Leonard Cheshire was a Group Captain in the British Air Force during the 2nd World War. He was one of the team leaders of the British contingent, who were observers after the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation shattered him and he resigned from the Air Force to devote his life to the service of people. With this in mind he started Cheshire Homes all over the world.
Cheshire could not bear to see the plight of the disabled, leprosy affected, and destitute. It became his mission to provide lifelong care and shelter for them. The first Cheshire home was opened in 1955 in Mumbai, India.
Meanwhile, in England, Sue Ryder, a social activist, began serving wounded prisoners of war. Cheshire and Ryder crossed paths while in England. They were married in 1959 and decided to make their home in Dehradun, India.
They set up the Raphael Ryder-Cheshire International Centre named after the Archangel of Healing, Raphael. This centre was registered under the name of Ryder-Cheshire International Centre. Its mission was to provide relief for the suffering. Cheshire approached the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and asked to buy a piece of land. The land was identified and bought with foreign donations. Soon, a home for lepers came up. Soon after another home for mentally disabled was established.
Cheshire would walk the streets searching for beggars to convince them to stay at the home. They lived in tents initially until some generous funding led to the construction of a few houses. Slowly word got around and social workers started bringing destitute and ill people from all over.
In 1959, a project called ‘Leprosy Parentage’ was found to be mistreating the children in their care and was forced to close down. Cheshire set up a home for these and other displaced children. The primary criterion was that they be children of people with leprosy. These children received education, food and shelter.
Cheshire died in July 1992 after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease; Ryder died in November 2000. The world mourned the passing of two true servants of humanity. Cheshire commented upon his own grim diagnosis saying, “Now I am one of them (the disabled) too. At last I can fully begin to understand their problems, and know exactly what still needs to be done.”
In her 1992 Christmas Message, Queen Elizabeth II paid this special tribute to Leonard Cheshire: Perhaps this shining example of what a human being can achieve in a lifetime of dedication can inspire in the rest of us a belief in our own capacity to help others