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JEWELS FROM THE JUNGLE
Barobisha School and Bethel Home West Bengal
Bethel Home is located at Barobisha in the eastern part of Bengal approximately 8 kilometres from the Bengal-Assam border. It is in an area noted for elephants, political unrest, kidnapping, murders, and molestation.
Raju Jacob was born into a middle to upper class family from Kerala and married an orphan girl who had been sponsored by Asian Aid for some years. While employed as the Publishing Department Director of the North Bengal Section (Conference) he visited many of the churches and villages throughout the Section. As such he witnessed first hand the poverty of deserted and orphaned children and discussed the situation many times with his wife. Though they did not come from a deprived situation themselves, the apparent needs troubled him and out of a heart of love he became convicted to endeavour to relieve the hardship for at least some of the children through a boarding school education.
The land around Barobisha is flat and much of it forested. It is also the home of elephants, which, in the dry season, are a threat to the crops grown by the villagers and to the villagers themselves. Many are killed by marauding elephants, therefore ditches are dug around the flimsy homes to protect them from being destroyed by the elephants.
The SDA English School at Barobisha was in dire financial straits and about to be closed down. Raju Jacob’s appointment to take charge of the situation was a huge challenge. A check of the student register revealed a total of 63 names and the 7 teachers had not been paid wages for two months. Parents were unhappy with the situation and threatening to remove their children from the school.
The three-roomed church house was little better than a cowshed. No proper bedroom; walls made of plastics and wooden planks; 60-year old tin roof which leaked when it rained! The Jacobs’ daughter cried and did not want to live in such conditions. There was only one good room and that was locked by the person to whom the school owed money! This person refused to open the room until all debts were paid and threatened to also lock the school.
Then another problem arose.
The land had been donated back in 1942 through an oral agreement with a layman. It had not been registered as church property and slowly had become waste land. Authorities came and stated that the land was to be auctioned by the Government and that the church had to either buy it at auction or lease it. After negotiations the church authorities gave the money for the land to be leased.
The first years were very difficult. Not only were debts to be paid but the students came from forested regions with different tribal backgrounds, speaking different languages, and knew nothing about discipline or sanitation. They toileted wherever the need arose and for the first two weeks the school grounds became their toilet. All of them appeared to be malnourished and many suffered from boils and scabies. The two rooms in the dilapidated house were divided off and the girls slept on concrete floors in these rooms with the Jacob family. The boys slept on the floor of a small enclosed verandah. When it rained those inside the house would sit up all night, avoiding the water cascading in from the leaking roof. One can imagine the overcrowding as the numbers of students grew to 34.
It was about this time Helen Eager made her first visit to this school and noted the happy faces of the children regardless of their cramped circumstances. She arranged for Rs 3,30,000 from Asian Aid funds to be paid from the SDA Division Office. This enabled the rooms to be upgraded and the verandahs enlarged into big rooms. The tin roof was replaced and a temporary kitchen built. As winter approached four temporary wooden bunks were constructed, each capable of sleeping twelve children. To sleep on the floor throughout the cold winter would inevitably result in sickness and, in some cases, death.
Gradually the numbers of children increased necessitating more facilities to meet the need, including an orphanage which was appropriately named “Bethel Home”, started in 2007. The second visit by Helen Eager, accompanied by Mrs Joanne Davies from Auckland, New Zealand, changed the lives of children in Bethel Home. Joanne was touched as she saw the desperate needs and donated funds to for a double storied home to be built. Asian aid also made funds available for the building of metal beds. Helen approached the Maunders from Tauranga, New Zealand and they made available funds to build a church. They also provided the money to concrete the classroom floors and verandah floor at Kumargram School, about forty minutes from Barobisha.
During this second visit Helen, accompanied by Raju, crossed the river by boat and visited the remotest villages to see for herself the condition of children and their families. Wherever she saw an extremely needy child she immediately took the child to Bethel Home.
Two such children were Karthik and Sibika Narjinary who came from the big forest area. The people in this area survive by cutting fire wood from the forests to sell in the markets. There are no proper roads and the area is surrounded by rivers making it difficult to visit the nearest town. Sibika’s mother was pregnant with her but unknowingly was very anaemic. The village nurse declined to take care of the delivery so the mother was transported by rickshaw to the town hospital. By the time she arrived had lost more than half of her blood and was in a critical condition. After the birth the doctor asked the husband to buy blood for his wife but, being poor, the husband was unable to do so, but began giving his own blood to his wife. Both mother and father died leaving three-year-old Karthik and one –week-old baby Sibika orphans. They were left in the care of their aged grandparents who later also died, leaving the two children at the mercy of distant relatives. When Helen and Raju visited the village and found out about the situation they took the two children to Bethel Home as jewels from the jungle, where they are happily being cared for and reminded that though they are orphans they have a Heavenly Father who loves them.
Raju Jacob wrote the following tribute to the author.
“All was possible for Bethel Home only through the tireless efforts of Mrs Helen Eager and her love for the needy and downtrodden children. A generous and self-less lady who neither complained about the sanitation facilities in the village nor lack of water and good accommodation facilities. A bedsheet to spread and a floor to sleep on was sufficient for her She was happy to eat anything that was being served, travelled in any kind of transportation and saved the money to help another child whom she met on her way. She followed the teachings of Jesus to love and care for the orphaned and the widows and is an encouragement for youngsters like us to follow her footsteps in taking care of the needs of young children.”
For more information on the orphanage please contact us.