Having never travelled alone, and being in a foreign part of India, Sarah and I had no idea what to expect on our arrival at the Raphael Ryder-Cheshire International Centre in Dehra Dun on the foothills of the Himalayas. However, an incredibly warm reception instantly melted away any feelings of anxiety or apprehension. Little did we know how memorable and rewarding the following three weeks would be.
Each morning, we were greeted with hugs and smiles accompanied by joyful cries of “Good morning Didi!”. (Didi is the hindi word for older sister). Our school days were spent with the classes we had been assigned to – joining in the fun activities from making play-dough, to singing and dancing in music class. The satisfaction from seeing the progress a child can make in three weeks is humbling and gratifying. Lunchtime was an hour of swings, slides and sport with everyone getting in on the action. Sarah and I took the afternoons as an opportunity to play with the kids living on campus and get to know them better. At about 5pm every day, we would walk over to Little White House and play a game of basketball with the boys living in the hostel. This was definitely something to look forward to, as the boys’ competitive spirit and great sportsmanship always put us in a good mood. Just before dinner, Bollywood music would start to play and each child was eager to show off his or her best dance moves. The weekends were ours to explore the area, so one Saturday, Sarah and I took a bus to Mussoorie for the day. Despite the freezing cold, we had a great time roaming the streets of this beautiful city.
The highlight of our trip would definitely be when Sarah and I taught the children how to count to 10 using the Macarena song and dance. The children’s enthusiasm was remarkable. We were also lucky enough to accompany the Community Based Rehabilitation team on a visit into the surrounding villages. This was quite a confronting, eye-opening experience as we paid home-visits to children with severe disabilities and witnessed entire schools and pre-schools existing in the area of an average Australian kitchen. Nonetheless, the warm smiles and hospitable women and children were amazing.
If there was one word I would to use to describe our time at Raphael, it would be inspirational. The children’s determination and desire to learn and the teachers’ impassioned teaching and innovation were simply incredible. The atmosphere created by the staff is one of love and happiness and the children’s hearts are bigger than you could believe. Sarah and I have both learnt so much from the staff and students and miss each and every one every single day. We would like to sincerely thank Mrs Lall and Brig Sinha and all the staff at Raphael, with special mention to our teachers Janki Ma’am and Chandani Ma’am for making our stay so enjoyable.
We can’t wait to go back!