Locals school students discover poverty in India

Locals school students discover poverty in India

4 January 2012


WHILE the local economy may be struggling, a group of students has been experiencing the true meaning of poverty during an unforgettable trip to India.

Working with the Saphara charity, the group of 18 students and five teachers from Down High School, Assumption Grammar and Regent House embarked on a recent 16 day trip to Northern India.

A non-profit, non-denominational Christian organisation, Saphara is directed by former biology teacher, Dr. Christine Burnett, offering young people the chance to tackle issues of justice and global citizenship through working with and educating disadvantaged children in India.

Prior to flying out to Delhi, the newly christened Down team had to attend numerous seminars and team-building events in order to prepare them for their ‘journey with purpose’ (the Hindi translation of Saphara).

Stuart Bill, from Saintfield, a year 14 student in Down High School, recounts his memories from the trip.

“After an eight-hour flight, we stepped out of the plane and the vibrancy of Indian culture hit us,” he said. “The first few days of the trip were spent in New Delhi, which was an opportunity to acclimatise and to take in some of the many surrounding landmarks, for example the elegant Taj Mahal and striking Agra Fort.

“We then embarked on a seven-hour train journey to Dehradun, a city of two million people that lies in the shadows of the Himalayan foothills. It was from there we continued up into Mussoorie, a Himalayan town at 6,000ft above sea level. This would be the base for our first week of teaching in the nearby Kaplani village school, which is attended by 60-80 pupils who were really eager to learn.

“Throughout the week it was clear to see we had developed fantastic relationships with the classes we taught and this was evident in the emotional farewell ceremony on our final day there.”

The following weekend the group braved the monsoon weather and leeches to trek down to Donk primary school, where they taught the 20 small children for a couple of hours. Over the next day or two, they enjoyed some respite, offering a time for reflection on the inspirational people they had met.

The second week of the experience was spent in Dehradun, in a school called SNEHA.

“Sneha translates to “love” in Hindi, and it was amazing to see how the school lived up to its name not only through the welcome we received but also the teachers’ genuine compassion for the children,” said Stuart. “In stark contrast to Kaplani, SNEHA had approximately 1,000 pupils who came from the surrounding ‘marginalised community’ — or put simply, a slum.

“Halfway through the week we had the chance to see this ‘marginalised community’. We found this to be an eye-opening experience and personally put a lot of things into perspective for me. I was inspired by the children’s desire and determination to get an education in order to escape the relentless poverty they endured.

“After a week of rewarding work, it was an emotional ending to our teaching. We had built relationships with many of the children and we knew we would miss the laughter and good times we shared.

On their flight back to Belfast the group learnt to their dismay, however, that SNEHA had been badly flooded by the monsoon rain and had incurred £8,000 worth of damage.

“In spite of this, I knew by the generosity I encountered during my fundraising experience and through the power of prayer, the damage can be repaired,” said Stuart.

“On behalf of the Saphara Down team 2011, I would like to wish the best of luck to this year’s team with their fundraising exploits and I know they will have a fantastic time.”