EUROPE: IRELAND: 10 SCHOOL BOYS TRAVEL TO INDIA TO HELP POOR
IND. CATH. NEWS REPORT;
Ten school boys have recently returned to Ireland following a two week immersion visit to Kolkata in north east India.
Teachers, Theresa O’Neil and James Cronin from Christian Brothers School, St Mary’s Academy in Carlow Town, south of Dublin, took ten boys aged 16 and 17 years old to spend a fortnight witnessing and working amidst the poverty of Kolkata.
Theresa O’Neil explained: “the immersion project has been taking place biannually since 1999. The trips allow boys to experience the hands on work of two organisations - the Christian Brothers and The Missionaries of Charity - in India”.
“The Christian Brothers in India set an excellent example to the pupils” said James Cronin. “ The Brothers have several different projects running including a school for the children of prostitutes, and another school for street children called 'Ashirvad' meaning 'Hope'. The pupils spend the morning volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity orphanage Daya Dan in the morning, and the afternoon is spent teaching and playing with the children.
The boys' stay at the Brothers House and it is very much a communal experience with a lot of sharing taking place. A typical day starts at 4.30am with Mass at the Missionaries of Charity at 6am followed by breakfast and four hours volunteering with disabled children at Daya Dan until noon. Work at the Children’s orphanage includes laundry, physiotherapy for the children, and feeding time. The pupils then return to the Christian Brothers to have lunch and teach from 2-3pm and spend another hour playing with the children at Ashirvad. Dinner is at 8pm followed by reflection time and the sharing of the days experiences. Bedtime varies!
Theresa described how important the reflection times is for the boys. “i-pads, music and mobile phones are forbidden. The boys are only allowed to make one phone call a week and have to depend on a pack of cards and books and the company of one another for recreation. It’s great. They interact, bond, talk and share. They are no longer ten individuals but a single unit”.
The process of planning and preparing for the trip also helped the boys with early collaboration and team work. Raising money for the trip was combined with informing the local community of the boys’ endeavour. The pupils spoke at local church masses, organised cake sales and coffee mornings, table quizzes, and assisted with bag packing in local supermarkets. “Facilitating team fundraising ensures that all boys can afford to attend the trip and that that no one gets left out” said Theresa. At the end of the trip, the pupils left their extra clothes and toiletries for the Brothers to distribute.
James described how the trip encourages the boys to mature and gain greater understanding and appreciation of how much they have at home, even at what is a difficult time in Ireland. For example, they saw how greatly education is valued in India where not all children are able to attend school and child labour is common.
The boys also learned to understand something of the scale of poverty that is present in India, what poverty really is and means, and what it means to literally live on the street and have no alternative. On Friday the boys visited the home of a Kolkatan family. They experienced a living space six feet by four feet containing three beds. The space is so restricted that the members of the family have to take turns to sleep in two shifts. “The family considered themselves privileged to have a home and were so proud to show us their home. Their hospitality was overflowing” said Theresa.
The impact of immersion project is far reaching. Not only do the teachers and pupils provide tangible assistance to the community in which they volunteer, on returning to Ireland they are called upon to present at their local parishes, give talks in primary schools, present to their school management board and parent council, and attend an interview by local press.
James said: “These follow-up activities help to spread awareness of the situation in another country, what poverty means, and how we can all do something to help others by providing time or money in our own communities as well as overseas”. This way it is not only the pupils and those they help in Kolkata that feel the impact of the pupils’ work. Their classmates, teachers, parents and the wider community are touched by the trip.
One parent of a member of a previous group commented to the teachers that the pupils are “young boys when they go out, and young men when they come home”
Peter Morris, a 16-year-old pupil didn’t know what to expect before the trip to Kolkata. He reports “the trip opened my eyes and made me realise the way so many people live and the how the Western World is so different. We have everything we want, and much more than we need. Here people don’t have the basic necessities. I will now understand the value of education and everything that I have at home”.