This is the 6th of 7 posts about our travels around India to meet students, sponsored children and institutions. Another incredible spine-jolting jeep ride beginning with 1000m drops at every bend took us from Namchi (1675m elevation), leaving Sikkim at the Melli crossing of the Teesta River (100m) and then up to Kalimpong in north West Bengal (1247m). An early start meant we arrived at the Deki Lodge which was our stay for 2 nights in time for lunch, and after a quick bite we went to meet the Headmaster of Dr Graham’s Homes school. This was an important stop for us, as together with the Dutch Trust we support 13 Sikkimese children boarding at the school. From England we had tried to arrange an intensive day and half visit, but we had no idea how well this had worked. The Ghorka unrest in Kalimpong District had shut the school from the end of June until the beginning of October. Its sudden re-opening meant that we arranged our visit at very short notice, and the school was now under great pressure to try and reorganise to make up for the lost three months.
In fact the school were extremely gracious and helpful. The headmaster Neil Monteiro met us on arrival and laid out a schedule which met all our needs. These were: to talk to class teachers and get feed back on the children’s behaviour and aptitudes; to visit the various Cottages where the children live and meet the cottage parents; to meet the staff from the Sponsor Office who have a special remit for the sponsored children; and to talk to each child individually. We also wanted to have some fun with them, so we had arranged a lunch for 15 at the Deki Lodge for the following day. Mr Monteiro was occupied for the rest of that day, and in Darjeeling at a conference the next day. Nevertheless he promised to find us when he got back in the early evening – which he did and we were able to go over our visit with him at his home on campus.
So we started off with the class teachers, who came in a group to meet us with the Superintendent, Mr Ganga Raja Tamang. It was explained to us that the Superindent is the senior representative on Campus of the Dr Graham’s Homes (DGH) Board who are based in Kolkata, an essential link between them and the Headmaster. It turns out Mr Raja Tamang is an OGB. This seems to be quite a characteristic of the place – Neil Monteiro is an OGB as is Nichola Pereira, the Sponsor Officer. OGB? – means Old Girl or Boy. In fact we met another OGB in a security queue at Bagdogra airport on our way to Kolkota – it seems to be a badge of honour.
After that we were able to get together with all of the children, who were by then free from class. We gave them letters from sponsors and cards we had brought from Bath. They were all very delighted!
Magi gave them the challenge of writing a letter that night to their sponsors. Some how they begged and borrowed something with which and on which to write, and everyone produced them the next day. Phurba produced three!
The next day Nichola Pereira the Sponsor Officer took us off to meet the Cottage Parents. The children call them Auntie and Uncle. This is a feature of Nepalese/Sikkimese culture, that responsible adults are named like this. Naming also goes across the extended family, so if a child says she has been helped by a brother, it may in fact be a cousin several times removed – which can be confusing. The cottage parents were very positive about the children (even noisy teenage girls!), and the children in turn seem very happy.
Then – school’s out! The older girls begged to be allowed to change out of school clothes (conceded). DGH provided a school bus to drive us all down to Deki Lodge for lunch, where they had provided plenty for all. After lunch Magi brought out her iPad with lots of photos from DGH and Sikkim Himalayan Academy going back to 2010.
However all good things come to an end, so then it was back to school where we interviewed each child separately about their academic likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, health and happiness, aspirations for the future and any particular problems. Finally, after a long afternoon Mr Monteiro appeared and invited us back to his home where we briefly met his wife and daughter (and dog), then spent a little while going over what we had found. This winter will be very difficult for the school because normally they shut in December, until the new academic year starts in February. In 2017/2018 however they will close for only a few days and then run through to early February in an attempt to make up the lost time. January and February are cold and the school has no heating. The logistics still have to be worked out.
We thanked the Headmaster for the attention he had paid to our visit and the help given by his staff. We wish the school well and feel sure they will cope – after all, in their 117 years history they have weathered many storms.
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The Children of Sikkim exists to support the education of disadvantaged children from Sikkim, in the Himalaya, NE India.
We are a UK registered charity which helps such children to be educated in Sikkim and elsewhere in India, from primary school through to college or university.
We give a young person continuity of support so as to allow them to achieve their potential.