Charles Whiteley recalls how after an encounter with Mother Teresa in Calcutta an eclectic group of people came together to form the Banyan Trust The disabled children of the Banyan Trust are used to moving. From abandonment on the harsh streets of Calcutta to temporary shelter at a missionary home, followed by a new life in the Banyan Trust residential home with extensive educational and medical care, theirs is a story of change and positive development.
The Banyan Trust was established as a charity in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands by a group of professionals in 1997. "Apanjan" means "Our Home" and is the Banyan Trust's first project, operated in conjunction with a large Indian charity called OFFER and currently catering for seven children. The children live with their fully trained care team in a small apartment in Calcutta. At fourteen, Prem is the oldest child. He has profound learning difficulties as a result of severe epilepsy. Babu is the youngest. Blind and deaf, he was found strapped to the luggage rack of an inter-city train in Calcutta's Howrah station. He is making good progress as a result of an intensive care programme which mixes physiotherapy, daily lessons, music and art workshops and regular trips to outside events.
In partnership with OFFER, the Banyan Trust has now launched an ambitious plan to purchase a larger building set in the countryside just outside Calcutta in order to provide a healthy environment for their charges and to extend the care programme to more children like Prem and Babu. The project will also incorporate a day care centre for children with learning difficulties from surrounding villages, helping to develop links with the local community.
T./he new premises will not only provide breathing space for the resident children; it is part of the Banyan Trust's longer term strategy to provide them with a viable future. "Alongside our educational programme," explains Annie Lamer, Chairman of the Banyan Trust, "we plan to establish a small market garden with vegetable cultivation and a few livestock and — as and when they feel able — the children will learn to participate. Given the fact that they all have severe learning difficulties, none of the children will be able to have conventional occupations. This will give them a chance to thrive".
Annie helped to establish the Banyan Trust after raising a handicapped son. He inspired her to initiate a "Family Friends Scheme" providing respite care for families and, working through her local Mencap committee, she founded the Jubilee House Care Trust, a residential home for children with learning difficulties. After a visit to India, she teamed up with an eclectic group of people, including a Dutch child psychologist and a special needs' teacher, to establish the project in Calcutta. "I met the other founders of the project shortly after Mother Teresa's death. One of them spoke movingly of the last time he had seen her, how he had worked in the Missionaries of Charity homes in Calcutta and just how much needed to be done."
The fundraising target for the new home is around £85,000, of which over £12,000 has already been raised. "We are exploring every avenue to meet our goal", says Annie, "from individual sponsorship to requests for grants. Any assistance is warmly welcome."
Every penny goes to the project in India because all Banyan Trust supporters work on a voluntary basis and administrative costs are largely met through the support of friendly local businesses. If you want to help the Banyan Trust, contact Annie Lamer at: 30 Ramsbury Road, St Albans, Herts., ALI 15W Tel 01727 868176 Email : [email protected]