Save A Family Plan was delighted to partner with staff and students of St. Edmund Campion CSS as they journeyed to India for their annual mission trip. They shared the following reflection with us on their experience and learning during their travels:
On March 1, 2013, our group of students and teachers from St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario, Canada had the privilege of embarking on a life changing journey to India as a part of a social justice project. Our mission was to raise awareness of the plight of the poor of India, specifically the children, as it relates to their limited educational opportunities and socio economic situation. Funds were raised through various activities thanks to the kind support of our families, friends, school, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, feeder schools, community businesses and local parish.
We spent the first few days in Kerala where we stayed at Save a Family Plan’s inspiring headquarters. In Kerala, we got a chance to meet many great people, including Save a Family Plan’s staff and Bishop Sebastian. We felt honored to be welcomed into their home and to receive welcoming gifts from them.
“Kochi was beautiful and the Save a Family Plan staff was so welcoming. I felt like I was surrounded by family.” – Karen
As a school, we took on the commitment of supporting two families for the next six years through the Family Development Program. Both families are located close to the SAFP office, so we were able to organize a day to visit with them. Finally, the day had come for us to meet the families, we couldn’t wait.
“Although we were not able to communicate in the same language, we were able to work and get to know each other through smiles, kind gestures and our willingness to learn from one another.” – Chelsea
They were family now and it was hard to know that they are in the situations that they explained. It was a very emotional experience and completely unforgettable.
“The thing that touched me the most was knowing that each day our families were praying for our well-being. They even had us write out names down on a sheet of paper and would pray for us everyday. I think this was the most touching moment of my experience.” – Zenaida
When we arrived in Kolkata, we encountered and saw the impact of poverty and inequality that many of us have never seen in our life. We were experiencing culture shock that was forcing us all of reflect on our own lives and privileges which we take for granted everyday back home. Every night of the trip we would all meet up as a group to reflect on our day. That night was a special reflection because we were learning a lot and our own thoughts and perspectives were expanding rapidly. It became evident to us that as shocking as it all was, it was and still is reality to the people living in Kolkata.
“I realized that we complain about minuscule things in comparison to what people in India endure. I appreciated for the first time in a long time, everything and everyone in my life.” – Tania
Kolkata is the very city where Mother Teresa started her Missionaries of Charity. We continued our mission in India by volunteering our days there, which was another whole new experience. At the Missionaries of Charity, we met many other volunteers from all over the world. We would have mass and breakfast with the volunteers and the sisters in the mornings and then split up to our assigned homes, where we helped the Sisters and other volunteers feed the children and women and do the laundry. The kids and women we met were great! They were such intelligent humble people. During one of our scheduled days some of us took the kids out and taught them how to handle money. By the end of our time volunteering at these homes, many of us formed bonds with the children and women we met.
“Everyday was action packed with children in schools who we enjoyed playing and talking with; the most energetic children I have ever met. It made me so happy to see the children’s excitement to see us.” – Marlon
Through every state we stayed in, we visited different homes, orphanages and schools. We donated a duffle bag full of school supplies at each location. What we learned very quickly was that there is common ritual at each school and orphanage held for visitors. We were always welcomed with a dance routine, sometimes followed by singing. Aside from the school supplies, we returned their act of kindness with a dance of our own. Despite our obvious lack of skills in comparison, it always ended with the entire room (including ourselves) in smiles. Many of the times the kids would teach us their dance as well.
“Something that I have taken home with me is how outgoing the kids were. They always put on a dance for us. Now when ever I feel shy I remind myself how fearless and proud the kids in India are.” – Kendal
Our final destination was one of SAFP’s partner’s, the St. Joseph’s Service Society – Sanjoepuram Children’s Village, in the Northern State of Haryana. Sanjoepuram is a village of schools and homes for children with disabilities. On our last day, the children shared their gifts with us. One girl read us a story in braille, another very young girl recited a bible story to us aloud and in sign language at the same time. We ended our stay there working on an educational improvement project. The Sanjoepram community and our group gathered together to clear a field. It was a great way to interact and make friends. The children continually impressed us by how much they accomplished despite having disabilities.
“While visiting all of these places in India, they all taught me the same lesson. We must never stop smiling and always believe for a better future.” – Reuben
The final day volunteering came to an end too soon. It was sad to know our mission was coming to an end. Although the children and people we met were without a doubt the highlight of our experience, we did get to see amazing land marks and taste all kinds of great Indian dishes like Masala Dosa! We were blessed to visit Mother Teresa’s tomb, the Ganges River and even the Taj Mahal.
Although we came to India to help, we were blessed in return with new knowledge and experiences to pass on. We’ve obtained knowledge that we can apply every day as agents of change.
“This experience was a confirmation of what I want to do when I get older which is social work and I recommend it to anyone who is contemplating on going.” – Christine
Now that we are home with our new perspectives our mission does not end. We know that we can’t keep this life changing experience to ourselves. We are focusing on giving presentations within our school and community and to share as much as we can about what we’ve learned and what we’ve opened our eyes to. It is our hope that we can shape the attitudes and inspire others who will lead the fight against social justice. Now we can truly apply our groups mission statement that we’ve carried on our backs through out the trip:
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
Many thanks to Fatima Gomes this article and to all the staff and students for their open hearts and willingness to share.