India Calling 2015

Tuesday 15 December 2015

The John Casson Foundation takes a large group from the UK to visit St Mary’s School and get a taste of the real India

In 2013 John Casson embarked on his first experience of being a travel agent, when he took a group of 15 friends and regular donors to visit India. The principal reason for the trip was to visit St Mary’s School in the Himalayan foothills, about a 90-minute drive north of Darjeeling.

dscn6376-001Students at St Mary’s School smile for the camera.

The school, which has been sponsored by John’s company Securewest International and the John Casson Foundation since 2001, is run by the Congregation of Jesus (CJ), an international order, headquartered in Rome, of some 2,000 Sisters who are present in 24 countries.

Following the success of the 2013 visit, and to increase the profile of the good work of the school, John decided to make the pilgrimage again. This time, the trip proved to be so popular with sponsors of the school and friends from the UK that it had to be split into two groups, the first containing nine people, and the second twenty five.

For both groups, the visit to St Mary’s School took the same format. Arriving at the school at around ten a.m., after tea and biscuits the group was entertained by all the students, representing either their class or their year, who put on a colourful and energetic display of traditional dances and gymnastics on the playground.

dscn6450-001One of the dances performed during the show put on by students at St Mary’s for the UK visitors.

The many and varied performances moved some of the group to tears. After lunch the group split up and went around the classrooms, where they could see the students, aged from four to sixteen, at work. The visitors were encouraged to interact with the students, ask questions and see their workbooks, all of which had the most beautifully neat handwriting.

Hearing that St Mary’s School was in urgent need of IT equipment, which was essential for the school curriculum for older students, the two groups collectively and generously donated just under £5,500 to the foundation for the purchase of more computers.

Apart from visiting St Mary’s School, John arranged for both groups to experience India, a country he has visited many times since 1985. This included a trip to a somewhat remote game reserve, a private visit to a tea garden to see how the famous Darjeeling tea is grown, a day on the famous Darjeeling toy train and dinner at the historic Raj-era Windamere Hotel.

The second group, which enjoyed an extended stay, travelled to the far north-eastern state of Nagaland to witness the Hornbill Festival near Kohima, during which the local tribes come down from the hills for a 12-day celebration of their culture. Kohima is also known for its famous siege in 1944, when the Japanese army invaded India, catching the British defenders of this strategic ridge unawares. After 18 days of intense fighting, a relief force arrived in Kohima and the siege was successfully broken.

Other trustees of the foundation who joined John included his wife Jenny and Alice Edmonds. The foundation is keen to stress that the trustees paid for their trip to India in full themselves.