Students pose with Sr. Cyril Mooney in India. Photo courtesy of Adventure Learning Experiences

Students to catch up on India experience

By 
  • May 23, 2015

TORONTO - Volunteering with the Loretto Sisters community in India is not an experience that students easily forget. For many participants in the program, the trip has a life-changing impact.

On May 25, the Loretto Sisters in Toronto will hold an India Leadership Reunion at Mary Ward Centre to bring together the students who have gone through the India Study and Leadership program over the years.

Since 2007, the Loretto Sisters have worked with Adventure Learning Experience and the Toronto Catholic District School Board to bring about 20 students to India over March Break to teach and volunteer in local schools.

“It’s really cheesy to say, but people go on these trips and they come back and they say it was a life-changing experience,” said Isabel Ng-Lai, who was a Grade 12 student when she took the trip in 2011.

Months before Ng-Lai and 14 fellow high school students departed, they met once a month to create an educational program they taught to students in India.

“You connect so much with the children while you’re there... and I think that feeling is what really motivated us to start our organization called 1Focus,” said Ng-Lai.

Ng-Lai and Miranda Dela Cruz are co-founders of the not-for-profit organization 1Focus, which was established in the fall of 2011. After coming home from their 18-day trip, Ng-Lai and Dela Cruz wanted to find a way to continue to contribute to the communities they visited and fundraise for the schools from home.

1Focus builds awareness and raises money for a new cause each year.

In their first year, the two raised more than $10,000 for tuition for students in a Loretto Sisters school in Darjeeling, India. Last year, the organization raised about the same amount to provide support for homeless youth in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We realized that when we went to India, we had felt like we got more out of the trip than any of the children because we were so moved and so impacted,” said Dela Cruz.

She adds that it was also because of the India trip that she decided to study international development at University of Toronto Scarborough. Ng-Lai is specializing in marketing and finance at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Ng-Lai and Dela Cruz have expanded their organization to three chapters: in Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, Francis Libermann Catholic High School and Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

“It was really great to see the ripple effect... the drop in the water was this trip and it just rippled out in ways that we couldn’t imagine,” said Dela Cruz.

“We’re only two people out of all who have gone on this trip, so I’m sure that the impact that the others have made is just as significant, if not more.”

Ng-Lai and Dela Cruz are looking forward to meeting other students who have been impacted by the program, as well as reconnecting with Sr. Cyril Mooney.

“The reason we’re actually having it is because Sr. Cyril Mooney, one of our Loretto Sisters from India, is going to be in town,” said Sr. Evanne Hunter, provincial of the Loretto Sisters. “Many of these people would’ve met Sr. Cyril... It’s kind of a reunion with Sr. Cyril.”

Mooney, 78, is a native of Ireland, but has been living and working in India since 1956. She became principal of Loreto Day School Sealdah in 1979, then a private school for upper-class girls which has since opened its doors to everyone.

The Rainbow Program provides girls from poor families an opportunity to attend school by covering costs for their tuition, uniforms, meals and other supplies.

She also started the Barefoot Teachers Training Program which provides training for young men and women from the slums and villages near Calcutta. Teachers in this program are taught practical teaching skills they can use to bring primary education to children in their villages who would otherwise have no access to education.

Mooney is now retired as principal of the school and works with the Indian government as an education consultant. In 2007, she received the Padma Shri Award, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour. It is one of many civilian awards and honours she has received for her work in India.

“I don’t even know if she remembers us, but I’m just excited to hear her speak. She is a very inspirational person,” said Dela Cruz. “I’m also excited to see everyone else who’s going to come out and just meet people to hear about their experiences.”

The India Leadership reunion will take place at Mary Ward Centre at 70 St. Mary St. in Toronto. The event will start at 2 p.m. with a dinner at 4:30 p.m. For information, contact Felicia Michelucci at felicia.mic@hotmail.com.

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