Memories of a Trip to India 2011
Over the Halloween mid-term break this year ten Fifth Year students from Presentation Secondary School Ballingarry, including myself, travelled on a once in a lifetime journey to Chennai, India as part of our partnership project with St. Anthony’s Anglo-Indian High School in Egmore, Chennai.
We had to do extensive fundraising in the year leading up to the trip so that we would be able to fund the trip. We are all very grateful to those who supported us. We had also been in contact with students in our partner school in advance of our trip as each student was given a pen pal. We wrote back and forth to our pen palsa for a few months. As most students in our year group wished to travel to India and only ten could, there was an interview process before the summer holidays to decide who they would be. Three outsiders who had huge experience and knowledge of partnership projects such as ours conducted the interviews. They selected five boys: Eamonn Butler, Eamonn Tuohy, Kevin Pollard, Mark Slattery and me and five girls: Jacinta O’Grady, Jane Prendergast, Katie Doheny, Marie Lyons and Melanie Hayden. I was very grateful to be chosen.
In the early hours on Saturday the 30th we embarked on an unforgettable journey. We were expecting a big change but nothing would prepare us for the culture shock we got. Sights of poverty greeted us at every turn, the piles of rubbish, the people lying on the footpaths, the shanty houses however an Indian with a frown upon their face I have yet to see. They are an extremely happy, friendly and hospitable nation - always smiling and extending a warm hand to greet us their “Irish Friends”. The heat was also a big change for us and although it was not always sunny, the heat and humidity was there day and night. At first it was very uncomfortable and stuffy but we soon acclimatised to the conditions. Our noses were exposed to many new smells, some wonderful, many not so wonderful.
At our partner school we were treated like royalty and shown the utmost hospitality for which we are very grateful. Sr. Jeyarani, the school Principal, was with us from our arrival at the airport in Chennai to our departure there too. She was extremely kind and generous. Clement, the P.E. teacher, and Romeila, another teacher, were also always with us showing us around. We made bonds with these people over that week that will never be broken and I’m sure we will meet them again some day.
Ten Indian students were selected to partner with us and over the week we grew to know them and bond with them. My friend was Ashwaynth. They also helped us when we went to the Tamil school. This was a school for sons or daughters of prisoners and these children had no English, just Tamil. So with the aid of our scrapbooks which we made over the summer and our Indian friend, they were all so happy to see us and we to see them. They loved being in photos and shaking hands. Meeting these children was a great experience.
For me personally a huge part of the trip was finding the resting place of my two great-great-grand uncles, John and Stephen Fennelly, in St. Mary of the Angels Cathedral, Georgetown. They were both bishops of Chennai and they were the bishops who brought the Presentation Sisters to Chennai in the first place. This was a very personally satisfying part of the trip for me. It makes you think how small the world really is.
Other things we did on the trip was visit Santhome Cathedral where St. Thomas’s thumb is kept in a glass case along with an image of his face carved out by candle wax. We visited Kapaleswarer temple which was high up on a hill with a beautiful view of the city. We also went on a day trip to Mahabalipuram which is a tourist place famous for its rock carving.
One day we were separated into three groups to do projects on life in the slum, teenage life, adult workers. I was in the third group and we studied women learning to sew and to be beauticians. It was a very interesting experience. We made powerpoint presentations of the information we collected and left them with our partner school.
On our last day the morning assembly was emotional. They gave us an official send off and gave us many gifts. We sang our national anthem and some more songs and then we did some Irish dancing which was very popular among the Indians. We included them in our dancing as well which they loved however when we brought their teachers Sr. Jeyarani, Clement and Romeila into our dance they erupted. I have never heard such a joyous applause/roar before in my life. This was one of the memories from the trip that will stay with me.
Back at our hotel that night our ten friends came to say our final goodbyes. Many exchanged email and facebook addresses so as to stay in touch. It was sad to have to say goodbye but I’m sure that we will meet them again some day. Sr. Jeyarani, Clement and Romeila came to the airport to see us off. We will miss them but hopefully we will be able to extend to them the same hospitality next year in Ireland.
It was a once in a lifetime trip and a great experience that I will never forget. We formed relationships with our partners that will only get stronger as our project continues. These bonds will never be broken.
[Article by Ger Fennelly]
From the minute we landed we were greeted with change. The first thing that hit me was the smells. The air is not as fresh or clear in India as it is in Ireland. What’s more the intense heat leaves the air heavy and dense. We then took to the road. Driving in India is an experience in itself. First of all, they have a culture of constantly beeping their horns. It is a constant, regular, unending repetition of horns. They have good reason for doing this as they seem to have very few rules on the road. There are no definite lanes of traffic, no order when stopping at traffic lights. U-turns are made at any stage to get into the lane of traffic going in the opposite direction.
As we drove through Chennai, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of cleanliness. Piles of rotting rubbish are a common sight, probably partly contributing to the smells. The roads are lined with muck, developed by the heavy monsoon rains. Our first hours in India were a shock to our senses.
After a nap of a few hours we were up and going again. We had lunch in the convent before meeting ten of the Indian students. They would stay with us for the week. We spent the following day interacting with the students and visiting some of Chennai’s cultural spots of interest such as the tomb of Saint Thomas, a Hindu temple, Marina beach and the Basilica of Saint Thomas. The students were eager to share their lives and knowledge with us and we did the same.
Monday was our first day in school. The day started with an elaborate welcome programme which included signing, dancing and presentations, all performed by the students. We did not expect such a grand welcome and were overwhelmed by their hospitality. We then demonstrated some hurling which they picked up quite quickly on account of their experience with cricket. We were then brought on a visit to a Middle or Tamil school. The children here had no English and many lived in the slums of Chennai. They also sang for us. We then showed them the scrapbooks of our lives and with the help of our Indian friends as translators attempted to paint a picture of our lives for them. They were very eager and enthusiastic, huddling closer and closer all the time to get a better look. It would break your heart to see their happy faces despite of how little they have.
The following day there was a big celebratory Mass in Perambur for the centenary year of Presentation sisters in Perambur. Some of us were part of the presentation of one hundred candles to the altar as we were considered honoured guests. We did not expect such an honour and were a bit surprised to be honest. There was singing and dancing creating a strong sense of spirituality and atmosphere. After the Mass members of the choir came talking to us and asking for photos as they considered us important! We then attended a meal in the convent as part of the celebrations. We found ourselves seated at the main table. That day really showed the high position we were being regarded in, contrary to our expectations and beliefs.
The following day we worked on our projects, accompanied by our Indian friends. It included travelling to different schools and interviewing people. We were divided into three teams, each team working on a different aspect of life in Chennai: challenges faced in the slums, teenage life and the working life of young adults. Everyone got different snapshots of life in India, which we shared that evening. We spent the afternoon working on our powerpoint presentations with the Indian students. We also visited each class in the school. It was draining but worthwhile as we got the chance to interact with students of all ages.
Thursday involved a visit to Mahabalipuram, an Hindu worship site. It is composed of ancient rock carvings over a large area. It was interesting not only from a historical point but from a cultural point also. After lunch we visited Dhakshin Chitra, a heritage village recreating the lifestyles of Indians based on their state. Many houses were recreated and you could walk around them and get a feel for living in one of these houses. That day, Chennai experienced heavy rainfall, so much so that there was localised flooding. The difficult part to understand was that the water disappeared within a few hours of it arriving once the rain stopped!
Friday was our last day in Chennai. It was hard to believe that the week we had been preparing for for over a year was about to come to an end. However, it ended in an outstanding fashion. The Indian students once again put on a show for us. However we also performed for them. We sang, played music and for our grand finale did some Irish dancing. This couldn’t have been received better by the students. After doing a quick demonstration we each got an Indian student and danced with them. Even the Principal, Sr. Jeryani, joined in! The students loved it and were shouting and laughing by the end. St. Anthony’s then presented us all with plaques and gifts and we presented their school with a memorial. With emotional speeches over, it was time to enjoy out last hours in Chennai. The teachers dressed us all up in their traditional dress, the sari. Even the boys were dressed up in the traditional dress.
So ended our extraordinary week in India. From the sights we saw and things we smelled, tasted and heard, to the hospitality of the people, it’s an experience we will never forget. We hope this account shares with you some of our experiences.
[Article by Melanie Hayden]
Once we stepped off the plane it was very much apparent to us that this was a far cry from Ireland and our comfort zone but we were all equally excited and looking forward to a great experience which lay ahead of us for the week. On arriving inside the airport one thing I noticed was the silence of the place even though it was very busy whereas in Dublin Airport if the airport was as packed you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself think. After a while we managed to make it through customs and immigration without any disruptions. We then proceeded to collect our luggage and thankfully everybody’s had arrived as we were in no fit state to deal with the hassle of missing luggage at the time we were so tired. Stepping out of the airport the view deceived me into thinking it was nice and cool but the minute we stepped out the humidity of the climate hit us like a bang and in a few minutes we were perspiring. Sr. Jeyarani, Principal of St. Anthony’s Anglo Indian High School, was waiting outside to welcome us and we introduced ourselves to her individually and from the get-go she showed the utmost respect and generosity to us and we will always be thankful to her for that. We got on two different buses and made our way to the hotel. It was very bright and the amount of people on the streets at the time was astounding to witness. On the journey we all were as quiet as mice trying to observe our surroundings as quickly as possible in order to allow us to digest another shocking image we would see every few seconds. The smell was gut-wrenching at the time but we all had got used to it by the time of departure at the end of the week. There was a massive amount of poverty to be seen on the side of the streets and the driving was crazy. After twenty minutes or so we arrived at the hotel and quickly checked in and straight to our rooms to get some much-needed sleep.
That day we had organised to meet the Sisters at the convent for lunch at 12.30 p.m. and then off for a day of sightseeing. They catered for our Irish taste buds very well even providing potatoes to make that transition from Ireland to India gradually softer. We were then introduced to 5 boys and 5 girls from standard 9 in St.Anthony’s who had been selected as our partners for the week. My partner’s name was Feyaz! At 2:30 pm we visited the Santhome Cathedral to see the temple where St.Thomas’s thumb is kept in a glass case along with an image of his face carved out by candle wax. We had to take our shoes off on entering. We then took a walk down the footpaths adjacent to the Mrina beach were many people were living in slums waiting to be rehoused by the government. The last place we visited that night was the Kapaleswarer temple which was high up on a hill overlooking Chennai with a spectacular view. When we entered the temple we took off our shoes. Fatique must have been visible through out actions as the teachers cancelled our trip to Marina Beach as a result of our tiredness. We then headed ‘home’ to the hotel and grabbed showers and went downstairs to have dinner. Like most of us, I chose chicken curry as my main and let me tell you this it is nothing like the chicken curry you get here in Ireland, it burned the mouth off all of us and an endless supply of water was essential. After dinner we went to bed anxious for our first visit to the school.
On Monday, we had breakfast before leaving for school in 3-wheeled vehicles called autos or rickshaws. We reached the school on time at 8.30 a.m. and were brought into Sr. Jeyarani’s office whilst the students were being prepared for assembly. We were introduced to the school with an abundance of clapping, cheering and smiling and were known as their ‘Irish Friends’ for the week. The students had prepared a wide array of lessons, dances, songs and poetry. It was very impressive and entertaining. We then went on stage and introduced hurling to the school and taught a sample number of students hurling drills. They were fascinated by the sport. After the assembly we went to the tahmal school next to St. Anthony’s. Most of the children hailed from the slums. The students we met were very young and we mixed and mingled with them showing them our scrapbooks and had our partners translate the meaning of the pictures to them. We hit it off big time with these kids and took lots of photos. We then returned to St. Anthony’s and were put into groups of ten to meet the students and show them our lives with the help of our scrapbooks. They were very nice and we managed to ‘have the craic’ big-time with them. Following the group work we were given an insight into the activities they partake in for P.E and managed to fit in a spot of cricket which was good fun but I would choose the GAA over cricket anyday. We arrived back in the hotel at 4.00 p.m. before going out shopping in the local shopping centre Spencer Plaza where we bought the majority of our souvenirs and presents for our friends and family. That night we had dinner in a different hotel which we enjoyed as the food was more western.
On Tuesday we travelled across Chennai to a Mass as invited guests to Sr. Jeyarani’s former school’s 140 year centenary celebration. The Mass was an hour and a half in duration and was very interesting especially with the lively and modern church choir. After Mass we got to meet teachers from a secondary school in Cork who were beginning their relationship with that school this year. They were very sound and it was nice to get to meet and converse with people in the same position as ourselves. We were then special guests at the celebratory lunch and were even put at the top table which really isolated us from the locals! We all enjoyed the lunch and especially the ice-cream which followed it. After lunch we visited a big cathedral which contained the tomb of Gerard Fennelly’s great great grand-uncle Stephen Fennelly who had brought Presentation Secondary Schools to Chennai. Small world it really is! That night we went shopping outdoors in the various markets. At these markets there is a lot of beggars. Daughters at the early age of 3 and 4 are thought the tricks of the trade and would follow you and harass you all along the street! That night we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner and the food was very hot and spicy and accompanied by huge side dishes of your choice.
On Wednesday we were split into 3 different groups and 3 different projects. I was part of the project looking at teenage life. We interviewed a group of teenage girls form two different schools regarding teenage life in India. I had great fun with the groups as they had excellent English and we were able to engage in a free-flowing conversation about teenagers in both Ireland and India. I asked questions regarding school, after-school activities, religion, marriage, weekend activities and even the very popular Facebook whilst also informing them of what life is like for teenagers in Ireland. We compiled the information as a powerpoint presentation for the school on Friday. Much of Wednesday was taking up in the computer room of St. Anthony’s preparing our presentation and also partaking in a Pat Kenny like interview involving our group and our partners covering the issue of teenage life in our hometowns which Mr. Moran recorded on camera and was included in our powerpoint presentation. That night we visited an orphanage in the slums. This was a life-changing experience witnessing the severe poverty in some peoples’ life but however poor they were they were delighted to see us within the slums and only too happy for us to enter their homes and take photos with them. The mosquitoes really came alive inside the slums and it was safe to say that we were ‘eaten alive’ by them. After the visit to the slums Ms. Bourke informed us that there were rats circling our legs and running around amongst us inside the slums. This conveys how shocked and in awe we were of the slums that we didn’t notice the presence of the rats, something we would freak out over here in Ireland.
On Thursday we were up at around 6:00 a.m. in order to depart for our day trip to Mahabalipuram. We got a guided tour of the area which contained tombs, scriptures and monuments including those with images of elephants carved onto them. A spectacular work of art to say the least. We came across a large rock on the edge of a tiny hill which was placed there naturally. We took a memorable photo of all the group trying to push it off the hill and it didn’t budge a millimetre! There was a massive amount of thunder and lightning which led to torrential rainfall and one thing I won’t forget is on the way home getting off the bus to go for lunch in a restaurant and having to walk from the bus to the restaurant up to our knees in water and having to eat lunch drowned wet. I don’t miss that anyway! On the bus home the banter was immense with constant teasing and slagging with our Indian partners but all in good spirits. We dropped the students off and went back to our hotel rooms to shower and get ready for dinner. We were having dinner in the same restaurant as we had the previous evening as it proved such a hit with all of us! It was a type of continental restaurant and the chocolate gateau was the main treasure found there! That night in the hotel we practised our singing and Irish dancing as we knew that tomorrow, Friday, we would have to present something!
Friday came and before we knew it we were on the stage in the middle of the assembly singing Amhran na bhFiann and songs from our Transition Year musical, playing tin whistle and doing Irish dancing. The Irish dancing was easily a highlight of the trip for me as the students went mad crazy shouting, clapping and whistling for us and we even took up a few from the ‘audience’ to partake in the dance. However the school really went mad when we brought the teachers Clement, Romelia and Sr. Romelia into the dance. I’ve never played in an all Ireland final but I can only imagine what the atmosphere is like if that noise resulted in only a few hundred students cheering and chanting. When the music came to an end all involved were red-faced and sweating from the strenuous activity and we were even more appreciative of the fans on the ceiling. Next we were called one by one to receive a plaque celebrating our visit to St. Anthony’s followed by words of praise and thanks from our teachers, Principal and Sr. Teresa. Following the assembly we spent the next hour and a half visiting strands 10 and 11 who had completed projects involving mathematics, local history, importance of healthy eating and environmental issues! These were very impressive and we couldn’t believe the quality! One papier-mâché volcano was my favourite! For getting various quizzes and puzzles correct we received prizes of pens, notepads colouring pencils and food! After the projects we proceeded for lunch and worked on the remaining bits of our project in the computer room. The school bell went and everybody surrounded us with goodbyes and high-5’s and handshakes. It was as if we were celebrity figures in their lives but it was nice all the same. We stayed on and the girls dressed up in saris whilst the boys dressed in long skirt type clothing without much reluctance! We then had a photo opportunity with the school facility and took an endless amount of photos. We then proceeded to say our goodbyes and thanks to all staff who had made our trip so enjoyable and had made us feel so welcome. We travelled back to the hotel by auto. We began to pack our things and our partners soon arrived at the hotel to say goodbye to us. We exchanged gifts with them before heading down for dinner. After dinner we made our way to the porch of the hotel and said our final goodbyes to the lads we had got on so well with. We exchanged e-mail adresses and facebook addresses with them before seeing them off for the last time. It was emotional to leave them for they were a vital part in bringing enjoyment to our trip. We then said our thanks to Sr. Jeyarani, Master Clement and Romelia who had joined us for dinner as one last goodbye and were all given presents of silk scarfs by Sr. Jeyarani. We managed to get an hour or two of sleep before waking at midnight to leave for the airport and conclude our wonderful trip to St.Anthony’s Anglo-Indian High School, Egmore, Chennai!
[Article by Mark Slattery]
I have to admit I found the airport very intimidating. We went through three sets of immigration and after well over an hour we made it to the other side. When walking out to our taxi I experienced a sight I will never forget. As we walked out in single file, hundreds of Indians stood either side of us, they stared at us and it was a very strange moment. I worried that it would be like this every time I went outside but thankfully that was not the case. When we arrived at the hotel we all went straight to bed so that we would be ready for the day ahead. We went to lunch in the convent and then had the privilege to meet our pen pals whom we had been writing to for a number of months. We went around Chennai on a bus visiting sights exclusive to Chennai.
On Monday morning we got an auto to school. We could see that an assembly was being prepared. We waited in the Principal’s office until called. As we walked onto the stage the assembly burst into a thunderous applause. The children were cheering and clapping. We had done nothing but walk into the room and they were thrilled. We were welcomed and a programme was put on by the children introducing us to India, it included singing, dancing and acting. After their programme we decided to introduce them to hurling, they caught on very quickly!
We then went to a Tamil school also called St. Anthony’s but of no relation to our partner school. These children live in slums and some of their parents are in prison so they live in the school. The children could not speak English so we had our pen friends to help us translate. We also had a scrapbook that we had made over the summer. It contained pictures of all the important parts of our lives. The kids loved to see the pictures and when they saw us in a picture they would say “Super! Super!” When we went back to St. Anthony’s we showed them our scrapbooks too and they showed us some native sports like cricket!
On Tuesday we were invited to Perembourg for their centenary celebrations. I can honestly say I did not realise we were going to be treated as we were. We were part of a light procession that we did not even know about and we then seated in the second row from the altar, in a church that was full to capacity. The Mass was very different. The music was very upbeat and the sermon was definitely like nothing I’ve seen before! After the Mass people were looking for photos with us! We then went to Perembourg convent when we were seated at the top table for our meal, we were treated like royalty. In the afternoon we went to the cathedral where our classmate Gerard Fennelly’s great-great grand-uncles are buried. They brought the first Presentation Sisters to Chennai.
On Wednesday we had to do our research projects. I was in a group that looked at the challenges faced in the slums. We interviewed slum kids who are lucky enough to go to school. We asked them about their daily lives, hopes for the future, priorities, happiness and school. Some of things we heard were shocking but all we can do is thank them for being so open about personal issues that allowed us to get an insight into their lives. The kids could not speak English so our pen friends helped us to translate because the language barrier was tough. We finished off Wednesday by visiting the slums and an orphanage.
On Thursday we were up very early as we were going on a school trip to Malhibipuram. We visited stone temples and saw some amazing sights! However the monsoon rain hit and it was back to the bus. We then went to a heritage site - it was very interesting!
Friday was our final day. The children had another programme prepared for us at assembly. It was so nice to see them all singing and dancing and enjoying themselves. It was then our turn to go up and show what we could do. We sang two songs from “Oklahoma”, No Frontiers and Amhráin na bFiann. Katie and I played recorder and we all danced the siege of Ennis bringing up the Indian kids and teachers! It was great craic for everyone! It then came to the hard part saying goodbye. I spoke on behalf of my class. That night our ten close friends came to the hotel to say a final goodbye. We have memories that we will never forget and we have made friends that will live forever in our hearts.
[Article by Jane Prendergast]