Seventy-four-year-old Sr Cyril, who already has a doctorate in Zoology from the University of Lucknow, was honoured by the prestigious Irish university for projects such as the Rainbow Day School for street children which allows up to 200 street children to drop in at any time of the day and be given lessons from specially dedicated teachers at Loreto Sealdah in Kolkata.
Ordinarily, these children would be unable to obtain any education as their material circumstances force them to spend most of their day begging. Another 200 street children, who have no family, are given a home at the school and cared for by Sr Cyril, whose favourite time of the day is reading them stories such as the Narnia tales or Harry Potter just before bedtime.
TCD’s Provost, Dr John Hegarty and the Chancellor of the University presided over the ceremony conferring the honorary degree on Sr Cyril in the Examination Hall on Friday, while Trinity College’s Public Orator, Anna Chahoud said of Sr Cyril, “She is the radical advocate of social change, the resolute believer in equality, the revolutionary inventor of an educational system that has changed thousands of lives.”
“Her Rainbow Project is a school within the school, where the privileged support the marginalised; where students, soon becoming teachers, reach out to the local communities; where endless multiplication of literacy freely buys the release from poverty and slavery.”
The Bray-native arrived in India in 1956 and when she was appointed principal of Loreto Sealdah in 1979 she introduced a series of reforms aimed at making the school more egalitarian in its outreach.
The once exclusively middle-class girls’ school has become a model for social cohesion as currently fifty percent of the school’s 1,400 students are non-fee paying students from underprivileged backgrounds. The structure ensures there is no discrimination or differentiation is made between students.
The oration in Latin at the conferring ceremony in Dublin compared Sr Cyril to the foundress of her order, Mary Ward (1585-1645), saying, “Just as the Venerable Mary who inspired her Order four hundred years ago, she has always been a woman ahead of her times.”
Another project which the Irish nun established is a ‘multiplier’ system which has trained 10,000 teachers who cater specifically for children in rural villages where there is no educational provision at all.
Sr Cyril also runs the Bhalobasha project which provides residential care for the elderly destitute, as well as microcredit schemes and human rights education programmes.
In 2007, the Government of India awarded the Padma Shri, India’s highest civilian honour, to Sr Cyril in recognition of her trojan work for children’s rights and education.
TCD’s oration concluded, “This compassionate and resolute woman is truly the model of a modern-day saint: she teaches us that every day of our lives we too can, and must, make a difference.”
by Sarah Mac Donald