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ABBEY INDIA PROJECT 2010

At present there are 7 Transition Year students in the Abbey CBS School, Tipperary preparing to travel and be involved in Providence School, Shillong, India next October/November as part of the Abbey India Project. They follow in the footsteps of five previous groups who travelled every second year since 2000. The present group of students are Peter Hayes (Kingswell), Brenton Dewick (Rossmore Village), Cathal Devlin (Ballinlard), Turlough Heffernan (Clonmel), Liam O Dea (Pallasgreen), Alan Ryan (Kingswell Road) and Damien Bourke (Bansha). They will be accompanied in this immersion project by teachers Michael Leahy and Richard Walsh.

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 north-east India. Initially, the 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 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 marginalized 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 as an after-school group by Br Steve as his Class 10 (Leaving Cert) class gave some of their time 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 7 teacher (qualified teachers) school of over 250 children (5-15 years) housed in disused buildings of St Edmund’s. Each afternoon the children study subjects such as English, Science, Home Economics, Hindi and Khasi (the local language). The earlier part of the day, they work in a vocational programme enabling them to move into employment and be self-sufficient. In this programme they receive instructionin such skills as commercial cooking, confectionary, tailoring, gardening, candle-making, beauty care, paper-making, screen-printing, computers, rexine and computers. The work of Providence is so identifiable with the work of Edmund Rice on the streets of Waterford in 1802.

THE ABBEY STUDENTS

The 7 lads 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 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 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.

BENEFICIAL

Abbey India Project is not a trip, a school tour, an exchange or merely an adventure. It is a period of total involvement and immersion in the way of life and work, which soon loses its novelty and makes demands on generosity, energy and an open heart. An essential part of the Project is a daily period of reflection on their experiences, sharing insights within the group and journaling. Previous students have spoken of their experiences

“ It was the most enjoyable and most rewarding work that I have ever done.. The change in my own thinking has been turned on its head……for the better.”

“The value of the two weeks there has been indescribable. I learned more than I taught”

“I do feel I’ve made a difference though it might be very small. I gave a lot, but if the truth be told, at the end of it all I got a lot more back.”

“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.”

Between now and Oct/Nov a number of events will happen in order to raise the necessary funds to cover the basic travel and basic accommodation involved.

Previously, great support was given to the Dog Nights and other sponsored events.

After Easter 2010, a 5-week Silver Circle was held within the school community to raise funds and received widespread support.

At the end of July, Dick Walsh, Abbey India Project coordinator will walk the walk as regards obtaining funding for the Project and Providence. On July 22 he sets out on a solo cycle from Mizen Head all the way up to Malin Head arriving there on July 28. His route will pass through the school catchment area on Saturday July 24 with a bucket collection in the major towns.

Previously, he did a solo cycle circuit of all Ireland for Providence (32-IRELAND-32 in 2006) and in 2008 a 58 day cycle across USA (To Providence ..for Providence).

At the end of the Summer, fundraising will centre on a greyhound Buster Race and as before great support is expected and some lucky punter will come away with a fatter wallet.

But, fundraising isn’t the only focus of preparation. The seven students, in their preparation have looked into the life and spirit of Edmund Rice, into the mission of Mother Teresa especially in Calcutta and into Shillong and its area. They are preparing for their work and activity in Providence school and also for the periods of reflection, sharing, journaling and daily preparation. The work done now will in time bear fruit for both the lads themselves and for the children in Providence.

Over the years, excess funds over and above those required for travel out and back are left in Providence and earmarked for some particular aspect of the school’s care for the children.

More details about the Providence, the Project and testaments by participating students over the years are to be found on www.abbeyindia.com.

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