Our impression of Dehradun as we arrived at Jolly Grant Airport was of a verdant oasis with the picturesque Garhwal hills behind, signalling the mighty Himalayan peaks beyond. On arrival we found Raphael was a peaceful environment and the staff were most welcoming and informative, so we quickly felt “at home”.
As it was the school holidays for the first two weeks this gave us the opportunity to interact with the staff and residents of Ava Vihar, Shiv Sadan, the Little White House and the Chronic ward. The teachers discussed their comprehensive programs and there was much sharing of ideas and activities which the staff were eager to incorporate.
We enjoyed interacting with the residents of Ava Vihar and the Little White House and joined in with the music and singing sessions which were a popular time. We contributed new songs to their repertoire and joined their nature walks. Art activities and Physical activities were shared times also. John joined the boys from the Little White House for cricket in the sultry summer evenings and was impressed with their natural ability!
Visiting times with the residents of the Chronic Ward were always a treat as Bhola, Pritam, Chatru and Sudeep were constantly cheerful and happy to share their stories. Sudeep was usually chatting on his mobile phone, however we still managed to engage him in conversation and take him for a wheelchair ride around the Raphael grounds. These four men impressed us with their positive attitude and resilience despite their disabilities. Similarly, we enjoyed our visits to Shiv Sadan and were always greeted with a smile and a cheery “Namaste”!
We assisted with setting up the library in the Day Centre and discussed with Neha about possible teaching aids and activities for the Resource Centre – specifically for dyslexic students. We also discussed methodology regarding teaching training and suggested a current journal on Disability and Health.
A highlight for us was accompanying Ganga, supervisor of Community Based Rehabilitation, and Verdana the physiotherapist, to view the CBR program in action. We were able to see the benefits of this program, reaching out to those children who were unable to attend Raphael and in need of therapy. The parents enthusiastically welcomed these visits.
John enjoyed his discussion with Dr. Gupta regarding the TB hospital, local management strategies at Raphael and hearing about the Public Health implications. He also addressed the teachers,(with Priyo translating into Hindi), regarding the long term implications of Down syndrome as this is a common condition amongst the residents and students at Raphael.
In our final week all students returned from vacation so the Day Centre was in operation. We enjoyed daily assembly, with singing of the National Anthem, prayers and exercises, all forming an integral part of their routine. We observed how the children, adults and teachers alike participated with obvious patriotism and respect. It was impressive to see the utmost dedication of the teachers and the application of the students to all endeavours, as they strived to reach their individual potential. Teacher training in the Resource Centre was in progress whilst we were there and some students from a Journalist School were videoing “Life at Raphael”, capturing the variety of the responsive programs.
The Rehabilitation Workshop forms an important part of Raphael providing weaving and candle making, block printing, and the manufacturing of paper bags and gift-wrapping paper. This is a highly productive industry for Raphael and many of the products are sold to the Community. Students also learned useful skills and for some, this can lead to employment opportunities in the wider community. John enjoyed spending time with the candle-making group and observed the industrious attitude and pride exhibited in a “job well done”. Similarly, I now have a bespoke block printed tablecloth enhancing my kitchen table at home and the family members are feeling snug in the Victorian winter with their new Raphael scarves. Thank you Raphael!
It was interesting to witness the evolution of Raphael as it responds to the changing needs of the community. The Little White House is being renovated and extended to accommodate more children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Other changes observed were the development of the gardens surrounding Raphael, which enhanced the environment. Some new plantings occurred during our visit and were thriving in three weeks, thanks to the monsoonal weather.
At weekends we visited Rishikesh and Haridwar which are holy cities on the banks of the Ganges. Highlights included the Hindu religious ceremony of Ganga Arti, the Maharish Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram famous for its Beatles connection and observing the faithful bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges at Haridwar. Our visit to Raphael coincided with the monsoon season, which resulted in a torrential downpour most afternoons. For our final weekend we visited Mussoorie and it was humid and extremely wet, with the mountains shrouded in fog and heavy rain. The next day we woke to clear skies and so experienced the majesty of the Himalayas and marvelled at the breathtaking scenery.
Overall, we were in awe of the wonderful work being planned and implemented at Raphael by the dedicated staff and the happiness and enthusiasm demonstrated by the students was a testament to this. We felt privileged to be part of “the Raphael family” for such a short time and also feel that the vision of its founders – Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder perpetuates – “to provide relief to those who are suffering”, thus living a life with dignity, love and care.