The association between the two prestigious educational institutions St. Xavier’s, Kolkata, and Belvedere College, Dublin, can be traced 22 years back and over this vast period of time, a deep sense of companionship and brother-hood has fostered.
This association entails an exchange programme, which involves hosting students from Belvedere College by the students of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and vice versa. The main agendas of this exchange have been carving the overall personality of each participant by exposing them to a novel culture, engaging them in community service, and giving impetus to their growing sense of independence and maturity. To that extent, the programme facilitates the completion of thirty hours of social service; acquiring of sponsorships devoid of parental help; navigating through new places and relationships, and cultivating insights into the realities of life through activities such as village trip to Pandua, West Bengal.
We find ourselves most privileged to be honoured with such a great opportunity and being found capable enough to be able to carry forward this legacy.
There couldn’t have been a better occasion than this to express our heartfelt gratitude to the ALSOC (Old Boys’ Association) and our Principal Fr. Benny Thomas S. J. who have not only brought us forth such a lifetime experience but has also strived to maintain its sanctity by looking into the minor details as well as ushering the programme into its pinnacle selflessly, and especially our head teachers Mr S. Jana and Mrs S. Sinha for their ever-flowing support and encouragement without which it would never be possible.
Recounting my experiences, it all started with a round of nerve racking interviews followed by a prolonged period of anxious months. This wait came to a halt only on September 28, when the selected group couldn't take their eyes off or contain their excitement upon seeing their names put up in bold capital letters on the bulletin board.
Cutting straight to the most integral aspect of the programme is community service. It culminated into bringing a sum total involvement in our attitude towards life. Be it feeding the differently abled; imparting our humble knowledge to orphaned kids or getting the rare opportunity of being inspired by the most resourceful layer of the society, senior citizens. A thought that would always reverberate in our minds would be that, how ungrateful we are to all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.
In no time that hour arrived in November when we were to welcome our brothers who were flying down from the Emerald Isle to the City of Joy. I still remember those jitters of excitement coupled with nervousness about what the coming two weeks would hold for us. It is hard to point out a specific instance, which may have led to the bond that we all ended up sharing. Was it the frequent meetings in KEC (Chowdhury Estate), our selected locale for drops and pickups; was it the discussions and debates we laughed and cried over or just the fact that despite the differences that separated us, there was an innate need for exchanging love and warmth, which made our stay at each other's places memorable. I was unaware that my perspective on humanity was to observe a gradual change.
Then the trip to Pandua in February marked our first tryst with the village life. We learnt the routine and issues plaguing villagers first hand which led to the shaking realisation that at the end of the day, those whom we met are not poor but they are rich; rich not with printed pieces of paper but with their never dying spirit and ever flowing faith in the goodness of this world. If we, the self-proclaimed better part of the world imbibe even half the qualities, we would surely contribute in making this world a better place.
It was not long before that we saw ourselves practicing songs and packing our bags for Dublin. In retrospect, today I can say that on May 19, I was blessed with a second set of family. The time spent with O’Neills has a special place in my heart. The role played by each member in this process cannot be overstated. My Irish mother, Maria left no stones unturned in caring for me. My Irish father, Sean made sure that he satisfied my vegetarian tooth, honing his vegetarian cooking daily. My Irish brother, Cillian was the soundboard to my thoughts and jokes and finally my Irish pet, Junho was the cherry on one the best cakes of my life.
As a part of the programme, every day we had to work in our respective institutions as volunteers. I worked in Nazareth House, an old age home for people suffering from dementia. My role was to be a part of their daily activities in a way that I cheered them up. The one most distinguishable memory I have of Nazareth House was the time spent with Walsh, a 90-year-old man who sat on the same spot of the reception every day, with a positive countenance.
Every morning, four of us used to go and later we were joined by two more, but the only person he sought was me, as told by his nurse. It became a game of sorts where among the six of us he would look for me and I would try my best to hide and then see his face light up upon finding me. When it was time for us to bid goodbye, he gave me one of his antique 1980s shirt, a few chocolates, a warm hug, and a letter of good luck.
On a completely personal note, this programme helped me become self-reliant. So as I said goodbye to Dublin and all the memories we have created, I feel so fulfilled.
— The writer is a student of class 10-A, St. Xavier’s collegiate school, Kolkata.