A little piece of Downend
Published on: 03 Mar 2014
IN a remote corner of India there’s a wall made of concrete blocks that is a little bit of Downend.
The wall surrounds the Haven Home orphanage in Andhra Pradesh to help keep the children safe. It has been funded by donations from people in our area and bears plaques from some of them, commemorating their support.
This is just the latest effort in a remarkable story of partnership over the last eight years. It began when Martyn Poole retired from his job as an engineer at British Aerospace and was persuaded to join a group from a chapel in Thornbury that was going out to India to help them make play equipment.
Martyn, from Meadow Close, said; “I’d never been to India before and I’d never made play equipment before. I wondered what I was doing.”
He soon found that his plan to make playthings out of wood would not work because termites would make the equipment unsafe within months so he managed to locate some metal scaffolding poles left over from the days of the Raj and found someone who could weld them.
The Indians still use feet and inches and Martyn was used to metric measures, which led to some confusion and “a seesaw where you could shake the other person by the hand” but he persevered and the children were thrilled.
“It was like Christmas for them. They had never had play equipment before,” he explained.
Martyn also did some teaching – another new experience, made more difficult because the children only spoke their native Telugu. He discovered that many were not sleeping well because they were frightened of snakes in their dormitories, so the following year he returned to make them some bunk beds.
“I knew I couldn’t use wood this time. We found some metal and used the same welder, and we went to the market and found some hard foam for the mattresses.”
New beds for the 120 children created a further problem, however. There was now no room for them to have their lessons in the orphanage because it was full of bunk beds. Classes outside under a couple of trees were fine until the monsoon season, when the area became a mudbath.
The authorities said this could not be tolerated and unless a school could be built by the end of March that year the orphanage, Haven Home, would have to close.
By this time Martyn had gathered support from others in Downend and the surrounding area, both for fund-raising and to accompany him on his by-now annual visits to India. Among them were members of St Augustine of Canterbury Church and School in Downend
“They said to me ‘what are we going to do, Martyn?’ I said we’d have to build them a school but it had to be a proper school not just a hut. The response was amazing. By February we had raised enough money to build a school with seven classrooms.”
Martyn and his team went on to build a medical centre, funded by the efforts of children at Silverhill School in Winterbourne, and open to villagers as well as the orphanage.
They have also helped devise and create a drainage system and built three more classrooms, as well as sewing rooms where some of the the older children can work after finishing their studies.
The work is ongoing but has its rewards in the improved quality of life for the children and villagers.
“I always say I didn’t choose this place. It chose me,” said Martyn, who raises money by giving talks around the area about the Haven Home project.
THE work in India brings heartache as well as joy. This picture shows a mum looking at a portrait of her daughter Alisha, who died from TB. The mum also has the illness.
Alisha was one of a group of girls educated at Haven Home who trained as nurses. Tragically, she died after taking her final midwifery exam.
Her mum cannot read or write and was so proud of her daughter. The portrait was painted for her by a homeless man in Bristol who Martyn knows through his work with the Bristol Soup Run.