On 9th July 2016, thirty-six Loreto College students and four staff departed for the Indian city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) for two weeks. The purpose of the trip was to work with four Loreto schools in and around the city, namely Bowbazar, Entally, St Vincent and Sealdah. During the day, Loreto college students taught a variety of lessons at these schools, including Music, Dance, English, Maths and PE – utilising the many skills developed through their time at Loreto, and the many hours that students stayed late and came into college at weekends to prepare resources and share ideas in preparation for the trip. After working in the mainstream classes during the day, students returned to the four schools in the evening to work with the Rainbow children.

The Rainbow project was set up by Sister Cyril, IBVM. Today, the project looks after more than 250 formerly homeless children taken in from the streets of West Bengal. The aim of the Rainbow project is to provide a safe place for these children to live and ultimately to integrate them into mainstream school education. Loreto college students embraced the opportunity and the challenge of working and playing with the Rainbow children. Teaching Maths, English, Dance and Music to the Rainbows was a fulfilling and exciting endeavour, allowing Loreto students to fully immerse themselves in another part of the global Loreto family and share cultural experiences with other Loreto students.

Many students noted one of the main highlights of the trip as meeting Sr. Cyril and hearing first-hand about her long and devoted career helping the children most in need around Kolkata. This inspirational and emotional meeting also gave students the opportunity to ask some very poignant questions about her inspirations, the struggles of progressing the Rainbow project through the years and the role of faith in her work.

Helping us to organise our time in Kolkata was the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre, which runs projects based in and around the city. Their work truly lives out the values of our foundress, Mary Ward, against the challenges that communities are facing in the modern world. One key element of their work is setting up a number of small schools and day centres in some of the most deprived areas, including Kolkata’s red-light district, Sonagachi. Our students had the opportunity to visit these projects, which in itself was no mean feat; the rainy season brought with it some enormous puddles, which many students diligently marched through in bare feet! When we arrived our students often took up more space than the children in the tiny rooms which served as classrooms. It was difficult to decide whether it was the Indian children or the Loreto Manchester students who were learning more or having more fun but all were clearly enriched by the experience!

Of course, the students and staff couldn’t have passed up the opportunity to soak in the culture of Kolkata, trying out exotic food in authentic Indian restaurants, taking a tour of the historic city and searching for bargains in the bustling markets; all of which provided some much needed respite from the long and demanding days in school.

Prior to the trip, our students took part in a number of successful charity events to raise funds for the Rainbow project and other projects run by the Mary Ward Centre. All of the students and staff involved took part in a sponsored 5km run, thanks to the generosity of friends and family of students and staff. In addition to this, students held afternoon tea for family, presented at brownie groups, collected Zakat donations during Ramadan, completed sponsored swims and even held cake sales and parties!

Many exciting prizes were donated, kindly, and raffled in college. In addition, generous donations were received from the parish of Ss. Peter and Paul, where Emily Walker, one of our students, spoke to parishioners at mass. Office Depot at Ashton Moss kindly resourced the trip and many of the projects in Kolkata with a substantial amount of stationery and the Rotary Club also lent its support.

In total, we are delighted to share that the fundraising efforts generated an incredible amount of over £4500. With this money we were able to take sports and games equipment to schools, donate to the Rainbow projects, Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre and to donate money to pay the rent for a hall in Sonagachi for 12 months. This is a place in the centre of the red light district where the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre volunteers will support children in a safe environment, provide some basic education and also support women who work in the area through education and training.

The trip was a huge success, thanks to the excellent commitment and hard work of Loreto College students, and the support of parents and staff involved. All of the students who made this journey to India should be proud of the difference they have made, the relationships forged with their fellow students and the resilience with which they faced this challenge. They could not have given more! This was an unforgettable trip and an incredible achievement for all students involved, the memories of which will last a lifetime.