Women's Team 2014

Feeling the Heat

Saturday 5 April 2014

After our long flight to Delhi it was great to see the sunshine and colour of India. The streets were manic and the traffic crazy. No one cares about lanes, no one slows down – there were bicycles, motorbikes, cars, buses, tuk tuks, carts and even the odd cow!

After checking–in to the Blueberry Hotel and a quick snooze we got the lipstick & high heels on and (after a detour or two) our driver found the Irish Ambassador’sresidence. We were warmly welcomed by the Ambassador, Felim McLaughlin. The Stranmillis and St Mary’s Colleges students and staff, who were on their last day, had arrived before us and it was lovely to meet them and hear all about their time teaching in India.

We were served cold drinks in the beautiful garden and were grateful for the umbrellas in the 38 degree heat. Shortly afterwards we tucked into a delicious buffet lunch and took the opportunity to get to know each other better. The students were a really special bunch – they were so enthusiastic about their teaching practice and after lunchMichaela and Lauren made fabulous speeches about their trip.

After thanking the Ambassador and saying our goodbyes to the students it was time to head back onto the crazy roads and make our way to Fab India to buy our Indian clothes. Ten tired women and 3 fitting rooms was not a great combination. The staff in the shop were very patient and soon had us working out the differences between the salwar (trousers), the dupatta (scarf) and the kurtas (tunics). After much angst and trying on we made our final decisions and were glad to sit down in the Starbucks next door for a cup of chai latte and a rest. Some of us rested more than others – Winnie had a quick snooze!!

The Birds of Paradise

Sunday 6 April 2014

Like birds of paradise in our Indian clothes we were up with the larks and excited about our journey to the Taj Mahal.

On our way, we saw men ploughing fields, brick factory kilns omitting their smoke, oxen cooling in the rivers and children showered at the side of the road. Our four hour bus journey passed quickly as we got to share our stories, laughter and mosquitoes!

On arrival at Agra we enjoyed our tea and pastries before meeting our guide to take us to the Taj Mahal. We were all amazed at the beauty of the building in its serene surroundings. It is only when we stood there for ourselves that we could truly appreciate this site. Such magnificence was a stark contrast to the poverty seen on the journey.

Following an exquisite lunch we set off to the Agra fort with its distinctive red sandstone, its history brought to life by our marvellous guide Deepak. We visited a co–operative marble workshop to observe traditional craftsmen.

An action–packed day thoroughly enjoyed by all, more to follow…

Time to Relax

Monday 7 April 2014

Another early start this morning to catch the train from Delhi to Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas.

After our 6 hour journey we were met by taxis and taken to the wonderful Inderlok hotel. After a quick lunch we enjoyed our first experience of travel by Vikram up to SNEHA school to meet the inspirational Dr Reeta whose vision and commitment brought this entire project into being. For many of us we felt here was where our trip really began.

We were greeted by the staff of the school who showed us the women’s skills programme. In addition to education SNEHA provides women from the marginalized communities with training in skills such as henna art and sewing which can enable to earn a salary to help support their families.

After our first taste of delicious Indian cuisine at a local restaurant we met briefly with Jeph who explained to us the aim of the Health Mela which we will be participating in over the next few days. He explained the findings of health surveys in other regions which indicate that malnourishment is more prevalent in young girls. We were then able to discuss with him the problems of addressing this particularly in relation to changing the attitudes of communities and families to their daughters.

Susan and Winnie

From SNEHA to Mussoorie

Tuesday 8 April 2014

This morning we were excited to return to SNEHA to meet the children.

We joined them for morning assembly which involved lively songs with lots of actions (our first exercise session of the trip!!). We were then able to attend some of the classes and meet the children individually, see their work and ask them questions. They also had plenty of questions for us! Their joy and enthusiasm was overwhelming.

Later some of the older children demonstrated some traditional dances before getting us to join in (our second exercise session of the trip!). Then a few shared their experiences of SNEHA school and their hopes for the future. Every one of them spoke of the love they felt at SNEHA which was very evident to us in all the interactions of staff and pupils. The dedication and enthusiasm of the teachers is also overwhelming.

After an amazing lunch prepared for us by Dr Reeta (this woman’s talents know no bounds!), we reluctantly said our goodbyes and took taxis up the Himalayan mountain roads to Mussoorie for the next leg of our trip. The view from our hotel is stunning. We are currently looking down the mountains, watching the sun set and listening to the call to prayer echo across the valleys. This country is a country of contrasts, amazing scenery and truly amazing people.

Susan and Lelia

Tiger, Tiger, Monkey

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Today is a day I have been looking forward to for a very long time – Donk Day!

We started off with breakfast on the terrace of the Mussoorie Gateway overlooking the Himalayas looking their best in the blue skies and sunshine – what a view!Surender Singh, the director of MGVS,arrived to collect us to accompany him and other MGVS staff on a visit to Donk Primary School. Along the way we caught our first view of the snow covered peaks of the higher mountains. Donk Primary is a 90 minute trek from the nearest road – it is incredible to think that the teachers and the children have to trek the mountain paths to get to school rain, hail or shine. Donk is totally supported by Saphara funding.

We stopped at the homes of some of the schoolchildren along the way. The highlight for me was being welcomed into Kumla Devi’s home. Kumla was deserted by her husband leaving her to support two young children alone and then to make matters worse she was evicted from her home. With the help of Saphara a shell of an old house that had neither roof, windows nor doors was renovated into a two room home for Kumla and her two daughters. We presented her with a plaque featuring “An Irish Blessing” to hang on the wall of her home.Surender translated the blessing into Hindi for her – it was very touching and the blessing very applicable for someone who has to support her family by subsistence farming. Both of her daughters have been educated at Saphara funded schools and are bright young girls who have prospects for a very different future from that of their Mumthanks to the generosity of Saphara donors.

Donk has to be seen to be believed – although the two classrooms and resources are basic the view is superlative and the children eat their midday meals provided bySaphara with the most amazing backdrop. Paula set to work showing the children how to clean their teeth and then gave all of them a dental checkup while Winnie gave them all a medical checkup. Meanwhile in the other classroom Sylvia and Cheryl became schoolteachers again and organised some art and craft activities for the children. One of the memorable moments was Cheryl doing monkey impressions being chased around the circle by an adorable Indian child while playing “Tiger, Tiger, Monkey” (the Indian version of Duck, Duck, Goose)

On our way back from Donk we had to keep up with the schoolchildren as they made their way home. Yogesh, one of the junior boys, held hands with Christine. Last year part of his home had been destroyed by the floods but the Saphara 2013 school teams had clubbed together and donated money to fund repairs. The steep trek back was a challenge for most of us but we soon recovered after a tasty Indian mean eaten around an outdoor fire at our hotel.

I actually find it hard to express how truly amazing being part of the Women’s 2014 is. It challenges mind, body and spirit and also fills me with a joy when I see how much Saphara makes a difference to the lives of these Indian children.

– Flo

Snow Capped Peaks

Thursday 10 April 2014

This morning after another wonderful breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, we travelled up winding mountainous roads with spectacular scenery of the high snow–capped Himalayas, to Kaplani High School.

There we were warmly greeted by the children and teachers. We watched an inspiring and thought provoking drama which highlighted the inequalities between men and women, followed by a second one which showed how family life could be improved for all members by a change of attitudes.

The children were then divided into groups. While some had dental and health check– ups, other groups had fun activities to reinforce dental hygiene and healthy eatingas well as related craft, songs and games. The highlight for me was when we were treated to an impromptu concert by some of the children whose dancing and singing skills were truly amazing. It was a privilege to work with such warm, considerate and appreciative children.

Before our return to the hotel and yet another evening meal under the stars, we visited The Himalayan Weavers, a cottage industry using only natural dyes, where many of us bought some of the beautiful scarves and shawls sold there. Yet another incredible day!


Back to Delhi

Friday 11 April 2014

Paula, Cheryl, Flo and Winnie had an early start today.

Christine had made contact with a friend and arranged a taxi for us to visit John Montgomery’s grave at Landor. We left at 8am and after travelling up winding mountainous roads and arrived at the graveyard. John’s grave was located in a forest setting overlooking a beautiful green valley. We turned around and were astonished by the view of the Himalayas through the trees. The silence was broken only by birdsong. It was a profound experience for us and we felt privileged to have spent time in such a tranquil place.

On returning back to base we had a workshop on development with Surenderand Rama of the NGO, MGVS, a partner ofSaphara – it was wonderful to hearRama’s story of how she had overcome her father’s opposition to go to school since she was a girl – she now champions girls facing similar situations.

After travelling to Dehradun, we had a lovely meal and a quick shopping trip. Dr Reeta, Hari and two teachers from SNEHA School give us a wonderful Indian send off before we left on our on our return train journey to Delhi.

Just approaching Delhi now… another wonderful day.

Winnie and Paula

Flight of the Birds of Paradise

Saturday 12 April 2014

Another suitcase in another hall and after seven action packed days another step on the Saphara journey has been taken.

The women’s group have left for the airport leaving behind one young Irishman with over a thousand photos and multiple hours of footage.On a personal note I can’t wait to start editing and sharing Saphara’s work on our brand new website. Watch this space!

The team were very happy to have a more leisurely morning, being allowed to sleep in until nearly 9 o’clock. After breakfast, we paid a visit to the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i house of worship in southern Delhi. It was a chance to relax and reflect on our time spent in India in the peaceful surroundings of the garden and inside the building itself. I think everyone will agree that the temple is a special space, a quiet oasis in a city not renowned for its silence.

After nourishing our spirits the women then gorged on that age–old emotional healer of shopping in the Central Cottage Emporium. Families, expect to receive reams of tea, scarves, jewellery, stone–ware, scarves, iron–ware and scarves. For one final fling we all went for tea in the spectacularly luxurious Imperial Hotel across the road where tea, cake and the odd well–earned cold beverage were consumed.

The women have been fantastic and will provide some reflections of themselves at a later date, but for now it’s farewell to India and hello to a new chapter of Saphara’s story. I leave you with the ladies and their “best” silly faces. See you in July! – Graham


Sunday 13 April 2014

We’ve now reached home, but before we hurl ourselves back into the busyness of our families and careers, here are a few reflections our trip:

Where do I begin to reflect on this amazing journey with purpose? From start to finish I laughed, I cried, was inspired, humbled and much, much more. To witness people of faith give so much to others was truly heart–warming and wonderful. To share it with a group of fantastic women and one fantastic young man made it all the more special and memorable. I will never forget India; a friend told me that I would get more from India than I would ever give, those few words sum up my experience perfectly. Jacci

On so many levels this for me has truly been a Journey with Purpose. I have gained insight into how some people in India live; their hopes, aspirations and needs. I have met inspirational people, who in their communities are trying to change attitudes and make improvements and in a small way I have been privileged to share a small part of their journey. It has also been a personal journey enriched by eleven special people, who travelled the road with me and shared their faith, love and support along the way. Sylvia.

This trip really has been a once in a lifetime opportunity, full of new experiences shared with new friends. We have laughed together and sometimes cried together, it has been a truly bonding journey that I will remember for a very long time to come. Thamra

On this trip to India, I have met and worked with many wonderful and inspirational people, including my new travelling companions. It was great to see first–hand the wonderful positive work that Saphara supports in SNEHA, Kaplani and Donk schools. It was a privilege to meet with Dr Reeta, Surrender and their colleagues who showed us a true understanding of how love and respect for one another lead to equality for all. This has been a truly amazing journey. Thanks to Christine and the ladies. Each and every one of you made this journey so special for me. Lelia

This Indian adventure was a truly amazing experience. To see at first hand the work of some of the projects supported by Saphara was both a blessing and a challenge. Between the work among the children in the marginalized communities of Dehradun, and those in the remote villages around Mussoorie, it is evident that many lives are being changed while attitudes to women and young girls in society are being challenged and transformed. It was also a privilege to share this experience with a group of wonderful ladies whose support and humour made the trip very special indeed. Susan

I feel privileged to have experienced all that I have in the last 9 days. It has been a truly extraordinary journey and one that I need time to process over the coming months to fully appreciate. There are so many needy children whose lives continue to be transformed with the help of Saphara. A big thank you all who devoted their time to help raise funds for Saphara. I am confident that all our efforts and funds are being used very effectively to enrich the lives of some of the most delightful but poorest children in India. Paula

I will never forget the sense of God’s presence that I have felt at times during this incredible week – whether it has been 1000 children from every caste and religion saying the Lord’s prayer in a playground at SNEHA, through Surender translating “An Irish Blessing” into Hindi for Kumla Devi, or the majesty of the Himalayas from Donk Primary School. Flo

What a wonderful journey with a group of amazing ladies. We chatted, laughed, wept and had serious conversations. We met many inspirational people. The happy children in SNEHA, Donk and Kaplani schools were a reflection of the teacher’s hard work and support from various sources including Saphara. There was much traveling and the odd challenge such as the trek to Donk school and back taking 5–6 hours. On this trip there were many contrasts including visits to the Taj Mahal, a magnificent tomb, and to the quiet peaceful hillside grave of our late friend. Thanks to all who prayed for us. Winnie


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