The curry lunch and bazaar in aid of Doctor Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, has become something of a tradition. Everyone looks forward to a get together over chef Haley Curtis Barber’s options of lamb, chicken or vegetarian curry with rice, sag aloo, popad and nan. The bazaar of Nepalese, Bhutanese and Tibetan gifts and textiles provides an opportunity for some early Christmas shopping. Caroline Eckersley’s mother was born in Calcutta and had early involvement with the school in Kalimpong and as a Trustee of the school’s charitable arm Eckersley has assumed some of the responsibility for fundraising. Eckersley enlisted the support of her friend Tina Dennis as a co-Trustee and the curry lunch was conceived to raise funds for a girls hostel in Kolkata. There is now a hostel that can provide safety and a stepping stone towards a better future for the girls, but Eckersley and Dennis fear for its long-term future under the present board of management.
Doctor Graham was a Scottish Minister who started the school in 1900, originally for Anglo-Indian children from local tea estates, later adding children from Kolkata who had been rejected by both communities and some Lepcha children from Sikkim were also included. Doctor Graham’s original vision was to create a more or less self-sufficient village and to give children confidence for adult life; the school had a farm, a bakery, a tailoring workshop and a cheesemongery; the children learnt various skills through participation in these enterprises.
Today the school has a campus of 500 acres and 1500 students from kindergarten to 18years; most of the mixed students are fee paying but the Scottish registered charity Doctor Graham’s Homes (DGH) looks after the education and board of circa 250 of these children, still mostly from Kolkata. Based on the English system of boarding the school has “cottages” for girls or boys, each cottage has a house parent and the syllabus is in English preparing children for the Indian School Certificate Examinations but many local languages are taught including Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Tibetan, Dzongkha, Khasi, Mizo and Thai. Although principally a Christian institution the students may accept the education without pressure to convert or be baptised. The school is independent and receives its income from school fees and sponsorship.
Helping at the bazaar was alumni Sedhar Chozam, who fled on foot over the Himalayas to Dharamsala from Tibet. Sedhar made this journey with her older brothers and sister, she does not know how old she was but she was so young they kept her safe by tying her to a string. Her siblings went to work on the roads in Nepal and Sedhar begged in the streets. An envoy from DGH offered her an education which eventually led to a visit to Scotland, where Sedhar met her husband the eminent mathematician Sir John Macleod Ball. The family are now based in Oxford where Sir John is the Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy Director of the Oxford Centre for Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations; all are involved in DGH fundraising events such as the strenuous Kathmandu to Kalimpong bike ride.
As a further testament to the international reach of former students, quite by coincidence Eckersley discovered her London hairdresser, Tony Bagram, had been educated in Kalimpong. The Kalimpong region suffers from the present day political problems in West Bengal and Eckersley believes there is a need for compassionate modern thinking and a more localised governance to bring Doctor Graham’s Homes into the C21st.