India trip opens Toronto students' eyes

  • June 12, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Two students from Blessed Mother Teresa High School in Scarborough got to follow in the footsteps of their school’s namesake this year as they joined nine other students in a trip to India.

The students visited missionary projects run by the Loretto Sisters and visited locations that had strong ties to Blessed Mother Teresa, who was a Loretto Sister before she founded the Missionaries of Charity. The first-time trip was made in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Lorettos.

“I came without many expectations and when I came back I felt like a better person — I value everything more now,” said Manibel Krishna, a Grade 11 student at Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School. She and teacher Vanessa Pinto joined other supervisors and students from Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary, Mary Ward Catholic Secondary and Loretto College Catholic Secondary in making the trip.

But for the students at Blessed Mother Teresa, said Pinto, the experience was an unexpected one. Without a bursary from the Sisters, they would not have been able to afford the trip.

“Our circumstances are different and we are in a challenging community,” Pinto said of the school in the heart of the Malvern community in north Scarborough. “Here I am, taking students who are used to hip-hop and rap — India was another world.”

A highlight, for both Krishna and herself, Pinto said, was visiting the village of Panighatta, where they did sociological surveys for the Sisters to determine the needs of women.

“We met women who didn’t even know their own age,” Pinto said. “We had to ask questions like ‘Do you know of a woman who was beaten in the last seven days,’ or ‘do you know of a child who was taken away’ — this was all important because information doesn’t get out about what the government services are and what the peoples’ needs are.”

They learned not only about local culture, but also religion and politics.

Seeing poverty in India gave the student travellers an opportunity to look at their Canadian circumstances in a much more positive light, she added.

“After getting over the jet lag, we had to get over the fact we were sleeping on beds of straw,” Pinto said. “And they were having to interact with students who don’t have any of the supplies they are used to here.”

Although they ended in Darjeeling, the trip started in Calcutta, where the Lorettos run several schools for girls. Poor students, especially street kids, live at the school and are looked after by staff. They range from three to 18 years of age. The half dozen schools they visited each had a high population — with the largest accommodating 1,400 students.

Pinto said that as a teacher, she was struck by the high sense of moral duty and values these Indian students surprised them with.

“I was playing with a girl who I gave a tambourine, but she never kept it for herself — she kept bringing it back. But when she realized it was a gift, she took it to the head mistress to be put away in the shared toy cupboard. There, the Lorettos have managed to instill these Catholic values of caring sharing and of obedience and respect.”

Since the trip, the Blessed Mother Teresa students have given presentations at their high school and area elementary schools.

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