Pupils to see slums up close

“It’s just like Slumdog Millionaire, except in the film you don’t experience the smell.”

The words of Cork woman Anne Copplestone hint at what 32 transition-year students will face this week having travelled with The Hope Foundation to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India.

“This is my 11th trip, 10 of these with students. It is called the Immersion Programme and they will visit Hope Foundation projects which focus on healthcare, education, and social services, reaching out to slum and street children,” said Anne, as she hosted a fundraising pizza party at her Mardyke home before leaving for India on Saturday.

“It’s a tremendous growing-up experience for them. They come back a foot taller. Overall they realise the wonderful life they have here.”

But for all of Slumdog Millionaire’s shock-factor, nothing can prepare somebody for the level of depravation facing millions of children in India.

“The slums have to be experienced to be believed. They are full of despair, but Hope is working tirelessly to live up to its name. It is all about helping the street children... the ‘rag pickers’ who are abandoned and must fend for themselves by picking through the piles of rubbish dumped on the street to recycle paper, pieces of string, material, and metal. It is a battle for survival from birth that will often involve physical and sexual abuse,” said Anne.

“Every time I go out there, I see improvement in the Hope projects, which is all down to the generosity of Irish people. It costs just €2,000 a year to keep a whole school going for a year on the likes of salaries, paper etc. What’s important, too, is that only 4% of donations to Hope goes on administration.”

The students are drawn from 13 schools across Cork and had to raise €3,100 to fund their trip to the West Bengal capital, India’s second biggest city with over 15m inhabitants. The students are accompanied by eight adults, who each raised €2,000.

“The adults’ fundraising limit is lower, in recognition of the fact they must take time off work,” says Anne, a theatre nurse at the South Infirmary, who pointed out they would also be bringing suitcases packed with educational supplies, toys, and clothes.

The Cork-based Hope Foundation was founded in 1999 to raise funds for one girls’ home and now has offices in India, the UK, Germany, and the US. It works with 14 Indian partner organisations, and has reached almost 25,000 children through its education programmes.

* www.hopefoundation.ie 021 4292990

No words needed

Two first-hand Kolkata experiences:

*“Before this experience, my ideas about life and what is important were mostly materialistic. Now, I have a different view. It was heartbreaking to see the way people live and the hardships they endure on a daily basis. It was also humbling to see how happy they were with the little that they have... It’s amazing what a difference one week can make to your life.” — Ellen Hayes, St Angela’s College, Cork

*“The slums, full of tiny little shacks, very hot, very narrow. As we went in, crowds gathered around us, all they wanted to do is touch us and say hello; apparently, it is good luck to touch a white person. After a few minutes, we got to a Hope crèche. I sat on the floor, as I looked around me, some students were fighting back the tears. All of a sudden, this little girl came over and sat on my lap, wrapped her tiny arms tightly around me. Minutes later, a boy did the same. He put his hand in mine. We didn’t speak the same language, but somehow, no words were needed.” — student group leader Christine Girault, Cork


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