Kripasaran Children’s Home – providing a home for 100 children and young people.

The Beginning!

 In 2007, DCT trustees first had contact with the boys and girls looked after by the Kripasaran Children’s Mission. At that time the girls lived in a building which in its previous lives had first been a private home and then a restaurant. It was ill-suited for its new purpose as a home to 60 girls whose ages ranged from 7 to 18. Walls were damp, sanitary conditions were generally poor, sleeping quarters were cramped and for some, they slept in a room without proper ventilation or room to stand up. For the children, especially the younger ones, Scabies was a frequent recurring problem.

One over-crowded room provided the space for eating, homework and general recreation and down time. Outside, one small yard next to a busy and polluted road, provided the room for washing clothes and vegetables and housed a large water tank.

The boys fared little better. Their quarters were purpose built nearly 100 years ago. Floors were cracked and mortar was falling from ceilings, the result of earthquake activity. Again, sanitation was poor with limited washing facilities. Mould on the walls was a result of the poor ventilation and high monsoon rainfall when humidity can reach up to 96%.

The Vision

Pema Bhante, the monk-in-charge of the two Homes, had himself been a boy at the Boys’ Home and was acutely aware of the children’s conditions. His vision was to build a new home for all the young people on the site of the Boys’ Home (left).

Building on the site was a continuing challenge because of its location, steepness and the ground conditions. The view is beautiful, looking across the deep valley and the buildings are far away from the noise and dust of the main road. This location, though, meant that access is down a long stepped path and all materials had to be carried on and off site by manual labour. It also meant that apart from a concrete mixer funded by the Trust, there was no other machinery on site.

The Team

Seven people were part of the Team:

Pema Bhante: Project Commissioner, Monk in charge of the children’s homes, and Secretary of the Kripasaran Buddhist Mission
Raghavan Radhakriskhnan: Project Architect, RJA Design, Delhi
Ranjeeta Jaiswal: Director, Sasheesh Prasad Design Studio, Darjeeling
Ramesh Rasailly: Site Manager, Sasheesh Prasad Design Studio, Darjeeling
Tejendra Brahmin: Structural engineer
Major Pasang Wangdi and Marilyn Adams, Trustees representing Darjeeling Children’s Trust
Mr Brahmin’s input was only required for the early stages but remarkably, all the other team members who were there at the start, were also there at the end!

Phase 1

The original estimated cost for the whole project was £165,000 and it was clear from the beginning that work would have to be phased and built as monies could be raised. Phasing would also allow the boys to carry on living on site whilst their new accommodation (Phase 1) was built.

The first spade was put into the ground in 2012 when trustees Hugh Heron and Major Wangdi took part in the ground breaking ceremony. They joined Pema Bhante and the boys, clad in immaculate uniforms and flip-flopped feet, and half a dozen orange-robed young monks. Standing around a little makeshift shrine of bricks, incense, flowers, milk and candles, the assembly hushed as the monks began to chant. Hugh was then invited to choose from an alarming selection of shovels and picks to strike the turf. The chant continued and there was polite applause before the second volunteer stepped up to swing the pick. Pema Bhante, the Major, the project manager all took part.

Darjeeling is in an earthquake zone and land is very unstable but it was only when work started and holes were dug for the foundations that huge rocks were found. These had to be broken up by hand and the buildings slightly re-aligned to work around the rocks which were too enormous to be removed.

Phase 1 was officially opened in November 2014. It was a wonderful event, happy event. The boys were so excited that they told us they were unable to sleep and together they had worked with basic tools to clear an area of uneven ground for the opening ceremony. It was a lovely sunny morning, the rows of chairs were in place, garlands of marigolds adorned the building and photos of how the building had been achieved had been put on display boards. The building itself, painted a beautiful deep yellow ochre which is symbolic of non-violence and peace, glowed in the light.

It took another ten years to complete the project! In those ten years, there  were breaks whilst money was raised, strikes in the town closed the project down for weeks on end, heavy monsoon rains slowed down construction or forced it to stop, and of course, there was Covid.

Phase 2a saw the opening of the dining hall and girls’ dormitories in 2019 and this allowed the girls to move from their dark, unhealthy accommodation. Chair and trustee, Marilyn Adams, was privileged to be invited to cut the ribbon. The transfer from the dark, poorly ventilated and overcrowded conditions of the old Home was life changing for the sixty girls.

Other site developments  – working towards a sustainable water supply

It is probably a common misconception that because the monsoon often brings torrential rains to the Himalayas, supplies of water must be plentiful all year round. Sadly, in Darjeeling this isn’t the case. Local infrastructure for collecting and distributing water has limited capacity and, in addition, for over half the year there is a prolonged dry season when little rain falls. 

Buying water is very expensive and the Trust has helped KBM for a number of years by funding the purchase of water for about six months in the dry season. However, funds are always stretched and priority has to be given to ensure enough water for drinking and cooking. A daily wash or shower for 100 children and young people is an expensive luxury. The redevelopment project has provided the opportunity to change this, allowing water to be harvested from the large roof area and stored in a new underground cistern. 

These works were funded by individual donations as well as a special “10k for 10k” event which saw individuals, trustees and groups get together in sponsored walks, runs and cycle rides to cover 10km to help cover the £10,000 cost, all augmented by a grant from the United Nations Women’s Guild. The collection tank was completed in autumn 2022 and is now filled with water from the monsoon every year!

Achieving the goal!

Phase 2b saw the completion of the new kitchen, office, food storage and Pema Bhante’s accommodation. A new boundary wall has been built, an outdoor play area surfaced, railings erected to ensure safe transfer between the different site levels, and additional water storage tanks installed. A computer room has been set up after a generous grant from the United Women’s Guild. After twelve years from the first ground breaking ceremony, the buildings are complete. The final cost amounted to £354,000.

The official opening of the building took place on May 5th 2024. It was a truly joyous occasion.

More than just bricks and mortar

Opening the Home marked an amazing achievement. When asked how they felt about the day, the young residents described themselves as “excited, happy, good, lovely, grateful, gleeful”. One of the older students, Diya, wrote

I would like to say .. thank you to DCT.. for being supportive and kind to us. Because of you we can learn English, maths, physics, computer classes…on Saturdays and Sundays. We are so lucky to have this hostel. We have been enjoying lots of activities in the hostel like knitting, hygiene class, yoga and racquets in our grounds” 

DCT Trustee, Matthew Houghton, first visited the Home in November 2023, and he was at the opening ceremony. Here are some of his thoughts –

 “Having visited KBM in October 2023 I was extremely excited to see the completed home. The final push in 2024 has brought the whole site together and the finishing touches of glorious orange paintwork, brickwork, ironwork and tiling have made the home one of the best looking buildings in Darjeeling!We are all very fortunate to be able to support so many young people that need the Children’s Home and they showed how valued they feel and how appreciative they are in several ways during our visit.  It was a very emotional day for all the Trustees, particularly those who have been involved in DCT since the start.As a small charity it has taken quite a long time to complete the Children’s Home project, but it has been accompanied by improvements in the health and welfare of the children. Clearly, Sangam and Jigten as supervisors really look after the children well and the recent improvements to their nutrition is beginning to bear fruit.  It is evident that the community within the Children’s Home is a very happy one and deserves our support”.

So the Vision, originally focussed on bricks and mortar, has been achieved. The Home is complete. But we now know that it will be so much more – it is an amazing environment for helping the young people who live there to develop and flourish. The buildings shine as symbols of peace and demonstrate the ability of different people from different countries to work together for a common good. They provide a wonderful home to 100 young people. They are a testament to the generosity to a huge number of people in raising and donating money over many years. 

A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed!