Dr. Graham's Homes, Kalimpong
Kalimpong does offer a plethora of tourist attractions and different viewpoints but a trip to the Grahamís Homes will open up your mind to a world of hope and happiness. In a world filled with increasingly uncouth activities and disrespect, the old world charm of Dr Grahamís Homes paves the future to a brighter and a more courteous tomorrow.
Dr. Graham's Homes, Kalimpong
It seems that Kalimpongís Rev John Anderson Grahamís dream of supporting abandoned Anglo Saxon kids continues on its path of fulfillment in a gradually widening circle of love.
It was in 1900 that Reverend Dr. John Anderson Graham took the first steps of fructifying his dream of building home for children in need. Dr Graham was encouraged by the Minister of his Church while he was working in Edinburgh and finally after his M.A in Edinburgh University and stint in the Young Menís Guild, he was sent to Kalimpong in 1887 as a part of the Darjeeling Mission.
In a short while he married Katherine Mc Conachie after which he busied himself in building a new church in Kalimpong along with initiatives like the Kalimpong Mela (agricultural meet for local farmers) and the Silk Committee (that encouraged the local weavers).
Picture of Kalimpong town in 1900 (pre Graham's homes era)
Kalimpongís first cooperative credit society was established by Dr Graham. During his work in the Darjeeling Kalimpong area... Dr Graham noticed a particular group of children who faced humiliation, social ostracism and neglect. They were the illegitimate kids of British Tea planters and local Asameese/ Nepali and Khasi women... these women and their kids often suffered pathetic conditions when the planters married and brought in British brides.
Dr Graham resolved to do something for this bunch of children and met with the Governor of Bengal Sir Woodburn along with a few other sponsors. This was the first step of his dream... to enable poor and deprived Eurasian and European kids live a life of dignity. The Grahams Homes began as an isolated pure educational and social environment construct in which these kids could forget that unhealthy atmosphere that they were subjected to.
In 24th September 1900 the rented Kiernander Cottage was renamed as St Andrewís Colonial Homes with 6 kids and a HousemotherÖ in 1901, Woodburn Cottage and then Elliot Cottage (1902) were built. The Waterworks, Clothes Workshop etc were all built later with the help of Govt support, sponsors and donations. In 1910, the Lucia Cottages (kids and very small supported children stay here) was built. The next 15 years saw many new buildings and expansion of the scope and depth of Dr Grahamís Homes.
The school building block
The buildings were mostly built under the supervision of Scottish architects (friends of Dr Grahamís) and thatís why the whole place still retains a Scottish experience. Boys of the Grahamís Homes fought for the British Empire during the first and Second World War and many became heroes.
Katherine Grahamís demise in 1919 provoked Dr Graham to start building the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel which is now the school's chapel which is perched on a hill. The remains of Dr Graham and his beloved Katherine are now buried in the Chapel Cemetery.
Kindergarten school †building
Rev Dr Graham passed away in 1942 leaving behind thousands of kids who called him Daddy Graham and a setup that continued to flourish during the next many decades. It was only in 1947 that the group of schools, hostels, cottages and institutes were collectively named Grahamís homes. Since 1961, Bhutanese and Tibetan refugee kids are also admitted in the school and institutions.
Dr Graham's statuette
Right now the Grahamís homes are supported by the trust fund, overseas sponsorship, local donations and the love and support of its associates, employees and children. Many kids who now study in Grahamís schools are following the legacy of their parents and grandparents as the latter were also a product of this institution.
Nestled between Dello Hills and Kalimpong Town, The Graham Homes is distinct from any other schools or any other Hill School for that matter. In an era where the Hill Schools of Darjeeling are declining both in popularity and maintenance capacities, The Graham Homes continue to flourish.
Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel
perched on a hill at a distance
In fact, in a direct conversation with the Headmaster Neil Monterio... †I learned that the current number of students in the school exceeds 1500. 1200 of these are normal school kids who pay regular school fees and are admitted through the normal selection process while 300 are on partial or complete scholarship and living support. The support staff (excluding teachers) are 300 in number and there are 76 teachers currently working in Grahamís.
Apart from rigorous attention to academics the students are involved in sports, debates, elocution, art, quiz, dramatics, choir, horticulture, festivals and career guidance programs. In fact the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme is specially structured to inspire students to achieve the best form of all around development.
Pictures drawn by kids in their yearbook
A large influx of students come in from countries like Cambodia, Thailand etc. and from different parts of India. There is a special investigation team operated by the management who scrutinise the backgrounds of the applications that come in for support... and only the really needy are considered for admission in this case.
Unlike the usual dormitory style accommodation offered in hostels, Grahamís has well-appointed cottages. Each Cottage houses 30 to 40 students and two House parents (supervisory staff). There are 7 such cottages for girls and ten for boys (the school buildings, laboratory and play grounds separates Girls and Boys cottage clusters). The major features to look out for when you visit the Grahamís Homes are the Cottage System of Accommodation, Lucia King Homes for Children, School Museum, Choir, Learning and Innovation Center, Birkmyre Hostel etc.
Girls going up to their cottage
The Current Headmaster Mr Neil Montario is a product of the Graham Homes and has served for 25 years in this institution (though his appointment as a headmaster happened only in 2016). It was interesting to know the intricate connection of the Grahamís institution with the development of the town Kalimpong.
The Grahamís Workshop, the Stitching Unit, the Greenhouse and Vegetable Farm, the Bakery all evolved as the very first building blocks of the township that now defines Kalimpong. The school came much later though in 1900. Kalimpong Öwhen the first Grahamís Unit was opened looked much like thisÖ.
Like any other tourist, I was under the impression that the Grahams Homes had an orphanage and care facilities as its primary unit and was completely unprepared for the enormity of its premises, facilities and the scope of its work. The Mayfair Fest Öthe school fiesta that happens every year in Grahamís School is one of the biggest fests in Kalimpong, the huge 400 mile school ground is sometimes used by the army as an emergency helipad and the aesthetic superlativeness of the whole compound makes it a worthy tourist destination in itself.
The school chapel (close up view)
The architecture as you can see is distinctly Scottish and all the School Houses are named after different dignitaries. I had an opportunity to see the Lucia King Cottage (the preschool facility that holds 20 supported kids) in some detail and it was the prettiest and most impressive preschool facility I had seen.
Headmaster Mr Monterio
Aity Madam (referred to as Aunty) who is in charge of the Lucia King Cottage told me that the school had even taken in a 48 day baby who has now finished her schooling and is currently doing her graduation. Walking through the Cottage, I was struck by the charming green, pink and blue sections each with matching upholstery, cots and soft toys. The kids were beautifully well behaved and were happily watching videos when I entered. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the cottage (there is a long protocol for obtaining permissions for photography).
Another interesting information gleaned from the Headmaster was that the nurses working in the play school attained intensive governess training and subsequently gained employment in illustrious families. Some examples are the Gandhi Family and the Bacchan Family.
Aity with nurses/ governesses
I could have spent many more hours in visiting the greenhouse (the Japanese incepted it to specially culture orchids), the science Laboratory (supposedly the biggest in the hill districts) and the Grahamís Museum (detailing the history of the place from 1900 to 2017) but I was pressed for time. The most striking structure in the 500 acre premise is the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel thatís unfortunately inaccessible due to the devastating damage caused by the 2011 earthquake.
The headmaster's quarters
The time and patience taken by Mr Neil Monterio... the Headmaster and Aity Madam (in charge of the Lucia Cottage) was very touching and I was pleased to know that there is a Guest House in the Grahamís Premises which could accommodate guests who wanted to experience the nuances of campus life. Armed with the latest glossy issue of the School Magazine and a couple of Brochures, I left the Grahamís premises with a sense of affinity and some lovely memories
Open for Tourists between 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
Visit website www.drgrahamshomes.net for complete details including fees structure, admission process etc. of Dr Grahamís Homes.