About Us

About Us

सफ़र (safar) means Journey in Hindi. Saphara’s journey starts with our CEO and Founder, Dr. Christine Burnett

CHRISTINE'S Journey (क्रिस्टीन का सफ़र)

When Christine first visited India in 1998, she was overwhelmed by the indescribable poverty as she visited huge slums where many struggled to survive. Yet in the midst of such heart-breaking scenes, she met children whose greatest desire was to get an education – literally their only hope of escaping poverty. As a teacher, she was deeply moved by their plight and determined to find a way of helping these children.

She returned to teaching at Methodist College Belfast, in the hope filled weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Peace agreement. Having been involved in the Peace and Reconciliation movement since her youth, Christine was struck by the great responsibility which educators faced in building a lasting peace across two deeply divided communities. Equally she felt passionate about giving Northern Irish young people the opportunity to see the challenges she had just witnessed facing young people living in poverty in India.

As she shared with her students how determined these children were to get an education, Claire spoke up,

Giving them money is not enough. We need to show them that someone cares.

So began the trips to India, which gave final year students the opportunity to join an educational programme for children living in Delhi’s poorest slums. What most excited Christine was that the benefits flowed equally in both directions, with both the Indian and Northern Irish young people learning from and inspiring each other.

Spending time in a different culture with its many issues and difficulties, gave the NI young people time to reflect on Northern Ireland’s own challenges to build a peaceful and just society. A key part of Christine’s vision for this experience was to create a safe place where young people could engage in issues of poverty, justice and faith in the wider world and be motivated to take action.

As each team of young people engaged in these life–changing encounters, Christine felt inspired to bring these transformational journeys to many more young people, and so in 2008 she gave up her teaching career to set up Saphara. She recruited Catholic and Protestant schools who shared her vision of inspiring students to become local and global citizens through Saphara’s ‘Journey with Purpose’.

Over the years this has developed into the year-long Saphara Transformational Leadership programme, where young people discover their potential to change the world, for themselves and for others. Over 30 schools in Northern Ireland are involved in the programme, both selective and non-selective and from all sections of the community. 120 young people and teachers take part in the programme each year which culminates in the India experience.

Who we are

Meet the Team

Dr Christine Burnett


Christine is our inspirational CEO and Founder.

Christine is passionate about bringing young people together to discover their own value and worth and that they can change the world through working together.

She cares deeply about justice for marginalised children both in N. Ireland and India.

Her greatest joy is meeting with girls from remote tribal communities through the Saphara Girl Champions programme, and seeing them realise their unique God-given potential. 

Email Christine

Paula Stronge​

Education Director

Paula joined Saphara soon after beginning her own Transformational Journey in October 2017 as a teacher on a schools’ team to India. Her encounters with Saphara’s inspirational partners and the children they support created a new focus for her strong belief in the power of education to transform lives, and a longing to provide vital education for those living in marginalised communities. She subsequently trained and led 4 further school teams to India throughout 2018 and 2019, cementing her desire to work for Saphara full-time. Leaving her 30 year career as an English teacher in both primary and secondary sectors, she took up the role of Education Director for Saphara in 2020.  

In early 2021 she fulfilled a long held ambition to gain a qualification in teaching English as an additional language and completed a Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching. This led to the privilege of working with refugees and asylum seekers here in Northern Ireland, both in her spare time and as an integral part of Saphara’s Be the Change focus on celebrating the richness and diversity brought to our school communities by newcomer children.

​Paula loves to see young people from different backgrounds discover their strengths and grow in confidence; building new friendships as they work together as a Saphara team; developing greater local and global awareness; and exploring ways in which they really can Be the Change they want to see in the world.

Bernie Devlin

Director for Education

Bernie is Director of Education and a member of the Saphara Board of Directors. Her involvement with Saphara began when she was Pastoral Vice-Principal of Assumption Grammar School.

In that capacity, she was part of two Principals’ Trips to India in 2011 and 2015.

These trips afforded her the opportunity to witness first-hand the great work done by Saphara in Indian schools and rural communities and to engage in professional staff development with Indian teachers.

Since retiring from school in 2016, Bernie has continued her involvement with the charity accompanying the Down Team to India in 2018 and 2019.

Since the outbreak of Covid 19, Bernie has relished the opportunity to continue her work with Northern Irish students and to witness their growth in confidence, compassion and mutual understanding through the Be the Change Award.

As well as increasing the Year 13 students’ awareness of issues pertaining to refugee, newcomer and Indian children, the year long programme creates meaningful opportunities for students of different religious backgrounds to work and grow together as transformational leaders with empathy and a heightened sense of moral responsibility.

Our Programmes


Be the Change Schools

Each year we partner with secondary schools across NI to deliver Be the Change Award to 150 sixth form students.


Be the Change India

We partner with schools and NGOs in India to support their vital work providing education for all.


Be the Change Girls

There are 15 million girls worldwide who are never expected to enrol in school. We want to change that


Be the Change Teachers

Teaching students from Stranmillis and St Mary’s Colleges to deliver affirming education to marginalised children in NI and in India.

Latest Blog Posts

Check out our latest blog posts here!

An update from Christine – India Visit May 2022

In May, Christine was finally able to travel back to India to meet some of Saphara’s valuable partner NGOs, schools,...

College Students’ Be the Change Week and City Hall Celebrations

This year’s Saphara Be the Change programme has been off to an exciting and vibrant start as we celebrate being...

Saphara Be the Change Newcomer week 2022

Saphara Newcomer week proved to be an unforgettable climax to Be the Change programme involving: 142 Primary School Children 134...