The 2009 India Study and Leadership Program

The Student Participants in the 2009 India Study and Leadership Program witness, serve and learn in order to become advocates for justice and a voice for the voiceless in developing countries.”

The India Study and Leadership Program was jointly planned by the Loretto Sisters, Adventure Learning Experiences and the Toronto Catholic District School Board for the year 2009 to mark and celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (the Loretto Sisters). The Program offers students from Toronto District Catholic Secondary Schools with a Loretto heritage a once in a lifetime learning experience. The students who participated in the 2009 India Study and Leadership Program had an opportunity to partake in service learning, volunteerism and educational programs in one of the most culturally diverse and interesting places in the world. The student participants and the educators who accompanied them travelled to several of the major centers in India including Calcutta, Darjeeling and New Delhi.

Service Learning

Service Learning is a unique and distinguishing component of the India Study and Leadership Program and is best identified as experiential education. Students are encouraged to adopt active roles that provide meaningful service to a community and in the process learn something of value about themselves and others.”

Living the IBVM Charism

Promoting Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation

IBVM Sisters have made a commitment to focus to focus on a number of issues in all their ministries, institutions, projects and programs: these include:

  • promoting the dignity and liberation of all, especially women and children
  • challenging unjust structures and systems
  • standing with those on the edges of society
  • promoting reverent care for the earth and all of creation

Mary Ward, the founder of the IBVM in 1609, was a visionary woman who wanted the members of her congregation to be directly involved with people in their unique circumstances and to be responding to the urgent needs of the times. To live out that vision, the Loreto Sisters have been actively involved in promoting issues of justice, peace and integrity of creation in all their ministries. The India Study and Leadership Program is designed to offer Senior Secondary Students an opportunity for direct experience of the IBVM mission and charism in action.

IBVM in India

The School as a Resource Centre for Social Transformation

Loreto Schools in India advocate the idea of social transformation in order to challenge social stigmas and discrimination against poorer individuals and communities. The importance of educating girls from backgrounds of poverty and difficult family circumstances together with those from more financially and socially stable backgrounds is a basic tenant of Loreto Schools. IBVM sisters in India view education as a liberating influence that must be made available to all. Although the economy in India continues to grow at a rapid pace, millions of Indians earn practically nothing or a fraction of what it requires to barely survive, if anything at all. The work of the schools has been designed to encourage Loreto private schools to open their doors to greater numbers of severely disadvantaged children, while educating parents and communities in the process.

She is welcomed into school and treated with the same respect as is accorded to others” -- Sr. Cyril Rooney IBVM, Principal, Loreto Sealdah

Loreto Sealdah Day School – Kolkata

The 2009 India Study and Leadership Program provided senior secondary students from Toronto, Canada with a unique opportunity for cross-cultural learning and hands on experience. The students volunteered in schools and community projects initiated by the Loreto Sisters in Kolkata and Darjeeling.”

Loreto Schools in India must provide much more than education in its traditional sense. Where necessary, food, medicine, shoes, clothing, housing assistance and other forms of family support must be provided. Many children have no other source of care and support. For these children, the schools become a shelter at night and a home, a place where all their needs are met. The 10 participating students in the 2009 India Study Leadership Program were actively involved in community outreach programs to street youth at Loreto Sealdah Day School in Kolkata (Calcutta). Loreto Day School in the Sealdah area of Kolkata (Calcutta) is located on one of Kolkata’s busiest urban roads. The school has a unique history of providing a quality education for young girls from all walks of life.

The Rainbow Program at Loreto Sealdah

The Rainbow Program at Loreto Sealdah is an outreach to the severely underprivileged street children of Kolkata. The Rainbow Program provides free tuition, food, shelter, clothing and protection to children who desperately need these things and have no other access to education. The school becomes a home, a place of security and comfort for children who are absolutely alone and without support. Over the years, Loreto Sealdah School has become a Resource Centre for the poorest of the poor while retaining its character of being a school that offers quality education. This outreach has involved opening up the school more and more to the underprivileged children from slum areas and pavements to produce a healthy mix of children from all social and religious backgrounds.

The Rainbow Program at Loretto Sealdah provides free tuition, food, shelter, clothing and protection to children who desperately need these things and have no other access to education. The school becomes a home, a place of security and comfort.”

Loreto Sealdah Serves the Poorest Families

Since 1979 approximately half of the 1400 students admitted annually to Loreto Sealdah are from the poorest families in the slum areas. The school provides free tuition, food, clothing, family support, rent when families face eviction and medicine. The Rainbow Program provides night shelter and care for children with no other home and in need of this protection. Loreto Sealdah is a school that actively nurtures community by fostering a spirit of compassion and caring. Children from different economic, religious and cultural backgrounds, children who are physically challenged, share the same facilities and learn sensitivity to each other’s needs and conditions.

In cherishing the most deprived of his people, and enabling them to take their place with dignity among the others, our schools become places where truly the Glory of God is manifested” --Cyril Mooney IBVM

Happy Holi! “On the first full moon of March the Hindus celebrate Hol, festival of colours. We celebrated with the children today participating in the colour throwing ritual on the school grounds. Dyed water and powder wiped on the body and clothes. By 12:00, Team Canada was barely distinguishable from the Indian students let alone each other! Painted in gold, green, red and mostly magenta, we danced and sang, had water dumped onto us from all over. It was the experience of a lifetime. Hopefully this dye won't last that long.” -- Jessica Tomasi, Student, Loretto Abbey

Service Learning is a value at Loreto Sealdah

Everyone is expected to participate in service learning at Loreto Sealdah. For the students of the school, this means that helping others becomes a way of life. Elder Students spend two periods weekly helping the more disadvantaged children in the Rainbow Program develop literacy skills. Strong bonds are formed among children from different backgrounds and the Rainbow Children thrive on the one to one attention.

Elder Students at Loreto Sealdah spend two periods weekly helping more disadvantaged children in Rainbow Program to develop literacy skills. Children in the Rainbow Program are integrated in regular classrooms when they show a readiness to handle the curriculum.”

Reaching Out to Children in Slums

Loreto Sealdah has truly become a Resource Centre for the surrounding community, creating in the process dynamic people with the values of giving, sharing and extended love. The Loreto Sealdah Outreach has established 470 Education Centers in the deep slums of Kolkata (Calcutta) and surrounding area, educating 30,000 children considered hard to reach. The scheme has been accomplished with the help of 60 NGOs and the local Government, and 1000 unemployed but educated youth from the very wards where the children have been found. These youth have been trained as effective primary teachers with the help of funding from UNICEF. These ‘Barefoot Teachers’ travel around with resource materials in trunks, instructing classes of up to fifty children under a tree, on a rooftop or a veranda, anywhere they can find to unpack the trunk of resources they carry and set up a classroom. Recently Loreto Sealdah gained official status as a Teacher Training Institute recognized by the Government Department of Education. Loreto Schools provide not only quality English-medium education for girls, but also teacher training and continuing professional development for novice and experienced teachers from across India. Teachers trained at Loretto Sealdah run village education centers where the curriculum and teaching methodologies are designed to match rural needs.

Visiting Education Centers in slums and brickyards

Loreto Sealdah provides training and professional development for teachers who go into to neighbourhoods and villages, bringing school to 30,000 hard to reach children in slums and brickyards.”

The student volunteers in the India Leadership and Study Program had an opportunity to visit and work with children in slums and brickyards. These are places where families live in the most impoverished and marginal circumstances. Many of these children have never had the opportunity for any kind of education. Government schools are overwhelmed and simply lack the resources to reach the needs of so many hard to reach children. Parents in the brickyard communities spend long hours laboring in extreme heat to eke out the most minimal level of existence for their families. They have little choice other than to have the children accompany them to the brickyards. As soon as they are physically able the children help their parents with the daily struggle for survival. School operates during break periods when the children are free and have an opportunity to learn.

Visiting the slums today was one of the most emotional experiences for me I've ever had. Standing there looking at these children, their eyes gazing at you, not being able to do anything was hard. We visited a slum in between a railroad track and a metro station to be. These slums are already small and overcrowded as it is; very little space between the railroad tracks and the slum houses. The houses were side by side, very small and dark, no electricity. As they stared at me in bewilderment my only thoughts were "Why not me? Why them?” I mean - what makes me so fortunate? You are not given a choice of who or how you want to live. You could be born Bill Gates son/daughter or one of the slum kids. It was so difficult to see what I saw because this is only something that you imagine or see on TV. But seeing in real life? That was powerful." -- Randell, Student, Blessed Mother Theresa

Reflecting and Sharing

Students in the India Study and Leadership Program were given formal opportunities throughout their time in India to share with each other and to reflect on and process their experiences with each other. This was considered to be integral part of the learning experience for the students. The Secondary School Educators from the Toronto Catholic District School Board who accompanied the students, met with them throughout to offer support and to help them adjust to different cultures and to new environments. Daily journal writing was an essential component of this ongoing reflection on personal experience. Upon returning to Canada, the students met for a final time to share the meaning and impact of all that they had experienced on the trip. After completing this, they had an opportunity to formally present their learnings to family and friends.

Then came the time to leave Sealdah; honestly, it felt rushed for me. We had to quickly pack and load the bus. The most unbearable thing would have to be all the gifts I received. Even with spending so little time with them, the Rainbow children seem to feel our attitude. They write cards like we've touched them so deeply. What they didn't know is that they've shown us how we should treat each day. The Rainbow kids remind us to appreciate even the trivial things in life we take for granted.” --Daniella Corsetti, Student, Loreto Abbey

Cyril Mooney IBVM – Founder of the Loreto Sealdah Rainbow Program

Sr. Cyril Mooney IBVM - started the first child to child movement in Lucknow, India during her PH.D studies, encouraging Loreto College Students to work in slums and go to villages each Saturday to work with children with no access to school facilities. She found a wider scope when she transferred to Loreto Sealdah in 1979, where she began the Rainbow Program, a program designed to reach out to the street children of Kolkata, eventually bringing them into school. Sr. Cyril has initiated a number of innovative educational methodologies and has initiated education in human rights in West Bengal - a program now adopted in over 45 Government Schools in and around Kolkata. Sr. Cyril has tackled the lack of teachers in rural areas by training 10,000 rural youth in 15 Indian States to become barefoot educators. These teachers run village education centers where curriculum and training methodologies are designed to match rural needs. The program has now been replicated in Bangladesh. Sr. Cyril received the NOMA Award from UNESCO for the spread of literacy in 1994, the International Christian Stewardship Award in 2002 and the Alexander Award from the Commonwealth Association of Science, Technology and Maths Educators in 2006. In 2008, she received the Padma Sri Award for social service, one of India’s highest civic awards.

Visit to the Darjeeling Region

Learning about the history of Loreto in IndiaLearning about the history of Loreto in IndiaAll partners in the India Study and Learning Program believe that Learning, Leadership, and Service within the context of Safe Adventure is a very powerful educational paradigm.”

The group travelled north to visit the Darjeeling Region after spending at a week in Kolkata (Calcutta) at Loreto Sealdah. Their itinerary there included an orientation to the beautiful Region of Darjeeling and learning about the Loreto history in India. The group spent some time at the Loretto Convent in Darjeeling and then travelled by train to Siliguri where they volunteered at the Mary Ward Development Centre. They moved on to visit the Stone Breaker Community and a hands-on experience of sharing in their daily work. There was opportunity to attend cultural programs, to learn about local environmental issues, to visit a tea plantation and to hike in the Himalayas. After that, travel to New Delhi, a final visit to Agra and then return to Calcutta for the trip home.

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India changed me, a poem by Manibel Krishna

An experience can turn into a great adventure. However, it’s sometimes hard to find. But once you find your destination, You’ve run out of time. Our world is forever changed. Our perspectives have grown. India became a defining moment, For many of us to call our own. The tears, laughs, fears, and smiles, Now all reside in our memories. And as we come to our final day, We know that India has become part of our histories. The stories of the tragic and the beauty of the land, Are the thoughts that we will take and live by, And as the sun rises to its’ own sound, I thank my new family for I am no longer shy. Amanda, the bold and the beautiful with talent to spare. Catherine, a song that with a hidden message is always willing to share. Jacie, a confident girl, who’s world is ready to be rocked. Ellen, a meek and sweet person, who loves with no second thought. Randell, a young man who’s story has just begun. Jennifer, a graceful being, whose love, is shared among. Jessica, sweet and humble, someone who doesn’t linger in sorrow. Daniela, an amazing sport who simply likes no tomorrow. Megan is just Megan, no definition needed. Vanessa, a champion to Fanta and left undefeated. Greg, my angel, my founder, and a man of all men. Mary-Eileen, a teacher, a woman of excellence, and forevermore, a friend. Angela, a giver without questions to ask. Henry, a man of wonder who lives for the present and not the past. And last, but certainly not the least, James, so dainty and funny, our friendship I will keep. Tonight is the night, I can feel it in the air. Everything in the world is right. The horns will beep and the dogs will bark, But your flaws are no longer in sight. India, I will never forget you. You now live in my body, spirit, and mind. Your people have conquered me, And your offerings are divine. I love this country for who it is, And who it will become. India, the great. India, number one. So, here’s to India, a place where I lost myself. But time flew over to remind me that I was found. I don’t know what is ahead or where I will go. For now, in India I know I’m on good ground.