XVP team writes from India 5 June 2006

 After five months teaching at the English Camp in Manvi, Rebecca, Clare and Freddie said goodbye to their students at a closing ceremony, and set off on a two-week break in the neighbouring state of Goa.

It was an interesting 15-hour journey, which comprised being squashed three very overcrowded public buses and some long waits in bus-stands, before we finally arrived in Goa. The difference between Manvi and Goan life was clear as soon as we stepped off the bus. We had left behind the saris, stifling temperatures and basic housing and embraced the very Western culture, which Goa has adopted for quite some time. After almost five months of simple living we so appreciated the luxuries we had around us and also the Indian price tags! We were able to stay in a very well located hotel with sea views, swimming pool and ­ best of all ­ 24 hour electricity, all for only 2 pounds a night!

Our days were spent relaxing on the beach and our nights, enjoying Goan food and even sampling the nightlife. We went to the famous Anjuna Market and despite it being the end of season and its great decline in size, we were still able to find gifts for everyone at home and enjoy our day. We also visited Old Goa where, in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, we saw the incorrupt body of St Francis Xavier. The church was beautifully designed and we were so caught up in looking at its splendour that we had to make a second trip round to actually see the body, as we missed it first time.

Clare celebrated her 19th birthday while we were in Goa, but the Fathers threw her a surprise birthday picnic before we left. All the Brothers, Sisters, Fathers and the three of us, headed out to a lovely house near a lake and enjoyed a delicious meal and even a birthday cake! We stayed for well into the evening enjoying each other's company with jokes, riddles and songs.

We returned to Manvi in one piece and were delighted to see that Fr Eric had returned and hadn't changed one bit after his enjoyable two-month tertianship-training course. We decided to spend our last week in May in Pannur. It was our last chance to visit the villages before the children return to school. It was great to be back where we have made ourselves so familiar over the last five months and remarkable to see ours -and the villagers - change in attitude. As we now know many of the families, especially the children, the villages have become a much more friendly and homely place. When we first arrived, everything about village life surprised and shocked us. However, as we have come to understand these people's lives and situation, we feel so at ease in their company and enjoy spending time in their lives.

Since the Fathers began Pannur Jesuit Mission here three years ago, the progress they have made has been outstanding. In Pannur, they have managed to erect a parish church and hostel building, where 50 village children live and attend the local school. Having these facilities has meant first hand help is available to all the surrounding villages including health and social care and access to much needed medicines. Even when there has been an emergency; someone has been on hand to rush them to hospital, something which was not possible before.

In Manvi, they managed to purchase 45 acres of land on which they have begun to build the start of their '10 Year Plan'. Their vision is to turn the empty fields into a full educational centre purely for Dalit children. These children have never had the chance to be educated before and without this project, would be put to work in the fields from a very early age.

Work is now well underway on a hostel building for boarders and Loyola Primary School, which will eventually accommodate around 400 young children. At the moment, classes are available for children aged 4 ­ 14, but every year their hope is to hold on to the oldest children by adding another school year. Their eventual dream is to have a college and university, so that children reap the benefits of this wonderful opportunity. The plan even includes those who perhaps are not so academically gifted. At technical college is to be constructed for building and farming qualifications, to be sure everyone can get the most out of Loyola.

The place is a building site at the moment, everyone stays in a provisional, simple building and during the day all of us must not only cope with the noise all our children make, but also with the heavy building work going on round about us.

Thanks to the support of so many people ­ most notably Wimbledon College, who have donated over 60,000 pounds and work here every summer ­ the dream is slowly becoming reality for these so deserving children. There is, however, still a very long way to go, many years of hard work lie ahead and the hope that peoples' generosity in giving their time and money, will continue.

Rebecca Forrester & Clare Wallace, former students of St Aloysius College (SJ) in Glasgow, and Freddie Leclercq, former student of Wimbledon College (SJ) London, are serving on the Xavier Volunteer Programme with Indian Jesuits at a school and mission for Dalit (Untouchable) people in Karnataka, India. To contact them, write to the XVP office in the Mount Street Jesuit Centre, London W1, volunteers@xvp.org.uk.

Share this story