In 1967 Father Victor Van Bortel was assistant parish priest in the Ranchi Cathedral Parish. As a result of communal riots that year in Ranchi town, he found a large number of youngsters dropping out of school and living on the streets. He gathered a few of them in the parish premises as he wanted these children to get a change in life.
The number of boys increased and Father felt that God was calling him for a new mission: to start a home for poor boys. The Provincial Superior gave him permission to start such a home and that is how Kishor Nagar (Boys Town) was born.
In November 1969 he moved his flock to Samlong in a haunted house.
In January 1971 they settled in their current location in Bargawan.
There was nothing in Bargawan, only bushes and some trees. Everything had to be built from scratch. It looked hopeless, yet he persevered. For the first few months the boys stayed in tents. The buildings were constructed one at a time.
These were the pioneering days. Father was the son of a farmer. The family earned a living by cultivating vegetables. As a boy he had to interrupt his studies to help on the farm. From his childhood he experienced the hardship of life. With the stubbornness of a farmer he started to level the land, make the fields and set up an irrigation system.
In the beginning of the nineties when ATC Namkum had to close down most of its activities on account of labour unrest, Kishor Nagar boys took up the cultivation of the large fields and also guarded the property. The produce of the fields, both rice and wheat, were a great support in feeding the boys, whose numbers kept on increasing.
In the early days the boys were mainly from the urban areas of Ranchi, some of them picked up from the street or from remand homes. Gradually the number of boys from rural areas increased and today the majority comes from the villages.
In the first few years the children attended classes in different schools. The small boys walked all the way to Samlong to attend classes in Nirmala School. Some of the bigger boys went on bicycle to Ranchi to attend classes at St. John’s School or St. Aloysius School.
In 1974-75 a start was made with teaching for the lower classes (primary school) in the campus. Classes were held in the open air. By 1977 the construction of the classroom wing was taken up. From 1978 onwards the High School boys, instead of going to Ranchi, became regular students of the Kasturba High School at Kharsidagh. As this school was several kms away from Bargawan, a second hand bus was found to take the boys to school. In 1983 Kishor Nagar extended support to the Kasturba High School for the construction of a few classrooms to accommodate the boys of Kishor Nagar.
From 1980 a full primary section with classes up to standard 6 was started on the premises and with permission of Block Officials the students were allowed to write the exam at the local school run by the block administration and the same school issued the School leaving certificate required for joining the High School at Kharsidagh.
For three years, from 1971till 1974, the high boys attended classes at the Government Project High School at Namkum. However there was very little teaching and therefore from 1974 Kishor Nagar started regular classes for the High school students in the campus. For the first few years the students wrote the 10th class final examination (matriculation) from Assisi School at Samlong as Private Candidates. From 2001 onwards the students appeared for the Matriculation Examination as private candidates from Kasturba High School.
Fr. Van Bortel was a charismatic personality, totally committed to his work; he never took a holiday and he lived a life of poverty. Unfortunately he did not take proper care of his health. He died on the 18th of January 2010 of TB. At the time of his death, Kishor Nagar was a family of 800 boys. Fr. Vic was their BABA, a real father. At their request he was buried at the centre of KN. He was a man of God, a man of strong faith and total trust in God. He was a man of prayer. This is very clear from some of the diaries, which we found in his room after his death.
Father Van Bortel is buried here and his spirit of humble service and total dedication continues to inspire us and we feel his presence.
Every year the old students gather at Kishor Nagar on the Sunday after the 18th of January to observe anniversary of Father’s death. Usually about 70 to 80 old boys are present, some with their families. It is a half day programme, starting with prayer, followed by breakfast and a meeting. They are deeply attached to Kishor Nagar. They share their experiences and feelings:”we received so much here in KN. It was our home. What we are today is all thanks to KN. We want to give back something to KN. There and then all those present give a financial contribution.
By his simple way of life and his intense prayer life Fr. Van Bortel made a deep impact on the people who came in contact with him. Even today, some doctors in Ranchi continue to offer free medical services to our boys. We receive other help also in terms of blankets for the cold winter months, clothes and occasionally food items.
There is so far not complete record of the number of boys who have passed through KN, but one thing we know: you find them in many parts of India. There are many in Kolkata, some working in the railways; some are in Delhi and even in Chennai. Many have joined the police force and the armed forces. A good number are in good positions: Mr. Vijay Kachhap is Deputy Commander in the Border Security Force. Mr. Chibra Toppo is a Faculty in Birsa Agricultural University. One of old boys, Mr. Bandhu Tirkey, has been the Education Minister in the State of Jharkhand.