Heritage: The Alwaye Settlement is more than a school. Over a century old, this residential institution initially trained children in various trades along with the regular curriculum
For most people now the Alwaye Settlement is just another higher secondary school. But it is more than that. It, in fact, had a glorious past; a past long forgotten, a past that beckons attention.
It started off on a sprawling campus as a settlement for artisans engaged in trade such as carpentry, weaving, farming etc. They had a vast area of fertile farmlands, called the kommaram, irrigated profusely from a perennial spring, on which they grew paddy, sugarcane and mulberry.
They sold the paddy in the market. For the sugarcane they had a complete setup. They extracted the juice and manufactured jaggery. The jaggery balls were supposed to have sold like hot cakes.
And they grew silk worms on their mulberry bushes, gathered the cocoons for sale to the silk manufacturing industry. They had a cattle farm and ran a flourishing dairy industry. The carpenters here made furniture which had an unrivalled market. Their weaving industry boasted of manually operated looms which produced 100 per cent cotton fabric of unmatched quality.
The Settlement owes its origin to a group of young men with a Christian calling, mostly members of the faculty and student community of the Union Christian College, Aluva. They decided to work for children of the underprivileged. Deliberations were held and in the second decade of the twentieth century the foundation stone of the Alwaye Settlement was laid. Money came from well-wishers in India and England, land was bought and the Alwaye Settlement started in a humble way. Later, a boys’ home with free boarding facilities were added. The primary school came as an off shoot of the Settlement in 1927 and later grew into a middle school. The high school became functional in 1956. English medium instruction started in 1984 and the higher secondary school came into being in 2004.
History has it that the Maharaja of Cochin, impressed by the various educational and social activities taken up by the Settlement, was pleased to grant 199 acres of lease hold land at Chalakudy.
The school on the campus that catered to the children of the artisans living there also had resident children from other parts of Travancore. The Settlement had ‘gurukulam style’ cottages where the children stayed, about a dozen in each, under the care of a master and his family who lived with them in one portion of the cottage.
Girls were put up in a small cottage as their number was few, along with the warden and his family. Later, when more girl students got admitted, they acquired land near Mahilalayam School and made a regular girls’ home for them.
The children were trained in one of the trades, during their spare time. The rudiments of profitable agriculture were taught, land work was encouraged to teach dignity of labour, and hygiene was being imparted throughout. Thus, the whole curriculum was essentially practical. This was the mission that the Settlement stood for.
Rev. L. W. Hooper, who was on the faculty of the Union Christian College during its early years of existence, left his job to join the Settlement. He died in 1933, at the early age of 31. A chapel was built on the hilltop of the Settlement in his memory.
Like in the case of many institutions the Settlement ran into financial problems. It managed to survive the storm through the assistance provided by the Christian Children’s Fund of America (CCF). They visited the Settlement, was convinced about the good work it was doing, and agreed to extend the necessary financial help.
Most of the landed property that the Settlement had was turned into a rubber plantations with aid from the CCF. Gradually the CCF withdrew support realising that the Settlement had become self-sufficient. In course of time all other operations other than the school at the Settlement died a natural death.
The Settlement now functions under its Chairman M. C. Geevarghese, IPS (Retd.), the Manager O. V. Mathai, members of the Settlement Council and a team of dedicated staff. The present Principal Annie Philip proudly says, “Even now, the school maintains the efficiency, discipline and the vision it has always stood for. The school has produced a number of high calibre sportsmen and state-level athletes, good number of musicians and dancers, and NCC cadets. Children from all walks of life get admitted here, it has become a Higher Secondary School of the common kind. But, the old ideals continue.”
To anyone closely associated with the Settlement, there are quite a lot of powerful reminiscences to share. Chinnamma Philip, a student in the 1940s, says that the Settlement was a veritable paradise, where like-minded people worked together in untarnished harmony.
Annie David still enjoys an occasional visit to the Settlement, where her family stayed in one of the cottages, her father M.Thommen being the founding Headmaster of the Settlement School. The lush greenery of the place and the cool fresh air that they breathed over there are still dear to them as reminiscences of a happy childhood.