It all started way back in October 1987 when Ursula Chowdhury met an old Indian friend, Kumar Mal, who had joined a Camphill Community in the USA and from whom she heard for the first time about the work they did in a Camphill Community. A few years later Kumar with Roswitha Imegwu, Penelope Baring and another friend came to Bangalore during their visit to India and they were, of course, interested in seeing places similar to their own here in our city. There was at that time not much to show. Kumar returned to Bangalore sometime later and there were intensive discussions held about the possibility of building a Camphill Community in Bangalore.
As a start, a Trust was registered on 1st February 1993, “THE FRIENDS OF CAMPHILL INDIA”. Ursula became the president, R. Ramchandra, a retired agricultural advisor to the UN, was elected vice president, Verena Ravikumar, furniture designer, and longtime friend, was the secretary and V.R.Kalki Krishna, businessman and founder member of his Lions Club, chose to be treasurer. P.N.Narayan Rao, a retired bank officer, Dr. Sudharkar, a retired physician and Kumar Mal joined as Trustees. A few months later two more ladies joint the Trust: Ann Britto, an educationist and Jayapriya Vasudevan, a publishing consultant. This was the group that formed the basis for all our future work.
Meanwhile, the connection to the friends in Camphill Copake, USA, became stronger and stronger and there were visits back and forth. Ursula had the opportunity to visit their place on three occasions and Roswitha, Penny and Kumar came to Bangalore repeatedly to give talks and workshops and to guide us towards our goal, the building of a residential community. Fundraising started slowly and we looked around for land to build, but it all seemed unreal somehow. A distant dream and we had so little experience. During one of Penny’s visit, we decided to take the first concrete step and start a Day Center. We rented a house in Indiranagar, found a young couple who would be our first house parents and from January 1994 onwards we worked with a small group of people with special needs. Some of them are with us here today: Shirley, Adrian, Shalu, and Doyita. It looked like a good beginning with many activities and a growing interest in our little venture. But then our house parents left us and we were relieved when Kumar and Roswitha offered to come to Bangalore and run our Day Centre for a year. This also did not work out, as Roswitha had visa problems and could stay for three months only. We had to face reality. We had no house parents, the rent for the house was too high and the parents of our special people would have preferred a residential community to a Day Centre, and so, with heavy hearts, we had to close our center after 14 months.
year. This also did not work out, as Roswitha had visa problems and could stay for three months only. We had to face reality. We had no house parents, the rent for the house was too high and the parents of our special people would have preferred a residential community to a Day Centre, and so, with heavy hearts, we had to close our center after 14 months.
Yes, we did…!
By the end of 1996 everything that had seemed a distant dream, fell into place. Three very important factors came together: Money, land, and people!
Our treasurer Kalki brought us the good news that his Lions Club had decided to finance our workshop Building on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. And then Kalki met Mr. P.J.Bagilthaya, a well-known personality in Bangalore and a philanthropist involved in many charitable institutions. While discussing our search for land, Mr. Bagilthaya suggested we look at the Arya Jnana Seva Ashrama on Bannerghatta Road and if we found it suitable, we could lease part of their land.
And – we made our first contact with Francis and Anantha Aradhya and their children Aruna and Padma. Francis hails from Holland, Anantha from Shimoga and they had lived and worked for many years in a Camphill Community with children in Holland. Now they were keen on returning to India and might join hands with us.
In January 1997 Ursula with Francis and Anantha and their children and Roswitha and Kumar walked on this land together and all felt the great potential of this place that rests so firmly on granite rock at Bannerghatta. Yes, this was where our future community could be built and our search had ended. We eagerly accepted Mr. Bagilthaya’s offer to lease the land for 83 years and while it took some time to sort out the legalities of the lease, we finally received the blessings of the Swamiji who heads the Ashram Trust and could start planning ahead.
The person who made our project a reality was our architect, Georg Leuzinger from Switzerland who is a friend of many years. He enthusiastically took on the task of designing our first house and workshop and guided the construction with the greatest care and dedication and an immense sense of creativity. And his commitment to our project did not end with the buildings: he even took it upon himself to design our tables and beds and advised us on what kind of chairs would be suitable.
Pawan Peter was George’s first assistant on this project and later shifted his input of energy to our so-called Action Group about which we’ll talk later.
Then Meena Jain took over from Peter and showed us in a short span of time that she too has a wonderfully creative mind and tireless commitment.
Next, Georg introduced us to A.Sukumar the contractor who would build our house and workshop and we could not have found a better man for this work. Not only did he carry out the construction with meticulous care and showed plenty of patience with us when we wanted to make one more change, but he also expressed the wish to be associated with our work beyond the building part and so we very happily welcomed him as one of our Trustees and his contribution proved to be valuable from then onwards.
And from one person we are led to another. Remember, Camphill is about people! Along with Sukumar came Balraj, the site engineer, who patiently coordinated between architect, clients, and laborers.
We were aware of how much disturbance the building process must have caused for the senior citizens who so far had been living in a very peaceful neighborhood. We did not hear many complaints from them and have lived in a fairly harmonious relationship with them ever since.
Around July 98 we formed a small Action Group, which met frequently and discussed all the aspects of community work: fundraising, admission procedures, construction and any other matter that needed attention. In this group, we had Kalki, Ursula, Francis, Anantha, Pavan Peter, and Sajnie.
Two more Trustees had joined us by then: Dr.C.D.Sasikumar, a retired Surgeon Vice Admiral, and B.R.Madhav Rao who is a consulting aeronautical engineer.
Regarding our Fundraising, we cannot name all those wonderful individuals in India as well as abroad who have supported us over the years, but we feel a deep sense of gratitude towards all of them and they are most certainly included in the large circle of people who make Camphill India.
There is, however, one group of supporters that we would like to mention specially. It is the Dutch Friends of Friends of Camphill India where some 200 donors have contributed most of the money that was needed for our buildings.
For our fundraising activities in India we brought out our first brochure called “Not all who wander are lost” and this was made possible through the creative writing of Gene Hashmi and the beautiful photographs by Hari Das who also took care of getting the brochure printed.
Then we come to the most important people in this biographical sketch. In June 98 we started a small Day Centre in Cambridge Layout as a preparation for our residential community. And interestingly it was again Shirley, Shalu, and Adrian who joined this initiative. For a few weeks, we also had Susan Philip from Conoor with us and all of them, together with Doyita Fernandez and Raghavendra from Shimoga were to be the first residents who joined our Community from May 99 onwards.
Our first co-workers were Dinesh and Shekar from Shimoga, Saji from Kerala and Ganesh from Bangalore. They started to live in the community before the house was completed and the Aradhya family joined them in April 99 to get the house and surroundings ready for the arrival of our first seven special people. The initial focus was on getting acquainted with each other, setting up a vegetable garden and starting the workshop that would later on also take in special people from the neighboring areas.
Our dream for the future is to develop this community into a home for around 60 people, both Developmentally challenged as well as co-workers, who will try to help each other to grow and to have faith in each other and our shared destiny.
– By Francis and Ursula