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St Joan of Arc Catholic School pupils help children in India
(Left to right) Luke Allen (of Ruislip), Rachel Ashton (of Mill End, Rickmansworth), Lucy Moran (of Maple Cross, Rickmansworth) and Eve McMillan (of Rickmansworth).
Pupils at a school in Rickmansworth have been teaching literacy and numeracy skills to leprosy sufferers in India.
A group of eight sixth form students from St Joan of Arc Catholic School spent 10 days visiting Udayan, a home in Calcutta for over 300 children who either have leprosy or whose parents have had the disease.
Students Anna-Marie Pinnell, Stefan Kowalewski, Rachel Ashton, Kirsten Brown, Lucy Moran, Jemma Browne, Evie McMillan and Luke Allen, who are all aged 17 to 19, took part in the pilgrimage February 10-21, with teacher Caroline Weldon and Sixth Form head teacher Patricia Devlin.
The group were welcomed to Udayan by founder Reverend James Stevens and the children singing morning prayers.
Rachel Ashton said: "It was such an exciting experience. After hearing so much about Udayan, actually being there, and seeing the children that we had raised money for was quite amazing."
They were paired up with teachers at the home, and taught English and maths to children aged three to 18.
Lucy Moran said: "Everyone was so welcoming and inviting. The teachers were very supportive and encouraged us despite it being slightly overwhelming".
Mrs Weldon, who has organised the school pilgrimage since 2005, spoke passionately about the work at Udayan.
She said: "There is a massive stigma around Leprosy in India, with very few people actually realising it is curable.
"Children born into these conditions, regardless of whether they have leprosy themselves, are forbidden entry into schools.
"Udayan gives children a childhood, a life free from poverty and gives them the great gift of education".
The sixth formers spent time at the Asha Bhavan Centre for disabled children and a leprosy centre in Titagarh, run by The Brothers missionary. Here they met the parents of many of the children from Udayan.
Students were also involved in the Leprosy Rally in Barrackpore which coincided with World Leprosy Day.
Over the years, St Joan of Arc School has held numerous fundraising events for the Udayan Centre, including chilli-eating contests, barn dances, carwashes and a game of beat the goalie.
Most recently, the head teacher, Pete Sweeney, and a team of four set out on a four-day 240mile cycle to Rouen, France. The sponsored cycle raised over £8,000 for Udayan.
Local restaurant Rasal in High Street, Rickmansworth, has also shown its support for the pilgrimage in the past by generously catering for a presentation night at the school, free of charge.
In previous years, traditional Indian food, songs and dancing have been arranged for over 150 residents who want to know more about Udayan.
Mrs Weldon praised the students who accompanied her to India. She said: "The group bonded not only with each other but with the children as well. They gave themselves generously to Udayan and the Asha Bhavan Centre."
The students are to give a brief presentation to the rest of the school on their time in India. They will also visit St John's Primary School, Rickmansworth, to talk about their experiences as it is also a supporter of the Udayan Centre.
To donate to the Udayan Centre, visit http://www.friendsofudayan.co.uk/