General Features

Raphael: a new beginning

Thursday 29 November 2012

EARLIER this year, Kairos Catholic Journal published a story about Klibur Domin, a facility established by Ryder-Cheshire Australia in East Timor to provide long-term care for people who were sick or suffering from physical and mental disabilities (Vol. 23, Issue 6). In the following story, Carolyn Tapley reflects on another Ryder-Cheshire community, Raphael, founded at Dehra Dun in northern India, in 1959.

The Archangel Raphael supervises healers and healing for all Earth’s population.

In 1956, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire (later, Baron Cheshire of Woodhall), educated at Stowe and Merton College, Oxford, met Sue Ryder (later, Baroness Ryder of Warsaw CMG OBE), who at the time had earned a name for her charitable work in Poland among survivors of concentration camps after World War II. Both had converted to Roman Catholicism at separate times in their lives and their joint mission for the relief of suffering was formed to undertake projects mainly in the developing world. Cheshire held honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Birmingham. Kent and Nottingham and from Manchester Polytech. He won the Victoria Cross in 1944 as an RAF pilot for four years of valour, during which he had already won the DSO and two Bars and the DFC. He took a drop in rank to command 617 Squadron of Dam Busters fame.

He was the official British observer of the dropping of the world’s second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki on 15 August 1945. Although filled with horror, he held to his belief that strength was vital to peace.

The Order of Merit, with which he was invested in 1981, marked the many years he spent in peacetime devoted to the welfare of disabled people. The Cheshire Homes for the disabled are his monument. He was made a life peer in 1991 and was also a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great. Besides Bomber pilot (1943), he wrote several other books, including Pilgrimage to the Shroud (1956), The Face of Victory (1961), The Hidden World (1981) and The Light of Many Suns (1985), this last to mark the 40th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While Cheshire was visiting Dehradun, northern India, he came across a small community living in the Rispana riverbed. These people were afflicted with leprosy and he took it on himself to help these people. Today when we walk through the gateway to this place we come to an arch that displays the word ‘Raphael’ and we discover a prospering community. Ryder, who married Cheshire in 1959, was instrumental in the naming of this community.

In 1992, aged 74, Lord Cheshire died of motor neurone disease and Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster, described Cheshire as being “in love with God”.

“Leonard Cheshire,” he said, “lived in a radical manner that twofold imperative of the Gospel: to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.” He paid tribute to his “courage beyond compare, a dedication that knew no limits, a generosity that knew no rest”. “He allowed God into his life and this had transformed him.”
The Cardinal reflected: “Although he is no longer with us, yet he lives on in the lives that he has touched, and there are thousands of these … everyone was his neighbour, whether close at home or far-away abroad; whether rich or poor, self-reliant or dependent on others. That explains the love and respect which he had for each person. That is why there are Cheshire and Ryder Homes globally.”

Today Raphael is a celebration of freedom, symbolising an end to poverty and hunger, a new beginning signifying renewal, as well as change.
Many Australians and New Zealanders had the privilege of meeting Cheshire and Ryder on their visits to our countries. Today, Raphael is well known to many Australians and New Zealanders who contribute to the success of this community through fundraising efforts and working as volunteers on the Raphael campus. Our fridge doors are evidence of this, with our fridge magnets holding photos of the children we sponsor and tickets we have bought supporting our next fundraiser.

The campus comprises a TB hospital, a day centre and residential care for those with severe disabilities, a leper colony, and a boarding hostel for mainstream children who attend school outside the Raphael compound. There is a chronic ward for adults and a special education department, including rehabilitative workshops that teach weaving, candle-making and block-printing. The resource centre holds training programs and workshops for staff of Raphael and community groups.

Today Raphael integrates children with disabilities into the mainstream school. This partnership continues to be a positive learning process for both the school and the child with the disability. The success of this program can be seen when classes are taken on a school camp. Earlier this year 30 children and residents from Raphael attended the state sports meet at Haridwar. Few medals were won but everyone had lots of fun and participated to their best capacity and fell asleep on the bus coming home. As we all know, it is not about the winning but how we play the game.

Four young women with disabilities live in Barbara Cottage on the Raphael compound. They are self-sufficient and love running their own household—cooking, cleaning, sewing and knitting.

Men and woman who were once residents of Raphael and have benefited from its fruits have returned as staff and management.

When I reflect on my own personal experiences of the many earthquakes that destroyed my beautiful home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, the times when I really struggled mentally come to mind. It was during those moments that I continually reminded myself of the real reason I fundraise for Raphael.
On my first visit to Raphael I was scared of some of the disabilities and deformities I saw. I can remember the first time I was taken to the leper colony. I had a staff member from Raphael showing me around and introducing me to the residents and interpreting for me.

I was introduced to a woman who had severe deformities from leprosy and her hands were eaten away by the gangrene. To my horror she came up to me and tried to hug me. She spoke to the interpreter and I asked what she had said. “Do you really want to know what she said?” the interpreter asked. I said: “Yes.” “She said, ‘ma’am, your tummy is fat’.” I was aghast and replied: “Well, tell her, her arms are too short.” The interpreter spoke to the woman and then we all burst into laughter.

At that moment the spell was broken and I walked out of my world and into hers. To this day I am in awe of these beautiful people, for they have that something ‘special’ where their eyes sparkle like jewels, something I do not see too often in the Western world.

It is because of this I am totally committed to the longevity of the Ryder Cheshire Foundation.

Carolyn Tapley lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Peter Newton AO at or call 9894 3191.

Photos courtesy of Carolyn Tapley