Why north India quake victims have turned to Borders church

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FOR more than 20 years, Kelso North and Ednam Church has been helping support orphaned and abandoned children in India.

However, just a few weeks ago, a severe earthquake struck Kalimpong in the Sikkim/Nepal region of north India, causing severe damage to the children’s homes that are supported by Kelso church-goers.

Luckily, nobody was injured in the Dr Graham’s Homes (DGH) establishment, but many of the young residents have lost their accommodation and members of the Kelso North and Ednam congregation have been asked to help raise badly needed funds for the reconstruction work by donating to a special relief fund.

The connection between Kalimpong and Kelso stretches back more than 20 years, during which Kelso North and Ednam Parish Church has sponsored and supported a number of children educated at DGH.

The organisation was set up in 1900 by an Edinburgh-born Church of Scotland minister, the Rev Dr John Anderson Graham, for orphaned and abandoned Anglo-Indian children.

Today there are about 1,500 pupils, roughly 400 of whom board on the campus. Families who can afford to do so pay for the education of their children, but many others depend on the sponsorship of churches and other organisations and individuals.

Recently, DGH was judged by Education World Magazine as the tenth best boarding school in India and 400 of the youngsters are on supported placements.

There were 22 cottages at DGH which house the boarders, as well as an extensive educational and administrative infrastructure and accommodation for residential staff, spread over about 140 acres.

The recent earthquake travelled across the valley and collided with the ridge on top of which stood some of the school buildings. Some 19 of the 22 boarding cottages have been structurally damaged and, in all likelihood, at least three of these will have to be demolished and rebuilt. The Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel has also been extensively damaged.

Kelso North and Ednam Church minister, Rev Tom McDonald, spent seven weeks at DGH last year as part of his study leave, and the congregation of Kelso North and Ednam raised more than £3,000 for the refurbishment of the school hospital, the Steele Memorial Centre, which was also badly affected and will have to be pulled down and rebuilt.

Philip Gibson, Chief Executive of DGH, explains the damage to the buildings to the Governor of West Bengal  Mr. M.K.Narayanan, during his  visit to after the earthquake

Philip Gibson, Chief Executive of DGH, explains the damage to the buildings to the Governor of West Bengal Mr. M.K.Narayanan, during his visit to after the earthquake

Last Christmas, the Borders congregation also raised £1,300 for DGH, which was used to buy musical instruments for the school. Since his return, Mr McDonald has been giving presentations on DGH to a wide range of local organisations.

“Restoration and remedial work has already started on the earthquake-damaged structures, with the former central kitchen being converted into seven new classrooms and a temporary accommodation block,” Mr McDonald told TheSouthern.

“There are many accounts of everyone pulling together on the night of the disaster – of staff and senior pupils working together.

“Subsequently, many staff have thrown themselves into the task of looking after children camped out in the kindergarten block, ensuring that they suffer as little as possible.”

A former head of social work for Scottish Borders Council, Philip Gibson, a member of Kelso North and Ednam, was seconded three years ago as chief executive officer for the DGH organisation, and his term finishes at the end of the year.

He is in Kalimpong, and he recently wrote: “Most importantly, not a single child or adult was injured as a result of the earthquake. That is in no small measure because of the prompt action of staff and students alike, pulling together in time of crisis.”

It is hoped that a sense of normality will return to DGH after pupils and staff returned from the annual Puja holiday yesterday.

Anyone who wants to contribute to the special relief fund set up by DGH can do so through the church, and further information can be had from Mr McDonald on 01573 224677 or by emailing him at revtom@20thepearlygates.co.uk

Campus with a homely feel

Spread over 500 acres with the school as its hub, Dr Graham’s Homes at Kalimpong has various departments – workshop, farm, estate, bakery, central kitchen and the hospital – all looking after the needs of more than 1,500 students.

There is also the Lucia King Cottage which houses pre-school children and infants, as well as the library, museum, gym and the art room.

Situated on the very top of the picturesque hills of Kalimpong, the campus has two football fields, a swimming pool complex, three basketball courts and ample space for the children to play, enjoy themselves and interact with each other.

The cottage system of boarding is unlike many other residential schools. There are seven cottages for girls and 10 for boys, with two hostels for senior students.

Each cottage houses 35 to 45 students and provides a “home away from home”. The children refer to cottage staff as “auntie” or “uncle”, and are encouraged to help with chores, just as they would at home.

There is another local connection between DGH in India and the Borders. Dr James R Minto was born in St Boswells, where his father was minister. After school, he served in the Far East with the Royal Navy. He graduated from the University of St Andrews with a history degree and later took an MEd in psychology and education.

After teaching for a spell in the United States he was appointed headmaster of DGH in 1959, becoming principal in 1961. In 1971, after his retirement, he was awarded the OBE for his distinguished services, and in the same year received his PhD from the University of St Andrews. There is a brass plaque to the memory of James Minto, which hangs in the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel.