Sr Cyril, a Loreto sister in Calcutta, is well-known to the many Belvedere students who have worked on projects with her. She spoke challengingly at last week’s Gardiner St. Gospel Mass, on the 50th anniversary of her arrival in India.
Sr Cyril IBVM, pioneer of education for street children in Calcutta, India and in many parts of India, preached at the Gardiner St Gospel Choir Mass on Sunday October 15th, marking UN International Poverty Week. Sr Cyril, who celebrated the 50th anniversary of her arrival in India on October 22, has welcomed hundreds of young Irish Volunteers to work in Loreto Sealdah School in Calcutta. Her school has been the cornerstone of the Belvedere Calcutta trip for many years. The Gospel Choir Mass was delighted to welcome her and hear her enthusiastic and challenging words. She was congratulated on her jubilee and given every blessing in her work for the poorest children of India.
The reality of Calcutta is pretty harrowing: 60% reside in sprawling slums, inhuman conditions mounting piles of garbage, narrow alleyways and serpentine tunnels. In such conditions rows upon rows of tiny one room structures stretch separated by a single brick wall or at times just bamboo slats. A sense of privacy and basic human dignity are in short supply.
Loreto Sealdah is a school with 1500 female students of which 721 are so poor that every need has to be taken care of: food, medicines, rations, shoes, books, uniforms, even money to meet the rent which eviction threatens. In many instances they have also helped families set up a small business, by providing interest-free loans in order to become self supporting. Sometimes they have reached out to the family as a whole, be it a drug addict father, or an errant sibling or an ailing member, through the child’s connection with the school. Their motto is “our doors are always open” so that children have a place to go, get fed, learn and grow.
The Rainbow programme is an attempt to change the whole notion of education. Started in 1979 at Loreto Sealdah, this experiment in education was born of a certain uneasiness felt at being part of a formal school system imparting ‘quality education’ to a privil¬eged few, while millions of their less fortunate peer group get virtually nothing at all. It has involved opening up the school more and more to underprivileged youngsters from slum areas and pavements, to produce a healthy mix of children from all social, financial and religious backgrounds, resulting in a school population of 1400 students, of which 700 are from the nearby slums and subsided by the wealthier children. They are supported in their material needs: food, uniforms, medicines, money to meet the rent when eviction threatens; and also given specialised teaching to cope with class¬room work.
These children, in their turn, along with those who pay fees, are involved in reaching out to others even less privileged than themselves through a broad spectrum of services, touching as many as possible. In this way Loreto Sealdah seeks to become more than just a school but a resource centre for the whole community. Their goal is to create dynamic educators for change, armed with values of self-giving, sharing and compassion; vibrant, living human instruments of change.