'Surrenden' – a place of care-fullness
by Commissioner Robin Dunster, Chief of the Staff
TROUPES of Nilgiri Langur monkeys sat by the roadside, staring expectantly, as we drove around the hairpin bends of the lofty hills after which the monkeys are named. Infants frolicked around their mothers. Some mischeviously scampered around the dwellings and spice stalls that teetered on the edge of precipitous drops into the valleys below. Other adventurous individuals studied the intricacies of cars or stared at the ‘other monkey’ in motorbike mirrors.
|A typical scene on the streets of Coonoor|
|The Chief of the Staff (right) and Lieut-Colonel Edna Williams outside the conference centre|
|Solar panels provide power for hot water|
|Delegates and staff at the All-India Leaders Training Seminar |
|Water storage tanks ensure the rainy season helps provide water for the rest of the year|
|A Nilgiri Langur monkey takes a shine to a motorbike!|
We were on our way to Coonoor, a pretty little town at an altitude of 2,000 feet in Tamil Nadu in south India. Along the way we delighted in spectacular views of the plains of Coimbatore and the expansive tea estates of the region.
Our destination was ‘Surrenden’, the Salvation Army Conference Centre. At last I was to see places that I had heard about since my childhood. In the 1950s I was the sole child member of the Sydney Missionary Fellowship and thrilled to the stories that my father’s session mate, Noel Boag, would tell when – after seven years of absence – he returned on homeland furlough with his wife and four daughters. The girls were educated at the hill school, Hebron. They would join their parents for holidays in Coonoor and stay in the home that now forms the centrepiece of the conference centre. This was the location where, for a week, Lieut-Colonel Edna Williams and I would conduct the All-India Leaders Training Seminar.
A small, unique multi-faith team cared for the delegates and for us throughout our stay, under the leadership of Mr V. Samson Paul, Administrative Assistant at the Human Resources Development Conference Centre. They demonstrated a level of care that was exceptional.
Samson has clearly defined his objectives, aiming to provide a high-quality service to the guests through personal attention, flexibility in food service, cleanliness, entertainment facilities and by arranging local travel. He makes sure that guest requirements are met and that they are satisfied with the services provided using feedback mechanisms effectively.
Cost effectiveness is of major importance and is achieved through staff training and commitment, careful maintenance and use of machines, improvement of staff efficiency and comparison of cost-benefits between ‘Surrenden’ and its competitors.
It was a couple of days before we began to realise the full nature of the care-fullness of the centre in which we found ourselves. Not only were we, the people, being generously catered for, but also we were in the company of a man knowledgeable about and dedicated to the care of his environment. Samson teaches on a wide range of conservation issues and practises what he preaches. It was especially evident that animals, including guard dogs, are loved, valued and given careful attention.
‘Surrenden’ backs onto the Gymgana Nature Reserve. It boasts a complex rainwater harvesting system, solar heating, composting processes and beautifully maintained gardens in which all the plants are known by name and their natural qualities appreciated and, in many instances, utilised.
As in many parts of the world, fresh water resources are limited and unevenly distributed. When India gained independence in 1947 its dominant long-term objective was to build up its economy. For economic reconstruction and regeneration, agricultural development was to be accorded the highest priority. Because food production was to be substantially increased and had to keep pace with the expanding population it was essential to build up the grass-roots economy of this great country in which more than 80 per cent of the population depend on agriculture or agricultural-based activities for their livelihood.
The demand for water is an increasing phenomenon due to population and industrial growth, urbanisation and extensive farming as part of the green revolution. The demand for potable drinking water exceeds availability and in many places supplies have become polluted.
Besides the ‘Surrenden’ initiatives being beneficial to the centre, an example is being set for the surrounding community and for those who attend courses at the centre. Sloping roofs provide catchment for rainwater with systems for the separation and diversion of the first flush of water after the dry season and subsequent filtration and storage of supplies. Flat roofs support large solar panels for water heating. Excess municipal water supply is piped into storage tanks.
These well-thought-out measures save time, electricity and diesel fuel and reduce ongoing costs. They have other, less tangible, benefits of taking away some of the practical worries and stresses. The team at the centre has a real pride in its achievements, there is security for the future and hope for development.
Here truly is a model of care-fullness of God’s people and his creation. Surely God smiles on such an endeavour.
As Samson says: ‘When we do things with a “We-can-do-it” spirit we can see the change.’
Commissioner Robin Dunster is The Salvation Army’s Chief of the Staff – second-in-charge of the international movement