India Trip: An Unforgettable Fortnight

Three weeks ago, after a busy year of fundraising and preparation, a group of BDA Sixth Form students finally packed their rucksacks and departed for India to take in the amazing culture and teach at SKSN – a residential school for disabled children. Following an extremely successful two weeks, Miss Stone and Miss Pretsell reflect on the wonderful experience:

Miss Stone: We arrived in New Delhi at 4am and as we drove through the streets to the hotel the realisation that we were finally here after a year of fundraising began to sink in. After a couple of hours sleep we were back on the bus and heading off to see Humayun’s Tomb, the Lotus Temple and the Qutub Minar, all incredible sites in their own way. The Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar allowed us to appreciate the beauty of Indian architecture and the peace and quiet of the Lotus Temple provided a quiet moment of reflection.

On day two we headed straight into Old Delhi and instantly we could feel the difference, the narrow, packed streets full of Sunday market traders, the dogs roaming around in packs and the sense of tradition and culture that filled the air. We enjoyed more time for reflection at the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, before heading for some historical learning in the Red Fort. That evening we managed to negotiate 26 of us and nearly twice as many bags (thanks to the generosity of the staff at students donating for the SKSN students) onto the overnight train for 12 hours of good old fashioned rail travel and sleep (?).

Miss Pretsell on the group's time at SKSN: Our arrival was one of the most moving days I can remember experiencing. Hoards of SKSN students rushing towards us, their arms outstretched eagerly. It took a while to realise the extent of their disabilities and to discern the wheelchair-users from the other excitable children there. It struck me immediately that, under no circumstances anywhere else in the world, would children with polio as severe as some of these students, be able to scramble towards us so unselfconsciously and joyously. It was at that moment that I knew SKSN had achieved something truly remarkable. The name ‘Indiability’ has never been more pertinent: these young people are capable of living virtually completely normal lives thanks to the work of the teachers and sponsors at SKSN.

Our first day of teaching was tough. There is no simpler way of putting it. Our sixth formers (18 year olds) that we had brought with us had no idea how challenging teaching can be! Our students taught a range of subjects, from Science and Maths to English and basic Phonics at Primary level. This has been a journey for our students unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. Learning to control a class and teach valuable content and ensure learning is taking place is hard enough, but forging relationships with children with limited English and who suffer incredibly from such a debilitating disease is very demanding emotionally. Throw in the shock of a new culture too, and the job seems nigh on impossible!

Before long however, our students had slipped into the routine expertly and were enjoying the bonds they were forming with the wonderful children and young adults at SKSN. Every evening, after the day of teaching and PE, we would visit the SKSN boarding house and do some reading with the children. More often than not, this reading time descended into chatting and swapping stories with the SKSN students, and one night an impromptu henna session! We also learnt a lot about the sanitation issues facing people in rural India, and the legacy that such poor toilet facilities has left on generations of people. We, collectively, felt deeply outraged at the simplicity of preventing polio, typhoid and cholera through things as basic as hand washing and cleaner sanitation procedures.

We were extraordinarily sad to leave such a remarkable place when the time came. Tears aplenty flowed when we said our goodbyes to the staff and students at the school. Tears of sadness at leaving such beautiful children, and tears of happiness at the journey of self-discovery so many of our students had embarked on. I wonder if we will ever experience anything like our time at SKSN again. It has a place in our hearts that nothing can ever replace.

Miss Stone: Back in New Delhi after another 12 hours on the train we just had time to fit in a visit to an ARK India school that demonstrated the global power of ARK, and do some serious shopping at the market before it was the last night and the 10 days were over. The trip was an incredible experience enjoyed by all who went.

Once again, thanks for all the support we have received over the past year.