Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Poorest City in the World-Calcutta

A university professor recounts his trip to Calcutta, India, with a group of 20 students who had volunteered to spend two weeks working for the Sisters of Charity. Arriving at the airport in Calcutta, the professor and students had their first taste of what awaited them in this foreign land. The air was sultry, filled with the smell of the city; the public square in front of the airport a jumble of people and rickshaws moving quickly about. They took a bus to the Mother House of the order and after some difficulty arrived at their destination. .

The next  day, the cultural indoctrination continued in earnest. With a temperature over 38 Celsius, they were all sweating profusely. A city of more than 10 million, the poorest city in the world, Calcutta is a stark reminder of the poverty in many parts of the world: people sleeping on the sides of streets, beggars approaching foreigners with outstretched hands, young children carrying babies asking for alms, people drinking unclean water from pumps, street vendors with their merchandiize in no discernible order, revered cows rambling unattended along the streets, dogs sleeping together with their owner, red communist banners fluttering in the occasional breeze, and, of course, the untouchables--all of it leaving an unforgettable impression on the professor and his students.

The spirit of Blessed Teresa (1910-1997) still moves many from all  over the world to come for some short period of time to continue the work she  started. The day at the Mother House starts with a prayer and a hymn, and then each group is given their assignment. The professor's group was assigned to a sanatorium housing the terminally sick, the handicapped, orphans and homeless women. It was a busy  two weeks for the Korean volunteers.

They were in Calucutta for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Teresa, which was celebrated in the chapel, mostly with the volunteers in attendance. It was an emotional time for the students, as it must have been for many others in India. She is greatly respected by the people of Calcutta, although the city is 80% Hindu. She told them, "You pray to your God, and I will pray for you to my God." She  sacrificed herself for humanity:  willing to undergo the dark night for over half a century taking care of her sisters and brothers in the most poverty stricken city of the world. Those who have volunteered at the Mother House, on returning home know that they have not only helped others but helped themselves--now conscious of a  world that is mostly unknown to many of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment