Updated: Nov 12
The plane has just taken off with the Halloween Team safely on board!
The first couple of days are always very busy so we will be sending photos on Twitter and Facebook until there is enough time to write a proper blog. Please send all your good thoughts to our Team Leaders, Paula, Jo, Paul, Alison, Sarah, and Jenny as they lead the team on their journey with purpose!
Sunday 27th October
Following a long day of travelling we finally arrived at Delhi airport at 10am local time and we were greeted by beautiful marigold garlands to wear around our necks to celebrate the Diwali holiday. After a short bus journey, we arrived at Hotel Perfect where we sorted out our Indian money and settled into our rooms.
The group took a short trip around the area surrounding the Hotel where we got to see the hustle and bustle of India. From here on, we went on to shop for our Indian clothing that we will wear throughout our time in India to further show our respect toward their culture. We separated as the girls went to a modern boutique to get kurtas and dupattas while the boys went on to a local tradesman in order to purchase their kurtas.
We finished up our afternoon with a quick lunch at McDonalds and then headed back to our hotel to get a shower and some rest as we were extremely jet lagged and tired. The most enjoyable part of our evening was our first Indian meal and the opportunity to write this first blog. We hope all our family and friends will enjoy reading the blog as much as we will enjoy sharing our stories.
Nicole Simpson, Beth Stewart and Sean Bowman
Monday 28th October
We arose at 5:15am and after a long, well-deserved sleep, some photos and a few games of chess, we arrived after four hours at the magnificent Trident Hotel. This was quite a contrast to the poverty we experienced a mere 5 minute walk from the door. The hotel offered pleasant beverages such as cold, homemade lemonade, and we all took some time to relax and stretch our legs.
We exited the Hotel and soon arrived in a street that overwhelmed our senses with its vibrance and vigour. We navigated our way through the hustle and bustle of the streets, through the crowds and queues, towards the Taj Mahal. Our eagerness to see this majestic wonder was fulfilled, only to be replaced by a hunger to seek what it was that lay inside. After some more photographs and more queues, our extremely helpful tour guide was able to tell us the history of this man-made miracle and unravel the mystery behind it all. The Taj itself would be what the Indians regard as their crown jewel, respecting it and sharing it with the world.
After visiting the Taj Mahal, we stopped once again in the Trident Hotel and were graced with a beautiful buffet which not only filled our bellies, but elevated our spirits. The desserts were delicious! After our lunch we made a quick visit to a marble factory and learnt about how it is made as well as being shown the factory’s beautiful selection of marble pieces.
It was then time to make the four hour journey back to our hotel in Delhi, giving us time to reflect on our day and catch up on some sleep! We were greeted with some tea and toast which we had while completing our group reflection for the day. It was then off to bed in preparation for our even earlier start tomorrow!
Ben Thompson, Kelan Benson, Bryony Lupton
Wednesday 30th October
7am. We never thought our eyes would stay shut this long. 8 hours sleep! How can this be? Even though the hotel provided a delicious selection of breakfast, our stomachs were already filled with nerves for the impending school day; despite this we were still filled with excitement and the many possibilities which this day could bring. We grabbed our bags at 8am sharp and headed towards the honking vikrams which were awaiting to take us to SNEHA Doon Academy.
We disembarked from the vikrams to a warm welcome from the sea of smiling SNEHA students. As we walked out, we witnessed a cloud of excitement which overshadowed our nerves. We headed straight to the staff room to do some last-minute preparations for our class. With resources in hand, we headed to the classrooms to get stuck into the lesson. As we walked past the classrooms every child jumped up off their seat to make us feel increasingly welcome.
From the flurry of introductions, the children quickly settled and the teaching began. We played games, taught and learned about each individual child. The experience of this cannot be recreated through mere words. The three lessons flew by in an instant. When the final school bell rang, we thought the teaching had stopped but it was our turn to learn…
Kabbadi. What a game! The smiling faces turned to warrior stances as SNEHA v Saphara finished one-one with a final to play for on Friday. Saphara members soon discovered their expertise as SNEHA excelled on the battle ground.
Meanwhile the other half of the group visited the community. This was a humbling experience where we got see where the kids are growing up and realize how vitally important a school education is to them. We were sad to turn our backs on the walls of SNEHA but we wait in anticipation for tomorrow morning’s bell.
Alanna Adair, Niall O’Hare and Mollie McAllister
Thursday 31st October
Another fun-filled day at SNEHA Doon Academy began with a Vikram journey, weaving through all different types of traffic to get us to the school. The assembly was full of life with many smiling children. Ronjoy, the school director, began the assembly and we were then amazed by the wonderful action singing that took place. We got to witness each child proudly say the Lord’s prayer and sing their national anthem. We then joined in to sing the SNEHA song which we were all so excited to be part of.
After completing the first two lessons, we were given the treat of watching and taking part in the Early Years assembly. This assembly was filled with glorious children who were excited and enthusiastic about getting the opportunity to welcome the SAPHARA team. They taught us many of their songs and actions while we tried our very best to keep up. This was an amazing experience for each of us as it was our first chance to meet the Early Years classes. We then showed how grateful we were to the children for being so welcoming and kind to us by thanking them and emphasising how happy we are to be here.
Following yesterday’s trip to the local community, the second group got to see where most of these children live. This was an enlightening experience for everyone on the team and none of us will ever forget it.
After we had lunch, we were given the privilege of hearing from the founder of SNEHA Doon Academy: Dr. Reeta Rao. She told us the story behind the foundation of SNEHA. Dr Reeta was driven to make a difference in this marginalized community in order to give the children a different standard of living and an opportunity to experience a better life. She believed that education was the only thing that could help the community pursue their dreams. Dr Reeta has also given local women and children the opportunity to be part of the Girls’ Resilience Programme, giving them the chance to learn a trade.
Before leaving SNEHA, the boys had their names tattooed in henna by girls trained at Sneha.
Back at the hotel the team reflected on the various challenges we have faced so far. We encouraged each other to transform those challenges into positives, having been so inspired by Dr Reeta, her resilience, her vision and her faith.
Pearse Bowes, Aaron McPeake, Meredith Waldron
Friday 1st November
The morning after an evening of intense dance rehearsals we were ready to roll. We arrived at SNEHA for the final day where we were greeted by a special assembly that included traditional Indian dancing and an amazing mime performance from the senior boys. After that, it was our time to shine. Kelan began demonstrating traditional Irish dancing, followed by a Saphara flash mob to the song “Don’t stop me now”. To finish the assembly we played a SNEHA versus Saphara Kabbadi rematch. The game was riveting but guess who won……. SAPHARA!!!!!!!!
After the special assembly, we taught one of our final lessons to our classes which included songs, dances and rhymes. We then continued on to our final lesson of the week making sure to say goodbye to all the lovely children who were so sad to see us leave and really wanted us to stay. Goodbyes were difficult especially after spending 3 days with these wonderful kids. The selflessness, enthusiasm, intelligence and talent not only touched our hearts but made us extremely grateful and created a bond that was so hard to say goodbye to.
When we finished our final lesson the team split into two groups. Group one learned some traditional Indian art from the senior pupils and the other group taught Irish dancing. This gave us a wonderful chance to chat and share school experiences and dreams for the future. After lunch, the girls got their henna done by women from the community and visited the gift shop which contains some of the handmade bags, cards and pottery made by the women. The boys learned khokho, a favourite Indian game which was confusing to begin with but once we got the hang of it, it was great. We said our final goodbyes to Dr. Reeta and the rest of the SNEHA staff and embarked on our final vikram journey to the hotel. We travelled up the mountains, around 6000 feet up through the clouds, to the town of Mussoorie.
We got to the Hotel Himalayan Club where we completed our final lesson plan for our day in Kaplani High School and sat down for dinner which was CHINESE!!!!! We reflected on our best memories of our time in Sneha and then threw ourselves into our first global awareness drama activity.
Katie McAllister, Ursula Murray Bremner, Jordan McKee
Saturday 2nd November
Today we headed out to Kaplani High School in the Himalayan mountains. We had the pleasure of taking fun workshops with every class. We taught them games such as dodgeball and tag rugby, as well as some Irish Dancing. In particular, the children enjoyed the “Cha-Cha Slide”. We were so pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic these children were. They were older than the children at SNEHA, so we weren’t sure how willing they would be to take part. However, the students of Kaplani had smiles on their faces throughout the day and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the activities we had to offer. We were left in awe as these children had already walked for two or more hours to school that morning, yet still had the energy to engage in the activities and put on a smile. Every child put in 100% effort, which made our teaching experience so special.
A highlight of our day was watching the children have their midday meal which our fundraising has provided. We are all so excited to tell you more about our fun day at Kaplani and show our photographs of the breathtaking views of the foothills of the Himalayas. None of us had ever seen anything like it before.
Before dinner, we had the opportunity to explore the local town: Mussoori. As we trekked up the merciless hills, we were taken aback by the beautiful sunset – it was unforgettable. Most of the group decided to fully immerse themselves into Mussoori life by looking around the shops and taking in the sights and smells. We then finished our day with milkshakes that would put Cookie Box to shame, followed by a movie night watching ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. This film seemed relatable to all of us as we have now seen first-hand the poverty in India.
Amelie Faulkner, Joseph Graham, Conor McAllister
Sunday 3rd November
Today we trekked a short stretch of some of the low lying areas of the Himalayas. The views were incredible; it was breath taking to see the hills rolling into the far distant haze and to be above the eagles. An inspiring man named Surender was our guide for the walk. Having given his life to the bettering of the people living in rural poverty around the hill side he knew every answer to all the questions we asked. Although the walk was beautiful it was also challenging, especially on the way back up the mountain; this walk gave us an idea of the daily challenges the children face as some walk for up to two hours each morning to get to school. We were able to visit what was Donk primary school and various surrounding communities and once again we witnessed where all our fundraising has gone, for example a water pipe which reaches the most remote places we have ever seen.
Ellie Agnew, Mark Donnelly and Seanpatrick Houston.
A Final Reflection
Monday 4th November
After a well-deserved lie in the team headed to a local nature park to do a final reflection on everyone’s individual journey over the last 11 days, and we were all very reluctant that it would be our last shared thoughts. Emotional, grateful and completely in awe of the change we had all experienced we left feeling appreciative of the journey we have completed. Shortly after we made our way to the Irish Embassy to have lunch with the Irish Ambassador and discuss his role within the country, also informing him about the work we have done. We then collected souvenirs and small gifts to give to our family members and friends back home before departing to the airport to head home. This journey has changed all of our perspectives on life and has changed each one of us in small but many positive ways.
Jade Kelly, Christopher Archer, Sean O’Rourke and Nicole Shaw.