with an Irish souvenir for her outstanding performance and top regional result. Saphara are rooting for their ongoing success!
The celebration continued with some coke, sweets and mingling between the student team and class 10 graduates. Some past Kaplani pupils who had moved onto university were also present to show their support and provide advice to the graduates.
It was truly motivating to talk to past pupils who are completing nursing, teaching and banking degrees given their circumstances and conditions at home and I feel privileged to be part of Saphara who makes those individuals ambitions possible.
After another dose of travel sickness tablets to ease the bumpy journey to Dehradun we have arrived back to the familiar sounds of honking horns, busy streets and the humid heat – the place we will call home for another week!
Over and out, Lisa x
11th July 2017
For a few in the team, the day began very early as they headed to St Francis of Assisi Church for morning mass. For others, a generous lie in until 9am was greatly appreciated!
After another hearty breakfast in Hotel Relax, we used our free morning to visit Tap Keshwar, a Hindu temple on the outskirts of Dehradun. I found it to be a tremendously illuminating experience observing Hindu worship, exploring the tight tunnels and viewing all the different Hindu gods.
Following our visit to Tap Keshwar, we returned to Dehradun and had our lunch at trusty McDonald’s (no salad, no ice, standard). At the end of lunch, most of the team went back to the hotel for a quick cool down before our afternoon activity. I used the time to travel to Bazaar India and purchase a cheeky pink kurta which everyone agreed was beautiful.
Our afternoon involved a visit to the Mindrolling Monastery, a Buddhist refuge which Ron (Dr Reeta’s son) kindly showed us around and gave us an insight into Buddhist teachings. The vast statues carved from solid gold and the various Stupa (worship rooms) were absolutely spellbinding. I loved the amount of colour and the focus on peace and happiness within Buddhism really resonated with me.
Our evening was familiarly filled with pondering over what to eat, planning lessons for tomorrow and playing a few games (during which Ryan’s sportsmanship was questionable).
That’s it from me – I’m having a brilliant time on the journey and loving everyone on the team. Missing my wonderful family and friends of course but I’m sure they can cope for one more week without me!
Far From the Monday Blues
12th July 2017
After a weekend spent in the breathtakingly beautiful foothills of the Himalayas, you would imagine that only a comedown could follow (pardon the pun).
But no – our return to Sneha was not a quiet one. We came back with a bang. At the end of the the usual morning assembly we were marched out in front of the whole school to perform a few musical numbers we had been working on. The songs of choice were This Little Light of Mine, I love Jesus and Our God is a Great Big God. I didn’t hear anyone suggest that we may have a shot at India’s got talent but our enthusiasm could not be faulted. We had a great time and the kids all gave us a hand in belting out the catchy tunes. We are made feel more at home each day. Myself, along with Lauren and Claire rounded off our rainforest topic with a lovely arts and crafts lesson, during which the kids crafted rainsticks from empty bottles and little pellets. As a class we did our best to recreate the sounds of the jungle, from pitter–pattering drizzle falling upon the jungle canopy, to the thunderous eruptions in the tropical sky. The kids had a blast and were keen to take their rain sticks home and undoubtedly drive their parents towards insanity.
Ross, Connie and Lisa’s class delved into the animal kingdom through the study food chains, in a quest to find out who is eating who! On learning that humans were top of the food chain the class was split – some showed reluctance at the idea of becoming the new crocodile Dundee, where as the more courageous faction in the class room were in touch with their inner Tarzan. Ruairi, Annie and Rebekah’s class had a more reserved tone as they carried out a mathematics lesson, introducing the kids to compromise bar charts. Although the kids were unfamiliar with them at first, Ruairi assures me they quickly got to grips with them and produced some excellent work. With only a few days left in Sneha, every member of the team is keen to make the most of the time we have left, for themselves and the kids!
13th July 2017
Another wonderful day teaching in SNEHA! The children amaze us more and more each day. Class 4 started their new topic, Egyptians. While class 5 carried on with Rainforests and class 7 The Human Body.
After school Dr Reeta and her son, Ron, kindly offered to take us to the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. As the tourist attraction was at the other side of Dehradun, it provided us with the opportunity to see more of the city. It was a very interesting trip which gave us an insight into where SNEHA take their children for educational school trips.
As tiredness is starting to take its toll on everyone, we had a night in. Ryan generously created a pub quiz for the team which brought out a competitive side to everyone. Unfortunately the boys took the lead from the outset, leaving us girls questioning our knowledge.
All set for another day in SNEHA, drawing our fun filled two weeks to a near end. Lauren x
14th July 2017
It is a pity Barra Best hadn’t sent us a weather warning this morning to prepare us for what was the most amount of rainfall many of us have ever seen – but we did not let the heavy rainfall dampen our spirits.
We began teaching our lessons as normal in the classroom as the torrential rain escalated beyond belief. We ensured our students remained focused on each lesson while having fun throughout as the rainfall was very distracting and frightening for us all. Coming from Ireland we were all well used to rainfall but certainly not to the extent we witnessed today.
Parents flooded in to the school grounds (pun not intended) in troops to pick up their children as the continuous rainfall began to become increasingly worrying. Dehradun State Government advised that all schools should close. However, the staff felt that the children were much safer in the school grounds as many of the children’s homes in the community began to flood.
After a number of hours the heavy rainfall began to ease off and the school day came to a close. Our day was brightened up when both the student and school team were fortunate to get henna drawn on our arms and hands by the talented senior students in SNEHA. The creativity and imagination of the students’ skills were displayed through their piece of art printed on our arms. The henna tattoos turned out beautifully and we were all very grateful for Dr Reeta allowing the students to demonstrate their skills on us.
Dinner and one final night of lesson planning was on tonight’s agenda. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow draws our time at SNEHA School to a close but with planning of celebrations in full swing we will ensure it is a day to remember with plenty of fun, games and sweets.
14th July 2017
Sadness filled the air as we anticipated our last day at SNEHA *cue endless amounts of crying emojis*. What an absolute pleasure it has been to have spent two amazing weeks in SNEHA. The children were a delight to teach, their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn was contagious. To mark our last day, we held a Saphara celebration in the school courtyard with the whole school in attendance. It began with the cuteness of the younger half of the school who displayed a beautiful rendition of a Hindi dance. This was then followed by each of our classes which we taught for the past two weeks showcasing what they had learned to their fellow peers. Class 4 performed a dance displaying the animals in the rainforest, Class 5 sang a short song on the rainforest (a topic they also covered with their Saphara leaders) and Class 7 ended with the “Bone Dance” a performance which Ruairi, Rebekah and myself rehearsed only a few times with the children which they instantly caught on to. Having seen the talent which the children displayed made our trip to SNEHA worthwhile as not only did they learn new and fun things about these various topics but they also strengthen their use of the English language.
The Saphara B&M team ended the celebration by bringing a flare of Irish culture with Irish dancing, the playing of the tin whistle and singing. It was an all–round day full of all kinds of emotions. Each child took the time to say how much they loved having us and followed with a short “Goodbye Mam”. From the moment we drove through the gates of SNEHA, I knew I was about to experience the most inspiring, fun filled few weeks. From start to finish, we all had a ball. Dr Reeta and her family were more than welcoming to us all. Checking in on us every day, taking us on day trips around various parts of Dehradun and providing us with endless amounts of biscuits for break time.
To sum up my Saphara experience, it was everything I hoped for and more. I travelled to India in hope of teaching the children, but in actual fact I have learned more from the children. Their happiness and appreciation for our presence was enough to prove that I chose the right profession for me. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that every time I think back on my Saphara experience, I will do so in awe and with a HUGE smile.
Bring on the next couple of days of touring around India to end our adventure!!!
15th July 2017
Our time in SNEHA is finished and our trip in India is coming swiftly to an end. After an emotional goodbye to everyone at SNEHA and spending the last two weeks working our socks off to provide excellent lessons to the children, we decided to treat ourselves on our last few days in India with a trip to Rishikesh!
We didn’t know what to expect since none of the members of the group had visited it before, however we were pleasantly surprised upon arrival as the place was full of life!!
Oblivious to our knowledge there was a Hindu religious festival taking place. We witnessed people bathing in the Ganges river and releasing candles onto the Ganges come sunset. This gave us the opportunity to submerge ourselves fully in the Indian culture, which was amazing! We spent the day exploring Hindu temples and crossing the swinging bridge, which definitely isn’t for the faint hearted!!
Since this is the last weekend in India and as a team altogether we decided to treat ourselves and splash out by staying in a beautiful hotel which overlooked the Ganges river. The views were to die for and we managed to squeeze in a sneaky few hours of sunbathing by the pool as we definitely will not have the opportunity to sunbathe in Ireland!
The Lotus Temple
16th July 2017
After a well deserved lie in, we managed to get up and grab a quick bite to eat before heading out for the day. Our first stop was Humayun’s Tomb, built in the 16th Century! Despite the immense heat and humidity we made it through the hour long tour. Following this we went towards the Lotus temple (a highlight of my 2015 trip).
En route we found a shopping complex with Nando’s… to say our mouths were watering was an understatement! After a half hour queue, personal reflection time within the temple, and many, many photos with the team and the locals… it was time for food. There was only one place on our minds! Following a well deserved feed in Nando’s, a few of us went to mass in the Cathedral. A beautiful church with some questionable singing– nonetheless it gave us a great opportunity to reflect on the trip and how it’s affected our lives.
Afterwards we met up with the rest of the group to go to the cinema. (Side note: the new Spider–Man is definitely worth a watch!) As the night was coming to an end we decided to take in some of the Delhi nightlife– an experience to say the least! Afterwards we got the rickshaws back to the hotel for another well deserved rest! Ruairí McGinn.