My Name is Yvonne and I want to tell you about Dr Graham’s Homes:
I went there when I was about 7 years old, my father gave me away when I was only 18 months old to his spinster sister, my Aunt. I am not exactly sure if he did give me away or if she just took me as she told me I was neglected and in a pretty sorry state. Anyway I lived with my Aunt till I was two and a half years old when she put me in a boarding school near where she lived in Shillong, but decided that I should go to Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong, a two day journey away.
When I arrived by train at Siliguri station, we were met by some staff members and got onto a few bus’s up to Kalimpong. The journey was long but the scenery very beautiful and to me the mountains looked absolutely enormous and so very green. On arrival at the Homes, we went straight to the isolation ward for a few days where Sister Cassidy was in charge and made sure that we were all well and fit to go to the cottages we were assigned to. I went to Thorburn cottage where Aunty Jean was the House parent, I think I was here a couple of years before moving to Woodburn cottage, which had been closed for quite a while for renovations and this is where I stayed till I left school. Woodburn became my home and Aunty Cracknel looked after us all very well. She was strict but fair and I think did a great job in instilling into us the love of school and each other and especially for Woodburn cottage.
There were about twenty to twenty five of us in Woodburn during my time there, from the age of 5 up to 19 years old. Each of us younger ones had a senior who looked after their little one, helped them bath in the morning, get dressed for school, take them by the hand and walk up the old familiar path to school every morning. At meal times the senior helped their little one get their food, sit at the table and eat. When you are the junior, your senior gives you everything she did not want to eat so we looked forward to being the senior so we did not have to eat all the nasty stuff, like certain veggies etc.
Each cottage also had a junior Aunty and a teacher living with us. Our teacher was Miss Hastings, who came from Australia, Aunty Cracknel was from England and the junior Aunty was from India.
There was never a time that we were so full we could not eat another thing. We often went down the khudside (the slope down from Woodburn) to pick kutta sag, a type of wild spinach I suppose, chopped it up with salt and chillies, We ate tons of the stuff, and often ended up with an upset stomach. We used to go and raid the corn fields some times and wondered how the farmer knew we were there, now I know that he saw the fire that we lit to roast the corn on.
We had such wonderful caring teachers and school was great. We all loved it, though there were some who were over strict, but most were kind .
The moment one arrived up at DGH all your home stuff was taken and we all wore school uniform and no shoes in my day as the school could not afford to buy shoes for everyone, so no one had shoes. No one was ever made to feel different and we never knew who was a sponsored or a fee paying child. Each of us was the same. At cottage we got up early as each of us had a duty, for a week one was in charge of the scullery washing all the pots and pans etc: or the dining room, which meant one had to set the tables and clear them after the meal or the kitchen hand, this meant helping the cook. Floor duty meant polishing the floors (we had wonderful polished wooden floors, upstairs and downstairs) these floors were polished with mansion polish and we had cut up pieces of blanket which we used to skate all over the floor. It was so shiny when it was polished, you could see your reflection in it. God help anyone who walked across that floor without using the blanket pads. The best job was the kitchen hand as you got extra to eat. The cook always gave you little bits of this or that. A slice of bread, thick butter and a layer of jam too. Oh this was something to look forward to. Laundry duty was the most hated of chores.
We were so proud of our garden in Woodburn, we used to try really hard to keep it looking pretty for the cottage garden competition and we won quite a few times. The flower show was another great thing to look forward to, or the May Queen who always looked so beautiful to us, one dreamed of one day being chosen to be the may queen.
Dr Graham’s Homes was a city in itself. It was a big mountain, with all the girls cottages down one side and the boys side on the other. The school was a good climb up. We also had our Church…The Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel, we had a brilliant choir. And we went to church often. It was a pretty long march going up the hill two by two holding hands, all dressed in our Sunday best. Our own swimming pool, and of course a big sports field in front of the school buildings and a bigger field half way down the mountain. We had girl guides, cub scouts, hockey (which I loved) and every sport imaginable was provided.
We went on hikes and picnics down to the Relly River, where we would look for garnets being washed down from the Himalayan mountains. We never failed to find some. We always lost them again. I do not remember how. We had our own hospital with nurses who were also being trained and they had grown up at the Homes. We had our own cemetery and even attended a funeral of one of our Woodburn girls, this was a very distressing event for us little ones,saying goodbye to one of our own, we decided that she had died from eating poisoned berries, though I do not know even to this day if that really was the reason she died.
I remember going into Kalimpong town every few months to the cinema or for Momos (a dumpling) with Aunty Cracknel. Or if one of the girls had been sent some money, sneaking down to the bed shop (a small hut made with a thatch roof, no walls and a man sitting on a bed….hence the name) just below Woodburn to buy Gur buns (Jaggery sweets). We would have been in huge trouble if we had been caught.
A lot of our sports was played against our greatest rivals, Mt Hermans from Kerseong or Loretto Convent in Darjeeling. Both pretty rich schools. it was such a happy occasion when we beat them.
If you walked to the end of the sports field, there in all its glory was the Himalayan mountains, especially Kinchenjunga (the third highest in the world) We never did understand why so many people came and photographed it… But now I wish I could see that view every day. There is nothing to compare it to.
I was at DGH for more than 10 months a year and knew that it was going home time when the Poinsettia bloomed. We called them “Going home flowers”. We had cake as a treat every Sunday for tea, and the last few weeks one was happy to give your cake to someone who had no home to go to. We cried when we had to leave to go home, because we were leaving so many loved ones. Woodburn was now our beloved home and we were one family. We lived here more than we ever did with our real families.I still feel the same, every time I think of DGH and Woodburn I feel a great wave of nostalgia come over me. It will forevermore be my beloved “ Home sweet Home” I sometimes ache to go back and whenever I have gone , I get this feeling of excitement at the thought of going home, because Woodburn is my home. We all of us DGH old girls and boys have a saying….”You can take this girl out of DGH….BUT you can’t take DGH out of this girl” I was so lucky to have gone there, and I am so grateful that God made such lovely people like Jan and Craig, who help so many children in the Homes. It is caring people like them who keep my beautiful HOMES going for another generation of very needy children to be cared for and loved .