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Birkmyre Hostel
The Birkmyre Hostel: A Gift to Reverend Dr. John Anderson Graham for the boys of Kalimpong
The imposing cornerstone at the entrance to the gracious Birkmyre Hostel on Middleton Row in the heart of Kolkata says it all. A gift from Sir Archibald Birkmyre to the Reverend Dr. John Anderson Graham for the boys of Kalimpong, it is testimony to the gratitude and appreciation that Sir Archibald Birkmyre had for the selfless and dedicated work of Daddy Graham and his own love for the children of Dr. Graham's Homes.

Sir Archibald Birkmyre was a Senior Partner of Birkmyre Brothers, a Scottish Company engaged in the trading and manufacture of jute and jute products in India. He also served on the Viceroy of India's Legislative Council and the Bengal Legislative Council. Sir Archibald Birkmyre was knighted in 1917, appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918 and made a Baronet in the 1921 New Year Honours. The foundation stone of the Birkmyre Hostel, which reads “Sir Archibald Birkmyre's gift to the children of Kalimpong”, was laid on 8th July 1925 by Sir John Kerr, Acting Governor of Bengal. Since then, this magnificent four-storied building has been home to hundreds of boys and girls of Dr. Graham's Homes, whilst they were in Kolkata.

At that time, Daddy Graham would send boys who had completed their schooling at the Homes to live temporarily at the Birkmyre Hostel, to either study or train as apprentices in different industries and equip themselves with the qualifications and experience needed to make useful careers for themselves. Some of them would even work in our own bakery at the Hostel, popularly known as “The Kalimpong Confectionery’’. In the 18 years that I have served as Superintendent of the Birkmyre Hostel, I have had the good fortune of meeting many OGBs passing through Kolkata, most of whom have had very fond and grateful memories of the Homes and the Birkmyre.

I remember Norman Hutchinson telling me that he used to sell his drawings and paintings to the Birkmyre boys for a couple of rupees to pay his hostel bills, whilst Duncan Wadforth used to live like a king at the Birks as he was fortunate to have a good job with the License Measurers. Like the saying goes "You win some and you lose some." And these are just to name a couple.

 

Today things are quite different.  After finishing school, the sponsored boys come to the Birkmyre under my care and the girls go to the Elliot Road Ladies’ Hostel run by Mrs. Barbara Quinn. They do not have to look for jobs as they are immediately taken under the wing of the “Extended Sponsorship Programme” that takes care of their board and lodging, college fees, stationery, pocket money, career counselling, Bible Studies as well as first aid and medicals during emergencies. The "Extended Sponsorship Programme" is painstakingly managed by Mrs. Beryl Mendes, Welfare Officer for Dr. Graham’s Homes, who deals with her wards with the firmness of a matron and the love of a mother. Her office is on the ground floor of the building. She is also Secretary to the Chairman and President of the Board of Management, and like many others, she is one amongst the unsung heroes of the Homes. 

 

The Dr. Graham’s Homes Ladies’ Hostel is located at 36 Elliot Road and accommodates 15 students. It has been packed to capacity ever since it was inaugurated in June 2005. Getting suitable accommodation for the new girls coming out to Kolkata to pursue their graduation was becoming a big worry as the safety and security of these young girls was our top priority. The Board therefore decided to open another dormitory for 10 more girls on the first floor of the Birkmyre and the first batch came to live here on 1st July 2009. Ms. Iona Barker is currently the Warden of the girls’ dormitory.

Once every year the Birkmyre goes into overdrive with the School Choir coming down to Kolkata to perform at various venues in the city including at the magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral.  The 80 strong Choir is housed at the Birkmyre for 10 to 12 days every December, with board and lodging, transportation, outing and pocket money after the programme, taken care of by us. Despite the pressure that this puts on all of us, it is an occasion we look forward to. The enthusiasm and vitality of the young boys and girls from the Homes is contagious and is for us, an invigorating experience.  

Most of the children at the Homes go home to their parents for the Christmas holidays. But every year there are 8 to 10 children, sometimes even more, who have nowhere to go. Again, God bless the Birkmyre Hostel, as my wife and I open our home to these children and try our best to be good parents to them and give them a good holiday to the extent our pockets can afford. The School does take care of their toiletries and some outing money.

The Birkmyre kitchen is run under the able guidance of Mrs. Joanne Augustine. Meals are monitored strictly and served in the dining room. Breakfast on weekdays consists of 1 egg (fried or boiled), 4 slices of bread and butter, 1 banana, and tea served between 6.30 am and 9 am. Sunday is special, the menu comprising porridge, puris and bhaji, bananas and tea. Lunch is served from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm every day and is typically very Anglo-Indian, either beef jhal frazie or pork vindaloo or beef bhooney, potato korma, vegetables, dal, rice etc. Fish or prawns are served on Tuesdays and Fridays. Sunday lunch is special – chicken korma or pork curry or beef ball curry, salad and fruit. Tea is served from 3.30 pm to 4 pm and dinner from 7.30 pm to 8.30 pm. The dinner menu comprises potato chops or pantras or pork or beef roast with baked beans, fried potatoes, salad, soup and bread. More than anything else, this sumptuous food is prepared and served with love and care, just as in anyone's home.

For daily studies after college hours, the children use the library. For entertainment, they have a television with a satellite connection. For games, they have a basketball court-cum-football-cum-cricket ground and for indoor games, the children have 2 carrom boards and 2 Scrabble word game sets. For the soul, Bible Study classes are conducted every Tuesday evening by Brother Lionel Chelappa.

I consider it a privilege to be associated with the Birkmyre Hostel for it gives me the opportunity to serve these young adults from the Homes. To look after their material and spiritual needs, to guide and mentor them, to console them when things are not going well, to motivate them and give them hope and inspiration when they think of the future. It gives me great satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment and for me, being Superintendent of the Birkmyre Hostel is not a professional occupation, it is indeed a vocation. I thank God and the Board of Management for giving me the opportunity to serve this very unique institution.

Edward Augustine
Superintendent, Birkmyre Hostel

 
Beryl Mendis
For most people  connected with Dr. Graham’s Homes in any way, be it present students, OGBs, donors, members of Overseas Committees, sponsored children, residents of the Birkmyre Hostel and the Ladies’ Hostel in Kolkata, Mrs. Beryl Mendes is their first port of call. Her name is now synonymous with Dr. Graham’s Homes as far as the Homes’ “base” in Kolkata is concerned.

Having completed her education at St. Thomas School, Kidderpore, Beryl took up employment as a Secretary in a small Japanese firm in Kolkata. By dint of sheer hard work and perseverance, accompanied by a deep sense of commitment and loyalty, Beryl excelled in her career, occupying positions of responsibility in blue chip companies like Gestetner Duplicators, Bird & Co., Guest Keen Williams and Shaw Wallace.

On completion of her term in Shaw Wallace in 2000, Beryl joined Dr. Graham’s Homes as Secretary to the Chairman of the Board, Mr. M. J. Robertson. The maturity and commitment she demonstrated in this role made her a natural choice to take over as the Welfare Officer from Mrs. T. Baker when the latter relinquished this responsibility. Beryl now doubles up as Welfare Officer of the Homes as well as Secretary to the Chairman of the Board and keeps the office of the Homes in Kolkata abuzz with activity. She is indeed the fulcrum on which the activities of the Board are anchored.

Beryl describes herself as a “loner” and “enjoys her own company” more than anything else, although she does have a few very good friends and many acquaintances. She values honesty and loyalty as her core values and tries her best to help in difficult situations whenever she can.

Apart from the several areas she is responsible for, Beryl administers the “Extended Sponsorship Programme” that was started in June 2003 with 20 students. The number of students now covered by this programme has risen to 58 and Beryl looks after their sponsorship arrangements, helps with their admissions into college and sees to it that they attend classes regularly. When they play truant, Beryl deals with them with the firmness of a school matron and the love of a mother.  She also works closely with the Superintendents of the Birkmyre Hostel and the Ladies’ Hostel and liaises with them with regard to study schedules, discipline and adherence to the general rules of the hostels.

For parents of children studying at the Homes, Beryl is the single point of contact. As and when required, she interacts with them on various matters including medical emergencies, discipline and the well being of their wards. She also sees to the deposit of college fees and disbursement of pocket money to the sponsored children. Not to mention all the work that goes into making travel arrangements for the children during the winter vacations, including seeing them off at the railway station and ensuring they have their food packets etc. She also maintains the accounts of the Ladies’ Hostel which includes payments of the usual monthly bills as well as other incidental expenses.

The admission season is a very busy time for Beryl. She sees to the procurement and distribution of application forms for supported students, ensures proper documentation of case histories for sponsorship etc. She also coordinates the interviews that parents of children have with designated members of the Board for grant of sponsorships etc, and then liaises with the Head Master of the School to complete the admission formalities. This is indeed a Herculean yet fulfilling and satisfying task, as it means so much to the children. For those lucky sponsored children who are invited to the U.K. to spend time with their sponsoring families, Beryl makes all the arrangements to ensure things go smoothly.

For Beryl this is a labour of love. She derives immense satisfaction from her work knowing fully well, that despite the hard work and difficulties involved in carrying out her responsibilities, she is making a difference to the lives of so many young people who will one day in turn, impact the lives of many others in the true spirit of Reverend Dr. John Anderson Graham.