It started way back in October 1987 when Ursula Chowdhury met her old Indian friend, Kumar Mal, who had joined a Camphill Community in the USA and from him she got to know about the work they did in that 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 but here in our city. At that time there was not much to show. Kumar returned to Bangalore and after sometime there were intensive discussions held about the possibilities of building a Camphill Community in Bangalore.
As a beginning, a Trust was registered on 1st February 1993, by the name “THE FRIENDS OF CAMPHILL INDIA” with President Ursula; R. Ramchandra, a retired agricultural advisor to the UN, was elected as Vice President; Verena Ravikumar, furniture designer, and a long-time friend, was the Secretary; V.R.Kalki Krishna, a businessman and founder member of his Lion’s Club, chose to be the Treasurer.
P.N.Narayan Rao, a retired bank officer and Dr. Sudharkar, a retired physician, and Kumar Mal joined as Trustees.
A few months later two more ladies joined the Trust: Ann Britto, an educationist and Jayapriya Vasudevan, a publishing consultant.
This was the group that formed the plinth for our entire future work.
Meanwhile, the connection to the friends in Camphill Copake, USA, became stronger and there were frequent visits. Ursula had the opportunity to visit their place on three occasions and Roswitha, Penny and Kumar came to Bangalore repeatedly to speak and conduct workshops and guide us towards our goal, the construction of a residential community. Fundraising started slowly and we looked around for land to construct building on, but it all seemed imaginary somehow, a distant dream and we had little experience. During one of the Penny’s visits, we decided to take the first concrete step and start a Day Centre. We rented a house in Indiranagar, found a young couple as our first house parents. From January 1994 onwards we worked with a small group of people with special needs. Some of them who are with us today as well are: 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 all of a sudden. But we were soon relieved because 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 some visa issues and could not stay for more than three months on every visit, so we had to face tough challenges. We had no house parents, the rent for the house was higher and the parents of our special people would have preferred a residential community over a Day Centre, so, with heavy hearts, we had to close our center after 14 odd months.
Yes, we did…!
By the end of 1996 everything that had seemed a distant dream, fortunately 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 us to 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 hailed 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 to return to India and join hands with us.
In January 1997 Ursula along 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 home 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 utmost care and dedication and an immense sense of creativity. And his commitment to our project did not end with the buildings: he even took the rsponsibility 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 were led to another. Remember, Camphill is about people! Along with Sukumar came Balraj, the site engineer, who patiently coordinated between architect, clients, and labourers.
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 neighbourhood. 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 neighbouring areas.
Our dream is to transform this community into a home for around 60 people, including both developmentally challenged as well as co-workers, who will try to help each other grow and have faith in each other and their shared destinies.
– By Francis and Ursula