Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love & Care

Oh India & Kolkata how I miss you! It's been a while but something continues to be an earbug in my mind from our nightly reflections, conversations, interactions, and experiences. I can't shake it!

"Attention is love." & "Love and care are humanity's basic needs."

Everything, everywhere since being back reminds me of this love and care that vibrates throughout our days-no matter what continent you're on.

Watching a mother hold her child on her hip while talking with another adult. Seeing friends interact and laugh together. Hearing a child ask for help with something. Being asked, "How are you?" The creation and distribution of food. Gardens. A dog slurping water from the lake. Touch. Tears and another comforting those tears. Hearing someone ask the grocery store cashier how their day is. Acts of Kindness. Conversation. Company.

Love and care vibrate through this world constantly. Let it strengthen you and let it come into you.

Be well,

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I carry your heart(I carry it in my heart)

We thank you, thank you, thank you,
We thank you, thank you, thank you.
We thank you, thank you, thank from our hearts.

We love you, love you, love you,
We love you, love you, love you.
We love you, love you, love you from our hearts.

We miss you, miss you, miss you,
We miss you, miss you, miss you.
We miss you, miss you, miss you from our hearts.

-farewell song from the Missionaries of Charity

Love + namaste

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

So long, farewell, to you my friends!

Hello everyone!

The day I was not looking forward to since the beginning of the trip finally arrived. My last day at Daya Dan. It amazes me how fast my time at Daya Dan flew by, and I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that tomorrow will be my last day in Kolkata, India before I return to Rhode Island. Although I am upset, I've decided that this will not be my last time here in India. Whether I return in the next couple years, five years, ten years, twenty years, who knows? But what I do know is that this won't be my last time here and when I do come back, it will be for a much longer time. Three weeks is not enough to enjoy all that Kokata has to offer, and it is definitely not enough time to volunteer at Daya Dan.

As usual my alarm went off at 6:15 am. However for some odd reason, I woke up with a tune in my head I hadn't heard in years. For all of you parents, students, teachers etc. out there who remember the show "Out of the Box" on the Disney Channel,  at the end of the show, a song was sung which went a little like this "So long, farewell, to you my friends. Goodbye for now, until we meet again..." These same lyrics were stuck in my head during my time at Daya Dan this morning. As I hugged Rama today and said goodbye to him, he looked at me and said "No come back?" to me. My heart sunk, I was very sad to leave him and felt guilty for coming into his life for three weeks and leaving him all of a sudden.. I told him I would come back one day, but it was goodbye for now until we met again in the future. He just nodded, said goodbye and went off to eat his egg curry and rice. I am not sure whether Rama fully understood the fact that I wasn't going to be there with him on Friday, but it made me happy to see him happy and to know that he is content with where he is living. As I walked to the metro station I reflected a lot on the lyrics of the song and my time at Daya Dan and India as a whole. I concluded that there is nothing about my experience at Daya Dan that I take back. Although my heart was set on Kalighat since the beginning, I am glad I said "Daya Dan" after the Sister asked me where I wanted to volunteer.

As I sit here writing these words, listening to the rain outside, I realized how much  I am going to miss Raul bossing me around and telling me to do laundry every morning, even after being there for three weeks. I will surely miss hearing Justice singing, watching Rama dancing lively to "Father Abraham" and I will miss all the joy, laughter, dancing and singing I got to experience with every single boy at Daya Dan. Tomorrow I will say so long, and farewell, to all the friends I've made in India. I will say goodbye for now to India, until we meet again in the near or distant future. My experiences with India and the people of India have just begun, and it fills me with excitement to wonder what it will be like the day I set foot in India again. I cannot wait for that day! As I finish my last post from India, I will like to thank all the audience who have followed us throughout our three week journey her in India, it means a lot to all of us!

Thank you and God bless,


Monday, June 4, 2012

I Just Met A Girl Named Maria

Hello everyone, Kirsten here. I apologize that this is my first time blogging and so late in the game! There has been so much going on here that it has been hard for me to think about blogging anything less than a novel (I promise this will be much shorter though)! Today we have officially been here for more than two weeks and time has certainly flown by. Over the past fifteen days we have been at Missionaries of Charity, Brother Xavier's orphanage, the Sabera Foundation, as well as Freeset and Sari Bari. All sites have been fascinating and have provided exposure to various approaches to helping those in need here in Kolkata. I had been feeling pretty good about adjusting to life in Kolkata and was chugging right along until I came down with something pretty bad last week and was out of the picture for about four days. It was amazing to be at the receiving end of so much help and love from those on our trip, so it was by no means a bad experience. Plus, all those long hours in bed gave me a lot of time to reflect! What struck out to me the most during this time was that, well, I am completely head over heels in love. It took me a few days to catch my affections, and it wasn't until I found myself attempting to serenade a girl named Maria to sleep with songs from the West Side Story that I realized that there most certainly has been a shift in my mindset and actions since arriving here. Everyday that we work with Missionaries of Charity, I go to Shanti Dan in the morning and Kalighat in the afternoon if I am not completely wiped out. At Shanti Dan I work with young women (although most of them are my age or older) who have physical or mental handicaps. My typical daily routine starts with wringing out laundry and bringing it to the roof to dry. From there I help teach various classes ranging from art, sensory and fine motor skills. After some chai and biscuits out in the courtyard, I am back ready to help with providing lunch, and then getting the girls ready for nap time, which involves a lot of changing and trips to the bathroom. It might sound pretty simple but it can be extremely challenging. I have been working a lot with two specific groups of girls- the "birds", who are higher functioning but often limited to wheelchairs, and the "rainbows", who are the most severely limited. Working with these girls has certainly made me realize just how precious and fragile life is, and at times it is overwhelming to see just how helpless some of these girls are. It has been so much more rewarding however, to be graced with the love and affection of so many. The second I walked into Shanti Dan I was greeted with a big hug and smile from a girl named Asha, who then spent the next ten minutes making Steph, a long term volunteer who was explaining our duties to us, Alicia, Meg, Ashley and I all hug one another. From here I went on to meet many other lovely girls who express so much love and compassion in the ways that they can despite their 'disabilities'. Telah, the woman I find everyday on the rooftop when I do laundry, will greet me every morning with a hug and bend to brush the tops of my feet, a deep sign of respect in India that I return. She then helps with putting up the laundry and will warm my heart with her constant laughter and her dance moves that could challenge any Bollywood star. Then there is Maria, who with Asha, will help with wringing laundry and bringing it to the rooftop. Maria likes to come up behind me and will look at me with her solemn eyes and give a quick nod with a jut of her chin. During class time she'll always pull a stool close to her and point at it (a direct command she must have picked up from the Massis) for me to sit with her. Maria can not talk, but she can put out a loud cackle if you do something funny, like when I discovered she can move at higher speeds and spent the next ten minutes chasing her around the compound. At nap time, Maria will look for me across the room and pat on her bed for me to come sit with her. Then, she'll pull my arm over her waist and we'll rest there together, watching the bustlings of the other volunteers and Massis around the room. Not all of the girls are as active as Maria but they nevertheless cease to amaze me with their tenderness. Poonam's bright eyes and smile will pull me in from across a room until I find myself in her embrace over her wheelchair. Once Radha gets ahold of your hand, there's no chance you're getting it back anytime soon. Sangita Mary and Nadira ar constantly grinning ear to ear and will laugh hysterically if you fall for one of their mischievous tricks. Although I struggle a lot with the lack of control of their bodies many of the Rainbows have, I still seem to find solace and so much connection when I am able to catch one of their eyes, like Nilima, even for a few seconds. I'm sure you must be finding it pretty easy now to understand why I am feeling so much infatuation. For me, it is pretty wild to think about because if you know me even a little bit, you know that I'm rather stoic and very rational. Touchy-feely is the last word you would use to describe me. It is thus very fascinating to see the transformation I have been going through. When I first found out I was going on the Kolkata service trip, I told myself that I wanted to come back with the capacity to love any and everyone, just like the many I had seen go on this trip before. I honestly don't think I truly understood what this meant though, for the words sounded idealistic and wispy washy to my ears. And so now, here I found myself, becoming that person I've always wanted to be and honestly, I'm scared. My bout of sickness lost me several days from Shanti Dan and with only three more days left in Kolkata, I'm a little terrified to think about leaving. In the past, goodbyes have never been a problem for me. People in my life have always come and gone, and I've always been okay with that. Now, things don't seem so simple. One day while I was sick, I remember coming to consciousness with Tennyson's "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," in my head. My first somewhat hilarious but groggy reaction was that I would rather knee Tennyson in the stomach for ever even thinking stupid things like that then to actually contemplate whether there was any truth to his statement (I think I then started dreaming about the best way to go about getting a time machine to do so...) Now of course, it is easy for me to see he is absolutely right. Although I may leave soon, others will soon come to Shanti Dan to fill my place. I also will go on and continue to have little, beautiful encounters with many people to come. That is the beauty of life and the beauty of service, and I am thankful for daily reminders of this. So for now, I think I will continue to sing love songs and will wait to see what next comes my way.

Saris Bring Freedom and Hope

Sonagacchi many know to be the brothel documented in the documentary "Born Into Brothels". Being here, the word Sonagacchi has taken a very different meaning for me.

I have seen this documentary many times and hope if you're reading this an haven't watched it, to somehow get a hold of seeing it. It puts sex trafficking into context and highlights the stressors families living in the trade deal with day in and day out. From having no freedom of choice or expression, to the reality that these women want much more for their children who are born into an environment such as Sonagacchi. Please take the time to watch it as our group has had many discussions and direct interactions with women who come directly from this area and have been deeply moved by the reality of it all.

The business Freeset Global (freesetglobal.com) has allowed our group (and some other volunteer friends we have picked up along the way!) to tour and continue to volunteer regularly in their homey "factory" where jute bags, organic cotton bags and screen printed tee-shirts are constantly being produced between the hours of 10-5, 5:30-7pm by women, aged 16+, who come directly from the red light district a few square miles from the company's home base.

I have always had an eye for witnessing beautiful, creative moments, but nothing in my life thus far has struck me so strongly than the beauty of hundreds of women crafting for the simple notion of having some freedom. Among them lie hundreds of saris strewn about their space to be refurbished into fair-trade products being sold internationally. As I sit meditating, while snipping loose threads off of the finished products, I can't help but craft stories in my head of these women. The language barrier has brought me as far as knowing how they are, how old they are, and what their name is, but I crave to know more. I crave to know their life journey and how they came into this stage of freedom to now be using their bodies and minds in such a positive, productive way. But I am simply comforted by their gentle head nods, smiles, locked eye contact, and generous notions to share their steaming chai at the 20 minute break with my sweat pouring, soaked body! They have a peace about them that is unlike anything I have witnessed before.

The women work in a multi-story, open air building with many rooms off the sides of the basic square structure-sewing, cutting, measuring, screen printing, and finishing the products that have set them free. There is also a staffed nursery within the building where the women can leave their children for the day or be the nursery caretakers if crafting isn't their thing. The founders have created a system where the women they employ are taken from the trade during the day hours to work for Freeset, but are not forced to leave their "home" back in the brothel as it would open up a spot/room for another woman to fill and not put a stop to the vicious cycle of sex trafficking. The women are paid fair wages, a pension, benefits such as dental and health care, provided a space for childcare during work, and what I see to be a huge perk...sisterhood. They are not alone in this effort to make a change in their lives, they are among their sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, friends and those they have always lived alongside. The air in this "factory" (as you can see I hate calling it that because it certainly doesn't feel like one on my terms...) seeps with joy, life, and hope. Watching the women interact throughout their various tasks is life-giving to myself to witness and I can only imagine is life-giving for them to be a part of. What a beautiful way for business, craft, and a celebration of their identity to be shared with the world and each other by reusing saris...something so meaningful and a part of their inner makeups as Indian women.

Be well,


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cultural Influence

Today, we got to see the side of India that most Westerners come for, the tourist side. We got to visit a few temples, and other places of interest that really showed how deep and beautiful the Indian culture truly is.

The first thing site that we saw that really stuck out to me was the (or is it a) Jain Temple. It was absolutely beautiful. The outside was stunning with gardens and numerous fountains and statues of different gods and animals. To enter the temple we had to take our shoes off and, like most religious sites in India, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple. As we all walked in, you could literally hear everyone gasp for their breathe. It was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been inside of. The entire interior was decorated in countless mirrors. In the spaces where there were no mirrors there was mosaic tiling that covered every square inch of the place. Each "tile" had to be individually placed and the patterns were something to marvel at. It really was breathe taking.

Another site we got to see was the Victoria Memorial. It is another beautiful state house looking building set on more than a few acres of an equally as beautiful park. The building itself is massive and the inside is a museum of India's history. Due to the heat, we didn't get to stay as long as I would have liked, but I was able to at least see the whole building. There were so many paintings to look at, blurbs to read, and other interesting artifacts, that one could spend an entire day there and probably not see it all.

While we were at the Memorial, taking pictures outside, something funny began to happen. Indian men, women, and teens, kept asking us to take pictures with them and their family. It was kind of awkward posing with these random people and we were all a little confused as to why everyone wanted to take pictures with us...but then it dawned on us. Many people here idolize the West. One man while talking with someone else in the group, actually said that this particular group member was beautiful because he was white, while he (the Indian) man was ugly because he was black/darker. Is horrible to think that this is how some people view themselves. If there is one thing this trip has taught me, it's that everyone is beautiful no matter what.

As nice as the day sounds there was one part of it that really kicked me in the gut. On our tour, we got taken to a mall in Kolkata, nt far from where we are staying. This mall, is exactly like the countless ones that we have in he US. I have frequented malls like this for the majority of my life, never thinking twice about going in and spending some money. Tis time though, was MUCH different.

As soon as we set foot in the place I was disgusted. Five stories of air conditioned shiny glass store fronts. Fifty different types of jeans and expensive jewelry coupled with a fully functioning food court on the highest floor. My first thoughts, "What the ****...?" Literally right across the street of this mall there were people sleeping on the sidewalk on nothing more than a thin blanket, using the sack of whatever they were carrying as a pillow. And here, right across the street is a five story mall filled with useless and nonessential crap. Reverse culture shock to the extreme. It disgusts me that places like this exist right across eye steer from absolute poverty. You couldn't even leave the parking lot without seeing a mound of trash at the mall's gates. There were even security guards at the mall's front whom, I'm sure, would turn away the average person who we interact with on a day to day basis on the streets. This is obviously influenced directly by US! Western culture. The majority of clothes in the mall were all very western...hardly any Indian attire.
I never realized how much I personally affected he rest of the world by simply living out my last day to day life. We all have such an influence that we are totally unaware of. It is mind blowing. That is what I learned today. --Brian Meloche

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tell your story walking

The small older man spots a clan of us coming out of the corner of his eye and immediately drops the Times of India newspaper he had been eagerly reading with furrowed brow. His whole face turns into a smile and he picks up the funny little Indian violin and quickly begins to play for us. There is a basket of such instruments seated next to him. I have seen him several times, trying to play to our purchasing satisfaction. The clarinet man does a similar show when we exit Blue Sky Cafe each night. The street interactions are a truly genuine part of the Kolkata experience, and some are more favorable than others.

The begging is difficult. You can't really walk down our street without it happening. It's incredibly hard to tell another human that you will not help them, even when we know that our 10 or 20 rupee note is probably not going to them anyway, but rather to become a part of the deceptive web of professional begging that we've learned is so vital on Sudder Street. We know further that even if it were going to the beggars themselves, we probably wouldn't be able to actually fix any of Sudder Street's beggars' lives with our contributions. We know that to survive humans have to advocate for themselves beyond begging (i.e. get to a shelter, utilize aid agencies, etc), but even knowing makes it a tough interaction. You almost can't help but be wildly tempted to pull out your wallet when a small boy, holding his small brother, follows you for three blocks saying, "Aunty, baby want milk, milk for baby, Aunty, milk baby." I turn the corner to the Astoria with tears welling in my eyes that I can't let him see. I think to myself, "I thought you had figured out how to rationalize this, I thought you had separated your head and your heart for these interactions and could stand by what you know." I am ashamed of myself and of the world - my world - the world of the white conqueror, the microwave and the free market; which created this type of scene. It's worse because the disappointment in his eyes makes me feel like even though he is very young, he already understands the sad reality of his life. He doesn't want to be doing this, either. And he knows what we both know, that neither of us have figured out yet how to make it better.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gaining More Than I Can Give

Hello everyone!
Two weeks in and I've finally gotten around to writing in our blog! I can't believe we've been here for two weeks. The fact that at this time next Friday I will be in a plane heading back to the U.S.A. is crazy to me. When I first got here I was overwhelmed thinking that I would be away from home in a foreign country, experiencing discomforts that I certainly am not used to for 3 weeks. Two weeks has flown by, however, and I know the next week will too. While it took me longer than I thought to adjust to these crazy weather conditions and food I'm not used to, I'm really starting to embrace Indian culture as best as I can!

I've been working at Prem Dan, the home for women who have mental illnesses as well as terminal illnesses. Working with those women has been an absolute delight. They teach me to be happy no matter what I'm facing. Seeing them be able to smile through everything has really inspired me to not take life so seriously and to really embrace life and the love around me. I will miss those women dearly. Doing laundry by hand each morning there maybe not so much.

Our group has also been working with Brother Xavier's school, a school that puts kids back on their feet in an academic setting and gets them ready for the real world when they are an adult. I've met two very sweet girls. One of them is 8 years old and the other is 9 years old. The first day I walked into the gates of their section of the school, they immediately latched onto my two open hands and commenced to show me around their area. As females, we are called "Auntie" every day no matter where we are working, mostly as identification since there is a little bit of a language barrier. Having these two girls call me Auntie compared to the adults we work with, though, was different. It was very touching and I felt so loved. One of the girls sat me down on her bed and started wiping the sweat from my forehead and told me that I needed to lay down because I was tired. It brought tears to my eyes that someone so small could encompass so much love and compassion for a stranger. It's something I've been striving for and after 21 years, I'm positive this little 8 year old has what I've been in search of. I'm definitely learning a lot from her. It was such an odd change, though, from what I've been working with (doing laundry, caring for the women at Prem Dan, etc.) to actually be cared for myself. Here I am sitting at the foot of this child's bed getting so much love when I came there to be of service to her. It seemed a little backwards but I truly gained a lot from it.  I was surprised that when we returned to Brother Xavier's school that those same two girls recognized me and jumped into my arms when I walked through the gates again. I never thought that in a city full of so many people that I would make such a wonderful connection with someone.

It's crazy to see the progression our group has made. We are tackling the heat waves and sweat and truly adapting to a culture that is just about opposite of ours. I'm pretty sure would can now sleep through anything as well! Between car horns, the call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. every morning, and people yelling at all hours of the night, you learn that all you need is a flat place to lay down to allow yourself to drift into peace and quiet.

I'm not sure what this next week has in store for us, but I know that we all will be holding onto our last few days together in this beautiful country.  The memories I've gained from interacting with the women at Prem Dan, the volunteers at the Mother House, the guys that work at Blue Sky Cafe (where we eat all of our meals) who are slowly attempting to teach me Bengali, and the various sights and smells we walk through every day are ones that I will cherish forever. I thought that I would be coming to Kolkata to help change the lives of those here, but I really think they all have made much more of an impression on me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I See It In Your Eyes...


I can finally say that I am slowly becoming accustomed to life in Kolkata. The heat doesn't affect me as much as It used to and I've becomed "numb" to the sights and smells that are part of everyday life in the city. This past Saturday, after spending an awesome morning at Daya Dan with Rama and the other children, I decided to volunteer at Kalighat, the home of the sick and the dying. Kirsten and I, along with three other volunteers, Fabio, Joaquin, and Izzy met up at 2:30 and took an auto-rickshaw to a spot where the rickshaw could no longer go. In order to get to Kalighat from where we were dropped off, we had to walk through a slum. Walking through a slum was something I was not expecting to do here in India. Walking through as little boys and girls played with the street dogs, their parents curiously watching us from their makeshift homes and toddlers running around naked is haunting and surreal. After a ten minute walk we arrived at the front gates.

Upon entering Kalighat, I was immediately asked to help clean and clothe three men that had soiled themselves. I had no time to process what was about to happen, what I was about to do, I was nervous of doing it alone. I thought to myself "It's my first day here, my first few moments here, and the Sisters expect me to do this the right way?" Luckily for me Joaquin had volunteered at Kalighat before and decided to help me with the task. We entered the dimly lit room and walked past the rows of beds to the corner where the three men were waiting for us. We began to clean and clothe them and before I knew it, it was done. One of my "fears" I guess you could say, about going to Kalighat was to be put in a situation where I was required to clean someone who had soiled themselves. It's not that I am easily grossed out, because I am not, but I guess it was the action of actually doing it. It's hard to disconnect yourself from everything around you and simply do such a difficult task, it is surely easier said than done. However, I found a way to somehow pull through it do what was asked of me. Needless to say, it felt good knowing that I had conquered one of my small fears about Kalighat.

Shortly after, A man asked me to take him around the compound, he was in a wheelchair and had no movement in his body. I sat next to him after about ten minutes of me taking him around the garden. I introduced myself, and tried to get him to talk and tell me his name. He looked at me right in the eyes and my heart sunk. I had seen similar eyes before. The sadness, desperation and frustration that I saw in his eyes were the same emotions I had seen in my uncles eyes about four years earlier. My uncle George had been a victim of ALS, a horrible disease that slowly kills all muscle activity in the body, ultimately leading in death after the lungs, heart and diaphragm are unable to properly function. I saw how badly the man wanted to communicate with me, but for some reason couldn't. I knew he was frustrated, I knew he was upset and seeing that in his eyes broke my heart as I remembered the numerous times my uncle had grown frustrated with himself, my mother, grandmother, and myself for not being able to understand him. I grabbed his hand as my eyes began to fill with tears and told him it was fine and that everything was going to be okay. I prayed silently in my head as I held his hands, and smiled at him when I opened my eyes. I continued to take him around the compound for about twenty minutes after that. It was hard for me not to see my uncle in this man, I couldn't help but to think of the numerous times I had to wheel my uncle around places, or the times when I had to help my grandmother feed or change him. It was hard keeping all my emotions in but I had to be strong for all the men at Kalighat. I was there to serve and do my best, and knowing that my uncle would be proud of what I was doing, I pulled through the afternoon and was able to successfully complete my first day at Kalighat, something I was unsure of in the beginning.

Take care,


Cheers with Chai!

    Today at Prem Dan during chai time I visited one of my favorite friends. She is an old woman with gentle wrinkled hands that like to be wrapped around my fingers. I make sure that I go and visit her at least once during my morning serving. As I walked over to her area today for a second time I noticed that she was cheering a friend of hers who was sitting across the room from her. The two were raising their cups of chai to the other and nodding in agreement. It was the most beautiful example of friendship even in a place that can be very stressful at times for these women. I have had the chance to witness a few exchanges just like this between old friends at Prem Dan over the past week. It reminds me how important friendships are and how they can even brighten an unfavorable situation. I make sure every day that I go and visit her and get her to smile her wide gummy smile. I recently have begun talking to her more even though we can't understand one another. It's the simple things like a smile or holding hands that can say so much more in the absence of words.I value my mornings with these women at Prem Dan as they constantly inspire me to pursue my passion. Their strength and welcoming loving nature should be shared with the world and I hope to do that even in the smallest ways.
 Much love,  Beth.