The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales, no. 7406570.
Registered office: 9 Wardo Avenue, London SW6 6RA
DRCS Report from Moo Barrie and David Mead
Here is our report on some of the DRCS projects we visited during the ‘Darjeeling at Leisure’ tour in February 2010.
Shishu Shiksa Kendra (Child Education Centre) Ward 18, Kurseong.
Although the children were still on their winter holidays, the two teachers managed to gather half of the children  together to meet with us at the school. Mr Bhanu Dikshit, the owner of the building we are renting for SSK was also present and took a video recording of our meeting. There are twenty children on role and two teachers, who trained at the Darjeeling College. They have the one room building to work in and use of a toilet in the main house across the way.
The children were delightful. We gave them the book of photos, badges and ‘Friendship Poster’ made for them by the children of Walcott Primary school in Lincolnshire. They showed some interest in them, particularly the poster with the ‘Hands of Friendship’ drawn in the middle. The children were very keen to engage with us and showed us some of their written and maths work. The two teachers can speak English but were very shy talking with us. The oldest girl acted as interpreter for the teachers at various times when we were attempting to ask questions. They study: Nepali, English, Maths, Science, Geography, History, Environment, General Knowledge & Spelling.
We asked the teachers what items they would like – a wish list – if they had some money to spend. Immediately the teachers requested nursery rhyme books, English / Nepali Dictionaries, other subject books and exercise books. Some of the children also gave us requests: dolls, rulers, home corner items [these are normal items to be found in any English nursery or primary school!]
The government does give the teachers remuneration. They receive Rs 2,000/- each per quarter, which amounts to £27.40, thus giving them an annual income of £220 per year between them! Out of this they are expected to pay the rent, buy books and equipment. We are currently paying out £690 per year as rent for the one room school. Land, especially flat land for building in Kurseong, is scarce and thus valuable.
Visit to Hayden Hall, 42 Laden La Road, Darjeeling.
We found ourselves in the shop that sells the handicrafts made by the woman who are supported by Haden Hall charity. We were taken to see the ladies carpet making, spinning and weaving; then on up to the crèche where the children were on the roof top garden playing - except that they had no toys to play with! Struck by this lack we were determined to go and buy some toys. We located two tricycles, crayons, paper and some small footballs and took them back to the crèche.
Hayden Hall is a rabbit warren of a place, housing working space for the women, a library, offices, shop, crèche, sick children’s ward, nursery class and an after school class. There are various activities organised for the women and children too, ranging from health information, clinics, to handing out charity money to the below poverty line elderly and sick. We learnt that the charity also organises paramedics to go out to the outlying villages giving medicines, vaccinations and advice.
It is an amazing set-up, and although initially founded by a Canadian Jesuit Priest and linked to St. Joseph’s school and college, it is now run by local people.
The present director is a Priest, but we saw no evidence of religious fervour and proselytising.
We also met Noreen Dunne, a local teacher, born in Darjeeling and very passionate about helping her fellow country women. She has worked as a secondary school teacher for many years and helps with the running of Hayden Hall and its accounts. She explained that in theory, Indian state education is free for children up to the age of 12 years old, but in general the quality of the teaching is not good due to poor staff training and large class sizes, [67!]
Although free, the child has to provide their own exercise books, writing equipment and often the text books, as there will not be enough copies for everyone in the class.
The handicrafts on sale were of a high quality, at very reasonable prices and we felt able to buy direct from the shop to bring goods back to re-sell here on behalf of DRCS and so raise more funds.
Hayden Hall also offers Geriatric Care and has a programme for feeding the elderly who are living below the poverty line, (BPLs.)
Noreen explained that the old ways and traditions of India were changing. In certain circumstances the elderley can no longer rely upon being cared for by their families, who may have moved away to the cities to find work and left them behind. There is no geriatric care in place and no homes for the elderly; they are becoming the forgotten people. Over the past year DRCS has part funded the giving of Rs 100/- each week to individuals who are recognised as living below the poverty line. Until recently the Indian government ran a scheme where rice and daal was subsidised for those living below the poverty line, however this is to be withdrawn. The charity would like to cover the gap that this creates by providing food for these needy people. She went on to say that there is a high rate of TB cases and malnutrition in the Darjeeling area. The average life expectancy is low – around mid 40’s and the people we saw looked old before their time. Hayden Hall needs £30 per person to provide this food for one year.
Dooars & Darjeeling Medical Association Hospital (formerly the Planter’s Hospital)
We were not able to meet Dr. Plaban Das, the medical director as he was on annual leave. We saw the repair work done to the roof and attic space. The general state of the building is poor. It is old and had not been looked after, as with most buildings in the area. The name Planter’s is not used any more, giving the wrong impression. The Planter’s association owns the building but now does not have funds to support it. The original Tea Planters had money to pay for their work force to be cared for and all their health needs were met at this hospital. However times have changed and funding is on a shoe string budget.
Local doctors can use the facilities at the hospital. There is ultra sound equipment installed and if a pregnant lady arrives requiring this then a local doctor has to be sent for.
They are also involved with training local people chosen from the villages who come to the hospital for 3 months training to become Health care workers / paramedics.
Siliguri Clinic – Siliguri Mission for Population Control (SMPC )
Along with some tour party members, we were taken by Vivek Baid to see the clinic we had visited back in 2008. They have built an additional room at the side which is designated for the use of Mothers and children, like our baby clinics. They also have an on-going vaccination programme, and are introducing the MMR and hepatitis.
The clinic is situated in the Eastern part of the city, with a population of 50,000, it is based in a very poor district.
The clinic is now able to offer the following:
X-rays, Phlebotomy, blood donation programme, path lab work, SMPC’s population control ops, the Government immunisation programme and the distribution of medicines bought from the Community Development Medical Unit.
The Doctor is a volunteer and holds clinics early in the morning before his paid work at North Bengal Medical College Hospital. There are other volunteers doing the paper work, pharmaceutical reps with medicines and a young lady learning about dispensing.
It was good to meet with them again and to see the progress they have made. It was evident that a lot of good work is happening there, with the help and support of Rajendra and Vivek Baid of the DHR India Support group.
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