Seven Transition Year students in the Abbey CBS School are preparing to travel to the Providence School, Shillong, India, next November as part of the Abbey India Project. They follow in the footsteps of six previous groups who travelled every second year since 2000.
Liam Cunningham (Lattin), Pat Cussen (Donohill), Niall Enright (Brensha), Danny Franklin (Pallasgreen), Samuel Noonan (Bansha), Cormac OFlaherty (Tipp Town) and Neil Ryan (Ballynahow) will be accompanied on this project by teachers Michael Leahy, Richard Walsh and David Quirke.
Every project group since 2000 adopts a motto to act as a focus for the nature of their activity. For 2012, it is, “There’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. (Quote from Scott Adams.)
The Abbey India Project is founded on the vision of Edmund Rice – liberation and empowerment through education. Part of their long preparation involves study of the life and spirit of Edmund Rice, an awareness of Mother Teresa and her work (whose centres we will visit in Calcutta), acquiring an understanding of the Indian way of life and that of the Shillong area in particular and an understanding of the nature of Third World work. Providence is a school for marginalised children set up on the campus of St Edmund’s. These are the children of very poor migrant workers and resident on the edges of Shillong. They cannot afford the few rupees necessary for uniform and books etc in order to attend a free state school.
Providence started in 1999 as an after-school group by Br Steve as his Class 10 (Leaving Cert) class gave some of their time after school-hours instructing a group of 17 children in their a-b-c and I-2-3 on a one-to-one basis. The Abbey and its students have proudly been involved with Providence ever since 2000 and have done their part in developing it into a 8 teacher (qualified teachers) school of over 275 children (5-15 years) housed in disused buildings of St Edmund’s.
The young students travelling on the 2012 Abbey India project will be involved in Providence School every afternoon teaching English conversation, reading and writing to a group of 3 or 4 children at a time. The children of Providence are so eager to learn and they continually look for more homework before leaving each evening on their 1 - 1½ hour walk along rough winding paths to their single-roomed homes of tin and timber. Such teaching is demanding on the lads but the positive spirit of the children makes it so rewarding and worthwhile. The necessary class preparation each evening is no longer regarded as a chore or a burden.
Every morning the roles are reversed and it’s the older children of Providence that are the teachers and we are the pupils. This is serious instruction in one element of the vocational programme and it highlights the fact that Third World work is as much about receiving as it is about giving, about learning as it is about teaching. Often it is a case of learning from their (often) more wholesome attitudes to life and living rather than we tending to impose our usual Western materialistic values to their situation. With this two-way role, a great respectful relationship builds up over the two weeks much to the benefit of both parties. On the final day in Providence before leaving, many genuine tears are shed on both sides.
It was in 1999 that the Abbey set up a link with St Edmunds, Shillong (another CBS school), 6000 feet up in the hills of northeast India. Initially, the Abbey students were involved in a variety of Third World activity – school for the blind, school for the deaf, workshop for deaf/blind and with physically handicapped as well as in Providence. In recent years, their efforts have centred totally on Providence School.
The following are quotes from previous Abbey India project students:
“I’m glad to say that I feel that I gave everything to have a little impact on those children’s lives and I think I succeeded. But the impact they had on me is even much, much deeper,” summed up one student from his 2010 experience in Providence School.
“I met some incredible kids and people in Shillong, but also I met myself. I understand my character better now and know that I am capable of so much more than I first thought”.
“I could go on and on about the impact of the project on myself. But the Project isn’t about me. It’s about the kids. If we made a difference in their lives, I’m happy.”
“It has made me a much better person. I have a broader vision of the Third World. I now see life from a different perspective.”
More details about the Providence, the Project and testaments by participating students over the years are to be found on www.abbeyindia.com.