We had a programme at school called ‘socially useful productive work’, and through this we used to come to the Cheshire Home in Delhi. And that’s how the bond first formed, over 40 years ago. Little did I know I would later marry into the family that had founded the home!
Our Home was started by Major General Virendra Singh, my father-in-law. He had a close friendship with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, which led them to work together to establish the Cheshire Home in Delhi and the wider Cheshire movement in India. The first Cheshire Home in India was set up in Mumbai in 1956, and there are now 23 Cheshire services across the country.
My association with the Home became more official when I got married. My husband took over as chairperson from my father-in-law, and I took over from my husband when he passed away in 2008. So I’ve been chairperson now for almost nine years, and I’m here every morning. My daughter, who is 24, is starting to get involved now as well. So it’s a real family connection.
I met Leonard himself on several occasions. Our family used to meet up with him whenever he came to Delhi, and he sometimes stayed at our house. He and my father-in-law were incredibly close. They really cared for each other. I was very struck by their friendship. I remember him as a quiet person, who was very involved with his work.
I think that we are now the largest residential Cheshire Home in India. We have nearly 80 residents — men, women and children. It’s a tough job, but it’s incredibly satisfying seeing the difference we can make. As well as being a residential home, more and more we are setting up projects that support people with disabilities to be independent. This includes our livelihoods project in partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability, funded by the EU. We are working with disabled people in the community, training them and supporting them to find work. It’s doing extremely well.
We also have a crèche for 70 disabled children. We have a van which goes every day to villages and slum areas and picks the children up. We provide food, clothes and give them a basic education and life skills. We have been able to support about 15 disabled children into mainstream education which is a massive achievement for us.
Right now in India there is a big emphasis on corporate social responsibility. This means there are lots of opportunities – a lot of social awareness and a lot of interest in the field of disability. So we plan to continue expanding. It’s very gratifying to see people we support smiling and laughing. Some of them can’t talk verbally, but they still talk to you with their eyes.
I was very struck by their friendship. I remember him as a quiet person, who was very involved with his work.