1st April 2017
Amazing first day in India! Our trip started with an inspirational meeting with the Master Trainers for the Girls Resilience Programme. Trainers from the NGO’s (Non–Governmental Organisations) who partner and receive support from Saphara, talked about how the programme benefited themselves and the positive impact it had on the girls and women participants. It was wonderful to hear how the girls are being empowered to escape from challenging circumstances and to have dreams for the future.
This programme is an initiative developed to empower young people and women to build their confidence and self–esteem. This is actioned through addressing both physical and mental health issues, along with offering support such as counselling.
There were five NGO’s on this course, each recalling stories that were personal to their experiences. There were two women’s stories which particularly impacted us.
Firstly, Trisha from MGVS (Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti), recalled how a woman who suffered from domestic abuse had been given the confidence through the programme to reach out for help, this resulted in her being removed from the situation. She explained how this was a massive step for both her and her family.
Secondly, A past pupil from SNEHA, Vinita, who was living within a marginalised community was given the opportunity to work as a classroom assistant. As her confidence grew, she began to believe she could do and achieve more. Dr Reeta encouraged her to gain training and to subsequently bring the Girls Resilience Programme back to her school and community.
Meeting these people and hearing personal narratives had a deep effect on us all, and has set the tone for this trip. We are overwhelmed by the extent of the reach Saphara now has, not only in the schools but also into the community.
We are all excited to learn and see more during our next days here.
3rd April 2017
We couldn’t contain our excitement as today we would arrive at SNEHA School in Dehradun and finally see first–hand the amazing work that Dr Reeta and her team carries out with the help of Saphara. As we drove through the marginalised areas it was hard to imagine what type of school could exist here. We arrived at the school just in time to wave goodbye to the 1100 pristinely dressed pupils as they filed out the school gates at the end of their school day, each one greeting us with ‘Good afternoon ma’am’. I cannot deny that some of our group found this rather emotional!
Dr Reeta introduced our group to her son Ronjoy, her daughter–in–law Gauri, and to her wonderful teaching staff, who support her so fantastically. She also took time to explain to us the many ways that Saphara provides invaluable support to the school, such as providing additional classrooms, toilet facilities and support for teachers’ salaries. Dr Reeta was particularly delighted of the positive impact the Girls’ Resilience Programme was having in the community. The girls partaking in this programme are highly motivated to learn new skills and many are also talking about their dreams for their futures, such as becoming nurses, bankers, air hostesses and other professions, for example in the field of engineering.
We then had the opportunity to observe some of the girls from the community who were unable to complete their education, who had however returned to the school to take part in classes that would enable them to earn a living. These classes included activities such as, soft toy making, macreme, henna and sewing. Products made are then sold in the school and the wider community and indeed many of us left the school with our arms laden down with purchased gifts for family and friends in Northern Ireland.
We have had such an inspiring day and are full of anticipation for our visit to Donk School tomorrow.
4th April 2017
The poem in the picture (see below) was read out as part of the daily reflection at the end of the day. It encompasses the values of Saphara.
Yes your one life matters.
There has never been and never will be another you.
That means the bravest thing you can do is be who you already are.
Because it’s safer to be like someone else, it’s easier to hide.
It’s simple to say “I’m not good enough” and walk away.
We need you friend…
WE NEED YOUR GIFTS
WE NEED YOUR STRENGTH
WE NEED YOUR SMILE
When you are who you were created to be,
you become a mirror of the heart of the One who made you.
The enemy of your soul will try to tell you to change who you are,
because he would love to interfere with that reflection.
Say “No” my friend…
NO TO COMPARING
NO TO COMPETING
NO TO COPYING
Instead open your heart, spread out your wings,
lift up your head and live with divine confidence.
You have much to offer.
You are one–of–a–kind original.
No one can ever be better than you at being you.
Say “yes” my friend…
YES TO BOLDNESS
YES TO BEAUTY
YES TO BEING WHO GOD MADE YOU
Say that “Yes” with all your heart, for all your life.
Speak it with everything you do and all that you become.
Because one of the very best ways to change the world
is by refusing to change who God created you to be!
5th April 2017
Today was possibly our best day yet. We trekked to Donk Primary School. A tiny little school with two classrooms perched on a hilltop and surrounded by magnificent mountains. There were no other dwellings in site and the school is not accessible by road. The school has 11 pupils. We had a lovely fun packed day with these wonderful children.
Our group divided into a medical team and an education team. The medical team checked the children’s eyesight so that if necessary they could be referred to the optician. They also measured heights and weights, demonstrated teeth cleaning and hand washing finishing with craft making of funky hands for the children to take home.
Meanwhile, the education team read the “Hungry Caterpillar” story and helped the children make paper butterflies and portray the life cycle of the butterfly on a plate. We all really enjoyed the day and were delighted to give the children little goodie bags containing toothbrushes, soap, nailbrushes and stickers.
So overall, we had a memorable day and certainly for us we were left with a sense of gratitude for all that we have and the words “live simply so that others may simply live” are in our thoughts.
Janet & Daphne
6th April 2017
Today we had a visit to the women’s collective and a governmental ran schools to meet adolescent girls who take part in the Girl’s Flourishing Programme sponsored by Saphara.
The heavens opened with heavy rainfall as we set off in our jeeps accompanied by Surender Singh from MGVS.
This was a three–hour journey to the furthest area that MGVS operate, deep in the lower Himalayas. Our first stop was Gair High School – despite the pouring rain over twenty girls had stayed behind at school specially to meet with us. The warmth of the welcome and enthusiasm of the girls couldn’t have been in bigger contrast to the rain and cold outside!
The girls had prepared and then performed a role play for us, highlighting gender equality. Which was fantastic. They were delighted to spend time with us telling us about their dreams of becoming school teachers, engineers and policewomen.
They also shared about their learning about how their qualities of determination, kindness and forgiveness were so important. We learnt how they had been participating in the Saphara funded girl’s flourishing programme for over a year.
Next stop we visited the home of one of the local women who was hosting the monthly meeting of the women’s collective. It was incredible – we were made to feel so welcome and listened to stories of how the women paid 100 rupees a month into the collective and then helped each other out with loans if they needed assistance for medicine or small capital items. Unlike the loan sharks who charge 10% they only charge 2% interest on their loans to members of the collective. We really enjoyed the hot chai tea and biscuits they had prepared for us.
These ladies all earn what little money they have through subsistence farming but they are looking at ways to earn extra money through knitting and sewing together. This was incredibly inspirational to witness such social enterprise, lifting women out of poverty.
Finally, we went to a second local government school where the girls participate in the Girls Flourishing Programme – we had been delayed by the torrential rain and these children waited for 4 hours for us arriving. They were just still so full of enthusiasm as they told us how much they enjoyed the programme and how much it helped them to share their feelings with the facilitators who they totally trusted.
Surender Singh joined us for dinner and it was great to listen to him share success stories of how life in the rural villages is slowly changing for the better and fewer girls are being married at 13 and 14, which is illegal, yet cultural practice. MGVS work hand in hand with the people of the Mussoorie area and educate them in ways to show them how they can be masters of change themselves.
All in all, this was a day I will never forget. Thank you for partnering with us in witnessing hope education can change lives.
7th April 2017
This morning we packed up our personal belongings and headed to Kaplani High Schoolwhere we were to spend our last day in Mussoorie. At Kaplani High School the girls resilience group presented 2 skits which they had composed themselves on the theme of malnutrition. Kaplani High School also runs a similar programme for boys who also participated in the skits. It was great to see how enthusiastic and confident they were in presenting these short dramas.
Afterwards the pupils from Himalayan Torch Bearers School joined us for some stories, activities and crafts. This was focused around our themes of health, hygiene and the hungry caterpillar. This gave us the opportunity to carry out some basic health checks, such as eye tests on all the pupils. Some of the children who were initially very timid were soon enthusiastically participating in all the activities and were very pleased with the beautiful butterflies they created in the craft time.
We then joined the children and staff after these sessions at the midday meals programme to experience these meals funded by Saphara.
After this we had to bade farewell to Surrender and the other MGVS staff who have inspired us so much over the last few days, which we did with reluctant hearts. Their dedication to the work that they do in these schools and the surrounding communities is remarkable.
So, after a brief stop off at the Himalayan Weavers, we took taxis back down to Dehradun, to enjoy a lovely meal together and give some of our final reflections on this trip. All agree that this adventure has been a life changing experience and that Saphara is changing the lives of so many young people in some of the poorest regions of Northern India.
Thank you for supporting us and the work we partner with others in doing. We are excited to share these stories and so many more on our return to Northern Ireland, to the communities we live within.
7th April 2017
It was coming to the end of a challenging but very rewarding week. There were mixed feelings as our Journey with Purpose would soon be drawing to a close, but we had all been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to spend some time with Dr Reeta, the children and the teachers at SNEHA School.
On arrival, it seemed the feelings of excitement were mutual. The students were already sitting waiting, anticipating sharing with us their daily assembly that forms the foundation of each day in SNEHA.
Devotions were led by some of the senior girls, and we joined the children in singing hymns and prayers.
This was followed by a demonstration of traditional dances, firstly by the kindergarten children and then a vibrant folkdance from Rajasthan, performed by girls and boys from the senior school. The assembly finished with the National Anthem. Incredible cultural experience for us all to witness and be presented with.
Dr Reeta explained, that the whole school no longer fits into the outdoor seating area, as they did when it was purpose built 3 years ago. The number of students keeps growing and she has begun to have to turn students away. The demand for the school can be attributed to the high regard with which the school is held in the surrounding community.
We all agreed that it was us, the Saphara Women’s Team, who were in the very privileged position of being welcomed into SNEHA with open arms by Dr Reeta and her team, and given a glimpse of the life–changing opportunities taking place within its walls.
Not only are the children educated to an enviably high standard, but nourished and encouraged to become the best people that they can possibly be. It was fantastic to see for ourselves the benefits of the Girls Resilience Programme which is well established in SNEHA School. The girls confidently explained to us that the programme benefits not only themselves, but also their families, who have a new–found trust in their daughters.
It was fantastic to meet with Dr Reeta’s son Ronjoy and his beautiful new wife Gauri and to listen to their ideas and experiences with the children while they gave us a tour of the school. Their commitment to SNEHA brings energy and enthusiasm giving strength and support to Dr Reeta.
Following a visit to the community, where we witnessed the extremely poor conditions in which many of the students live, it became obvious that SNEHA School provides both a physical and spiritual sanctuary for the children from an uncertain environment.
While some of the women had henna applied by the students Ann gave a talk to the junior school teachers on new techniques for teaching reading and Daphne introduced the craft of rag–rugging to the teenage girls.
We had such a wonderful, fun and relaxed day and we whole heartedly soaked up the energy and joy that flowed freely throughout the school, from both students and staff. A strong bond between Saphara and SNEHA has been forged over the years and it was amazing to become part of that bond and the growing SNEHA/Saphara family of people with a shared vision of unity and equality.
8th April 2017
Our day started with a final pack up of all our luggage, before heading off on another hair–raising taxi ride to Anurag, to see a social development programme for under–privileged women and children run by a lady called Prem Gideon. Housed in a large yellow building in the district of Lado Sarai the project offers a large range of educational, healthcare and practical training opportunities for women in the district.
It also provides an Early Childhood Care and Education programme which is sponsored by Saphara. Twenty girls enrolled in this programme sang and spoke to us about their aspirations to become teaching assistants. The courses offered are accredited by the Indian Government which means that the girls will have a qualification which is transferable and will enable them to seek employment in other areas of the country.
Following a delicious lunch provided by the women of the school we left the official part of our journey behind and headed off to do some final gift purchasing at Cottage Crafts Emporium, and later to relax with afternoon tea at the luxurious Imperial Hotel. This gave us the opportunity to freshen up and get changed for the final visit of our trip, a visit to the Irish Embassy to meet and have dinner with the Ambassador and his staff.
On the way back to the airport this evening we asked our fellow travellers for one word to sum up our visit to India and we chose these four C’s – colourful, chaotic, contrasts and contradictions.
Ann Noble & Freda Fleming
What can I say after the most fantastic trip EVER!! When my daughters Erin and Rebecca came home after their Saphara experience they had a mood of euphoria that I now feel. I got to meet the loveliest women on this trip who will always be held deep in my heart and I also want to give a big thanks to our leaders Susan and Flo who were just the best duo ever. Christine, I wish I had half your energy and enthusiasm – it was lovely that I could share your dream with you. This trip had a vast spectrum of experiences, from the opulence of the Taj Mahal, Imperial Hotel and having supper at the Irish Ambassador’s residence, to the trek down to the Donk School in the most tranquil setting and the Kaplani, SNEHA and Anurag schools which through education united the children, giving them a chance to improve their lives. The Women’s Resilience Groups which supports and trains women in various skills is amazing and we will always remember, drinking tea with our friends in the middle of the mountains, while they wore their new glasses! I laughed a lot and I cried a lot throughout this experience but the smiles on the children’s faces made it. Would I have missed this journey with a purpose NEVER. Thank you Saphara!
Flo, you were a fantastic leader – and our Susan too. Thank you all so very much for allowing me to find the beauty and hope in the places where you did before, and for being part of something that will never leave me.
Thanks a million for the experience Christine.
Ladies you are wonderful and I couldn’t imagine experiencing India with any other group of women. It was perfect and an absolutely unforgettable experience, and I want to thank all of you for being a part of it. I would like to dedicate my final reflection to Surender. I personally couldn’t have spent enough time with him. He is such a genuine caring, hardworking, forward thinking and humble guy – so full of knowledge I could’ve listened to him speak all day. I’ll also use this time to mention his guys who helped each of us at some point during our Himalayan stay and without whom our work would’ve been a lot harder.
I’d like to say the trip was amazing. A big thank you to Flo, Susan and Christine for the massive amount of work that went on behind the scenes from day one. Meeting you all has been a lovely experience – the love for the children is visible in your faces (the photos are lovely) so big thank you to all. I’m still processing all that I have seen… Must get the untouched journal out!
You know that bit in the Bible where it is said that if God didn’t build we labour in vain to build? I see God in everything we saw. He has blessed each and every project, child, and leader and teacher, together with all of us involved in Saphara. Flo and Susan encouraged and guided and directed us all with grace and heart.
I left part of my heart in India and the first word that comes to me is Agape – unconditional love.
Having finally got myself ‘back together’ today I’ve had a think about my final reflection. For me there are 3 key things that are my stand out points from what was a truly overwhelming experience: People, Opportunity, and Impact.
PEOPLE – We were introduced to some truly exceptional people, from the beautiful, mannerly and enthusiastic children in each of the amazing schools that Saphara supports. The humble, generous, and patient helpers at our side throughout the trip – Surender springs to mind as do Flo and Susan. To the inspirational and devoted Dr Reeta, who puts in so much effort and even at her time of life provides amazing passion and vision for the future of the children in the local marginalised communities.
OPPORTUNITY – The country was just full of it! How people live – and how they want to live, the key to that future – education. The hope and the ambition that the young people have and the energy and eagerness to make the most of the opportunities offered!
IMPACT – Appreciating how Saphara is helping opportunities to become a success – supporting schools and individual children, educating girls at the top of the mountain in resilience and assertiveness whilst creating meaningful futures for girls in the cities. A remarkable contribution from a remarkable group of people; Christine – and the whole Saphara family!
Thank you so much to you all for the privilege. Until the next time!
Anne Marie Groom
It was a trip of a lifetime. Inspiring to meet so many people who care deeply for the children of India and to see the great work being done. Flo, I can’t begin to imagine how you managed the organising of us all. You worked so hard. The love shone out of you when you spoke to the young people. I feel lucky to have been a member of a great team of women who helped make the trip perfect.
I have tried to put into words my thoughts… India was an assault on all the senses, with its smells, colours, and noises. From the madness of Delhi to the serenity of the Himalayas, it was amazing. There are so many words which I could use to describe the trip but none that really encapsulate the whole experience nor convey the impression left in my mind and in my heart. We heard the differences that Saphara has made and continues to make to people lives. We saw the passion shared by the teachers, Surender, Dr Reeta and all the Saphara partners and the dreams the girls and boys now dare to have and hope to realise. We witnessed them all increase in confidence, valuing themselves and others in a respectful and disciplined way. But my lasting thoughts will be the smiles of those children. The positivity and determination of teachers and Saphara partners to influence change. The work is far from over but hope is very much alive.
I admire the vision Christine has and the people who now share that vision and are making a difference through education.
My thanks to her for making this trip possible, to Flo and Susan for all their hard work and passion making this an unforgettable experience. To all my new friends, the Women’s Group of 2017, thank you for sharing this with me. You will always have a special place in my heart.
“For in as much as you do it unto the least of my children you do it unto me”.
A picture paints a thousand words, and our pictures tell a wonderful story of a woman with a vision and a heart for the children and young women in such disadvantaged circumstances. Thank you, Christine, Flo, Susan and to all the Women of Saphara 2017 who helped to make this trip such a memorable experience! I have been really blessed by getting to know you all! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Thanks especially to Flo, Susan and Christine for all the hard work and planning which went into making our visit to India so memorable!
To everyone who worked with me on the education team – you really rose to the tasks we worked on and gave the children such lovely craftwork to take home, for all the cutting and sticking and work you prepared in advance – you missed your vocation– you could all have been teachers! Thanks for everything!
I am so grateful to Christine and to the Women’s team 2017 for such an amazing week in India. I was so touched by the compassion, kindness and generosity of each woman on the team. I was blown away by the impact that Saphara has had through the Girls Resilience programme on girls in large cities and girls in the most remote areas of the Himalayas. The adolescent girls we met spoke with such confidence and it was such a joy to see the hope they have been given by nurturing their self–esteem and the belief that they can become agents of change in their community. From Donk Primary School in the mountains to SNEHA School in the city we witnessed the profound effect that education has on those from the poorest backgrounds and how it can transform their lives. I can’t wait to go back!
I’ve been trying to think all day how I’d like to sum up our trip, but I cannot find the words! Thank you to Flo, for keeping her cool and for being such a wonderful role model, and to Susan, for all your quiet, but unwavering support. To Christine and the Saphara family for making it possible, and to God, for watching over us. Meeting you all and fulfilling our goals has been a real honour.
I had heard Christine talk about the Saphara Girls Resilience programme over the last few years and thought it had sounded like a good idea. But it wasn’t until we met with the trainers, facilitators and the girls themselves that the true value of this programme really hit home. The stories they told of what the programme has meant to them, how it has encouraged, empowered and supported them in various difficult situations were both moving and uplifting. This is a truly valuable work that needs to be rolled out to all girls in India. Well done Saphara!