We toured several Mother Teresa’s Homes in Kolkata. The five homes we toured reminded me of the Ramakrishna Mission, our temporary home in Kolkata, in the way that outside the walls of the center were bustling crowded chaos and inside was a friendly, peaceful sanctuary.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa
The first home was private although what we could tour was Mother Teresa’s tomb, a museum and artifact area and also a peak into her bedroom. I thought it was a perfect way to start the day since it provided us with her background, turns out I never had much of an education on who she was before then. Seems that most of my history lessons in school related to war and left little room for the world’s charitable heroes. It was enlightening to learn about her purpose and drive to help everyone in need, especially in a culture where “untouchables” were ignored so easily. What amazed me most in the museum was the poster of locations of Mother Teresa Homes around the world – including the United States and as close to my home as Denver, Colorado. She unconditionally loved and taught others how love can help transform people’s lives even when they are poor, when they are hungry and when they are dying.
“Live simply so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa
Looking into her bedroom I reflected on how she lived so simply, a clear indicator of how she was unselfish and entirely devoted to serving others. Mother wore the same blue and white sari each day and repaired her own sandals rather than purchasing new, she had artwork on her wall made by her own hand, small bed with a thin mattress, quaint wardrobe closet, desk and table. The room was smaller than my first college dormitory and was located at the top of the stairs centrally located in the building. Feeling a sense of her spirit in this way helped to prepare me for the rest of the tour.
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa
The second home we saw was an orphanage and center for people to come and get medication they could not afford. At first I noticed the music coming loudly from the upstairs of one of the buildings. When we walked in there were bright colors and blown up beach balls hanging from the ceiling. Past the entrance a large room held rows of cribs for infants. Upstairs was the room the music was playing, boys around the age of two were running back and forth across the room in fun. Most didn’t seem to notice or care about the visitors at the gate and a few curious little ones came to check us out. In other buildings were children with mental and physical health needs. It appeared some of the kids might have had developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and hearing or sight issues. These children ranged in very young to around twelve years old, the room had rows of both cribs and beds. Some children had severe needs and were completely crippled and immobile, these were difficult to witness. I found myself wondering how each of these children came to live at this Mother Teresa’s Home. Had their parents tried to care for them and what circumstances led to their decision to leave them?
Upon leaving this home, we waited outside the gates for our transportation to arrive. A pretty little girl in tattered clothes with a big smile came up and started begging my classmates and I for money. Having discussed what we all felt comfortable doing in this situation, as it happened so frequently, we opted to give food. I first observed Jesi giving her a granola bar; the girl took it and placed it behind her back to move on politely to my next classmate. Julia offered her another food item and again the girl placed it behind her back to step over to my next classmate in line. A man came by behind the girl and took the food from her hands, I assumed this was her father. While we were getting into the cars it appeared this girl’s parents were irate with her, maybe for not getting enough from us or for it not being money. They came to the vehicle window and spoke in an angry manner towards us and the girl. This situation was upset me to think how parents would exploit their children in this manner. I felt like it was a fitting time to witness this behavior, and realize how many of the children living in these homes being loved may have otherwise ended up begging on the streets like this little girl.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” – Mother Teresa
The third home we toured was for the dying and destitute adults. It had volunteers from all over the world who would help with cleaning, cooking and feeding responsibilities. Men were responsible for going out and picking people up off the streets and taking them to this home. All of the patients, including women, had shaved heads, many appeared mentally ill and some were incredibly frail. Two long rooms separated males and females, each room with a long path down the middle and cots lined up on either side. It was uncomfortable walking around not assisting in any way, all I could do was offer a smile to the woman as we passed. The way we toured felt like we were visiting a zoo and walking through an exhibit. These conditions were not comfortable and not dignified by Western standards, however, the alternative of dying alone and unloved on the streets of Kolkata are worse. The fourth home was no less depressing, it was specifically for mentally ill and handicap adults, although there was one young male patient appearing very young and out-of-place. His collarbone projecting through his body and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of future lie ahead for a boy like him.
“Joy is strength.” – Mother Teresa
The last Mother Teresa Home we visited was my favorite of the day since we were able to really interact with the children in the orphanage. The nun who showed us around was an obvious favorite of all the children in the yard since they all called to her and ran towards her when she was in their sight. She took us upstairs to where there were infants and toddlers. In one crib there was a tiny baby whose legs were so skinny it looked like her diaper would easily fall off. The toddlers were all friendly and jumped into my classmate’s arms. One older girl tapped my legs and waved hello. I knelt down to talk to her, she spoke a little English and was able to tell me she was 14 and couldn’t walk because of problems with her back. She told me she enjoys painting and pointed out a friend in the room. I asked her if she attends school at the Mother Teresa’s Home and she looked at me funny and replied no, as if I should have known she wouldn’t go to school. That made me wonder a little more about the homes and what happens to the children, especially if disabled, as they grow up and “age out of the system” as we might put it in the United States. At the end of the visit we passed out candy to children in the yard which Julia had brought from home for a special occasion such as this. We played for a while, some were able to communicate their names and gestured requests for what they wanted us to do with them like spin or go down the slide. It was a necessary to end that day on a positive note.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
The lessons I learned from one month in West Bengal I will continue processing for the rest of my life. And the people, the children and the conditions I witnessed in the Mother Teresa Homes was a day I will never forget. I felt a deep sense of compassion for everyone I saw. My judgement about this day was related to the Western standards for quality of life and how these homes were lacking, of course this was dismissing the fact that these homes far exceed the quality of life these individuals would have on the streets of Kolkata. And my sadness was about these individuals not having the same opportunities a lot of the world takes for granted.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Teresa
This post is the fourth part of my series about my summer traveling in India. I went with a group of students to study the social welfare systems in Kolkata, this month marks the fifth anniversary of the trip. I will continue posting about our adventures, programs we toured and paradoxes we struggled with this month in reflection of the trip that influenced me so greatly.