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This year the Academy began a new association with Northern Ireland-based charity, Saphara, which works in India, helping children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds attend school. Saphara was set up by a Belfast teacher, Dr. Christine Burnett who first visited India in 1998, experiencing the poverty as she visited huge slums where many struggled to survive. Inspired by the life–changing encounters between the Indian and Northern Irish young people, Christine resigned from her teaching post in July 2008 to set up Saphara as a UK–registered charity. She recruited Catholic and Protestant schools who shared her vision of inspiring students to become local and global citizens by coming on Saphara’s ‘Journey with Purpose’ to India.

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Four of our Lower Sixth students were successful in becoming part of the North Belfast team to fundraise and go to India this summer to see the projects they’ve been raising money for.  They wrote more about their experience so far and what’s to come.


First of all, Niamh Carroll explains what Saphara is and why she wanted to apply for the team.

“Saphara is a charity that helps disadvantaged children in India through education. Saphara are involved in a number of schools in India and have paid for teachers’ salaries, resources and science labs to enable impoverished children to access a good education. In 2009, Saphara took over the funding of Donk Primary school, a rural school in the Himalayas and saved it from closure.

In the schools there is an emphasis on English being taught because it creates more job opportunities and opportunities for further education because it’s a status symbol. Another focus of Saphara’s work is helping combat gender inequality. In underprivileged communities, the education of girls is often seen as unimportant. Girls are expected to drop out of school to look after the home. Saphara challenges these attitudes and encourage girls to pursue education.

Saphara also enable young people in Northern Ireland to develop through the experience of travelling to India and teaching English in schools. When we were presented with the opportunity to apply to the Saphara North Belfast team, I was excited by the chance. I was impressed by Saphara’s work in education and their help for Indian girls and the prospect of seeing the work first-hand made me want to apply.”

The students will travel to India in July. Henry Cavan tells us more about it.

“We are travelling to India with 22 pupils from 3 other schools: St Malachy’s College, Dominican College, Fortwilliam and St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt (more of a North Belfast and Beyond team!). We travel to Delhi on 2 July from Dublin Airport via Dubai. After spending a few days in Delhi acclimatising, we travel to travel to Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas and work in Kaplani High School for a week. At the end of the first week, the team takes part in Global Awareness weekend where we think about issues surrounding poverty and injustice. As part of this we trek to Donk Primary School where we will help to teach for a day. In the second week, we travel to the biggest school, SNEHA School in Dehradun and teach there for a week. We’ll then travel back to Delhi to fly back to Dublin – hopefully very different people from the ones that set out sixteen days earlier. Although I think it’ll be a really challenging, I’m looking forward to seeing the work that Saphara does in India, having been fundraising for it for several months.”

Jack Venables explains what the BRA students have been doing to fundraise.

“As part of the team, we were set individual and group fundraising targets to help the work that goes on in India (our parents support our travel and accommodation costs in India). Before Christmas, I held craft fairs, ballots and charity football matches and was delighted to raise the target set. In February, my teammate, Kathleen and Miss Barnett were sponsored to abseil down the Europa Hotel. Others on the team have also been busy fundraising through coffee mornings, curry lunches and bake sales. We have a few more fundraising ideas to consider before we jet off to India. One of the things that struck me from hearing from last year’s team from Belfast High School was that when they were in India they said they wished they had fundraised more, so we want to leave for India knowing we tried our best, not just stopping when the targets were reached.”


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Aside from the fundraising, there has been some training and other preparations for the team’s trip to India this summer, as Kathleen Reilly explains.

“Our first preparation day in November was not long after we had applied and found out we were successful. All the teams met in Dominican College to get ideas for fundraising, get to know each other through team building games and even try some Bollywood dancing! Most of our focus since then has been in preparation for teaching the classes in India: thinking about the language barriers that will exist and how we can make our lessons interactive and engaging. At the end of January, the North Belfast team had a workshop allowing us to try a number of teaching activities. We all enjoyed the day and had a great experience, and at the end of the day we all came out knowing a little more about teaching and as better friends!

‪Last weekend, we were away on our residential weekend (13th-14th March) in Ballintoy. We spent the first day settling in, cooking some Indian food, and watching a demonstration of good and bad teaching and learning a bit more about Indian culture through the movie ‘Bend it like Beckham’. On the second day of the residential we woke up early had breakfast and began straight into the training. We did a few activities and had a go at planning our own lessons in groups. Before lunch we then had group time, in which we reflected on the trip, the exciting party, the challenges and our fear about going. We finished off the weekend by going for a walk along the cliff tops, partly to prepare us for our trek in the foothills of the Himalayas. Next month, we’ll meet together again for more preparations and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again.”

With revision and study leave for the AS examinations, our fundraising has one more major push this week in school. If you’d like to know more about Saphara, please visit . If you’d like to help with any of our fundraising efforts, please speak to Miss Barnett.

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