The Revd Sarah Miller shares a fourth reflection from her USPG Journey With Us placement in Madurai, India.
I left Madurai at the end of April for the Nilgiri Hills, where I have had a rich and exciting four weeks discovering new communities and rediscovering people and places associated with my family history. For the first two weeks I was at Ooty, a hill station high up in the hills, where the morning air was sharp and fresh with the scent of eucalyptus. I stayed at Hebron School, which my two elder brothers attended in the 1960s when my parents were missionaries in Andhra Pradesh. My brothers were born in India along with my sister and me. Hebron is now an international boarding school with 360 pupils from around the world, most of whose parents are engaged in Christian mission work; the staff are from several different countries including India, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Germany.
I enjoyed getting involved in the school community which was exceptionally welcoming and friendly and full of youthful energy and enthusiasm. The staff room and dining room were good places for animated conversations about Indian culture, academic life, faith, music…I joined one of the school families for a trip to Bandipur Tiger Reserve and we spotted a large tiger in the evening sun, cooling off in a pool, swishing its tail in the water. The drive to Bandipur was spectacular on mountain roads with steep hair-pin bends and magnificent views of the distant plains.
After Ooty I spent a further two weeks in Kotagiri, a smaller, quieter Nilgiri hill station. I was based at the Kotagiri Medical Fellowship Hospital where my Danish godmother, Dr Lydia Herlufsen spent nearly thirty years from 1941 building up healthcare provision for local people, including outreach clinics for the remote Nilgiri tribal communities. I was able to meet retired nursing staff who remembered Dr Lydia well, it was wonderful to hear their memories. KMF is still serving the rural community; a two day asthma and respiratory camp was held while I was there, giving local people the opportunity to consult a specialist doctor and support staff from Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore and get a diagnosis, medicine and advice on managing their condition.
When my family was in Andhra Pradesh we had our annual holiday each May in Kotagiri; a retired priest and local historian, Revd Philip Mulley helped me find the bungalows we used to stay in. On May 22nd, the anniversary of my baptism, I visited St Luke’s Church, Kotagiri where I was baptised by my father, Revd Jeffery Miller in 1966. The current pastor, Revd Jeri Rajkumar, found the entry in the baptism register, written in my father’s own hand. Directly below, the emergency baptism of a baby at the KMF Hospital was recorded and signed by Dr Lydia. It was moving to see both entries together.
Another highlight was visiting Radio Kotagiri, the local community station. This is located within the Keystone Foundation, which promotes economic development and conservation in the Nilgiri Hills. I spent two fascinating mornings with Radio Kotagiri staff, hearing about their work and seeing a programme broadcast live; a safety officer was interviewed over the telephone about safety in the workplace. Programme content reflects local needs and interests and includes agriculture, health, education, food and conservation. Staff do regular field trips to rural tribal communities to make recordings and involve local people in making programmes. I was interviewed about my past involvement in community radio in Manchester and my passion was reignited. Radio is such a powerful and simple way of giving communities a voice.