Notes from the Field: India, Summer 2001
"Everyday that I go to Daya Dan I expect two things: laughter and chaos," said Val Abney ’02. "I have yet to be disappointed. About half of the children here are blind and what they are capable of still surprises me. They are so bright and beautiful. One boy in particular, Govinda, has won my heart. He has enormous brown eyes that are very wise and expressive. They are his best form of communication, as he is unable to speak clearly and cannot do anything by himself. His smile makes each day worthwhile."
Arjune [dancing] is blind and has trouble with the muscles in his legs," said Karyn Fied ’03. "He loves to dance, sing, talk, and share with us. He is very smart and can recite the months of the year, ABCs, numbers, and days of the week. Sudip [at the piano] is very musical and enjoys playing the drums and small piano. He has a beautiful voice and a great memory for songs. He also has a great smile and loves to laugh." Karyn has fallen in love with the children at Daya Dan, and is incredibly gifted at working with their unique needs, seeing and developing the strengths of each child.
John Skoby ’03 and Muna sat together on the front steps to Daya Dan. Muna is very mature, and plays the role of "Father of Daya Dan." He knows all the children and their needs and is a big help. He speaks Hindi, Bengali, and English, and often translates for us. John has had a difficult time deciding where to devote his time, as he sees incredible needs everywhere. Here at Daya Dan the children flock to him as one of the few male volunteers. John doesn't seem to mind the heat as much as the rest of us, and can continue playing with the children long after all others have taken a break.
Stephanie Cook ’04 spent time with Mongal. He requires constant individual attention due to his severe condition. Mongal is a precocious eight-year-old who lacks mobility of his entire body, with the exception of slight movement in his right arm. He cannot even hold his head up without assistance. However, he speaks English well and has an active imagination. One of his favorite things to do is sit in the car with Stephanie and pretend they are going on an adventure together. Stephanie’s huge heart is evident in everything she does.
"Working with the children at Daya Dan has taught me so much," said Jenny Hobbs ’01. "Although they are each limited by their handicaps, it is amazing to see the joy they find through their perspective on life. Each day brings new adventures, even if it is something as simple as taking them on a walk down the street. Hearing the stories of the children has made me more determined to show them that they are loved. Talking to another volunteer, I learned that parents intentionally blinded some of these children in an attempt to bring in more money on the streets. Now they live at Daya Dan, they go to school, play, and are simply allowed to be children. Their smiles are beautiful and it is a privilege to care for them."
Part Two: A glimpse at Kalighat, a home for the dying
Karyn Feid ’02 comforted one of the women of Kalighat. As is common with many of the patients there, she has no family outside of the home and is desperately in need of love and acceptance. We have found that most of the patients respond very well to the kind of special attention that we are able to offer. "I don't know this woman's name," said Feid. "We only know that she is blinded by cataracts and is bedridden. But, I know she has a beautiful smile and a soft touch, as we sit an hold each other and rock on her bed. When I sing softly in her ear, I know I am singing to Jesus. Kalighat has a peaceful feeling and it's a very fulfilling time when I spend a morning there!"
Jonathan Oliva ’02 quickly formed a tight bond with this man, whom he endearingly refers to as "Captain." He has a difficult time communicating, but over the course of several days we were able to figure out that he was a captain of a small ship at some time in his life. It is the highlight of Jonathan's day to spend time with Captain. Jonathan is particularly gifted with patience and gentleness as he moves from bed to bed providing physical therapy to each patient. He is sure to save Captain for last so that he can spend some quality time with him.
"At first I was afraid of Kalighat, but now I can't think of being anywhere else," said Carissa Raisbeck ’02. "Although the women there are fragile and slowly dying, they are the most beautiful women I've ever seen! In the midst of their pain they always manage to return my smiles. It's hard to look at them and know they are in their finals stages of death. I am slowly beginning to understand Jesus' deep and profound love. He loves them all so much, yet at the same time it must break his heart to watch them suffer. The women at Kalighat are just like you and I. We are all desperately in need of love and hope. God is definitely at work in Kalighat, and also in my heart."
Jay Haddix ’02 has enjoyed working day after day with this particular patient, Mahesh Crondro. He had suffered from a rather severe stroke. Jay has spent significant time each day working his left side, and already he has seen incredible improvement! Through this relationship Jay has learned a lot about determination and perseverance.
"I met ‘Rose’ my first day at Kalighat," said Lori Dunning ’02. "While walking past her cot I noticed her head buried in a damp pillow. I knelt down beside her, caressed her shaved head, and prayed over her. Rose turned her head toward me, grabbed my hand and began to talk about the miserable pain that she was in. I would respond in English as she spoke in Bengali. Despite the language barrier, there was a genuine understanding. Everyday after her lunch I massage Rose with oil as I sing her to sleep. It's truly amazing to see the peace of God comforting and bringing joy to those in pain."
"I've spent all of my time working at Kalighat," said Zak Davis. "Everyday is hard and always holds new challenges. However, the work is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. My favorite tasks are doing laundry, working with the long term volunteers, and helping out the patients. In this picture I am feeding a boy who is probably about 12 years old. He does not speak any languages, and often refuses to be helped. He has large gashes on the back of his head and suffers from seizures as well. We don't know his name. This boy's condition is unusual due to his severe mental impairment, and it has been exciting to watch him get better. This trip is amazing. Calcutta is challenging, but I love it. This experience is teaching me how to love on a whole new level."
"I would like to introduce you to Sabudi," said Daren Bachman ’89, director of the Office of Chapel Programs. "I was so excited to see him again, for you see, Sabudi was one of the patients that I grew closest to last year. He was discharged for a short time, but within four months he was brought back with a severe case of Tuberculosis. Sabudi has no family. He cried when I walked in my first day, because he was so happy to see a familiar face. Out of the many visitors that come to see patients at Kalighat, Sabudi had never had anyone come to see him. For me, Sabudi represents the hope of survival and joy amidst so much hardship. Sabudi loves Jesus with all his heart, and because he speaks English so well we have enjoyed many a theological discussion. Pray that Sabudi would recover from TB and be able to go on with his life as a witness for Christ."
"It is really profound to see how broken this man is physically, and also how broken I am spiritually," said Oliva. "We are just two broken people meeting together. We are trying to understand each other and trying to get to know one another in spite of the emotional and worldwide gap that seems to exist between us. ‘It is all in our Father's grace.’ (Eph. 1:4, 6)"
Part Three: Titagarh by Carissa Raisbeck ’02
On Wednesday we had the opportunity to go to Titagarh, a leper colony started by Mother Teresa. We took a train to get there because it is 30 to 40 minutes outside of Calcutta. The leprosarium was opened in 1958 and has grown immensely since then. The center is run entirely by the Brothers of Charity and by the lepers themselves.
In the clinic, the Brothers see approximately 1,000 patients per week, all of whom are suffering from leprosy. In the same facility, there is an operating room where amputations are performed. Most of the people at the clinic are from surrounding communities and live outside the center. However, there are approximately 100 patients living in the wards at the center.
The leper colony itself is an amazing place, full of joy and life! The incredible thing about Titagarh is that it is completely self-sufficient. All of the employees are former patients who now live at the center with their families. This gives them an opportunity to provide for their families. Their only other option is to beg on the streets, because jobs are simply not available for lepers.
Within the colony there are 10 main areas:
1. Artificial Limb Center: here the lepers make prosthetic limbs for those who have had amputations.
2. Footwear Center: here a cobbler makes special shoes to protect the lepers’ feet.
3. Carpentry Section: all the crutches and furniture come from this area.
4. Handloom Unit: this unit is lined with men and women spinning spools of thread and running handlooms. The lepers make all the sheets, diapers, clothes, etc. for all the homes for the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world.
5. Tailoring Unit: the children of the leprosy patients are taught the art of tailoring so they can earn a living.
6. Agriculture: here they grow all their own fruits and vegetables.
7. Animal Husbandry: they raise pigs to sell and maintain fishponds that provide fish for the patients.
8. School: the children of employees and residential patients are able to complete their primary education on-site, free of charge until 10 years of age. After this they go on to a boarding school.
9. Living Quarters: more than 200 families live at the center, in simple two room huts.
10. Men’s and Women’s Wards: the more severe patients live in special wards where they receive ongoing care.
As you can imagine, Titagarh is a large facility! All of the land was donated to Mother Teresa by the Indian government. It is amazing to see what they have done with this incredible resource.
As a team, we were able to sit with some of the patients while visiting the wards. I could not help but think about how each one of those men and women must long for human touch and affection. When I looked into their eyes I could see the fear of rejection. They lived in a society where their disease alienated them and they were considered "untouchable." To them, we represented the outside society, and our unconditional acceptance of them made a huge impact.
One man told me that they were going to amputate his arm and leg. As he was talking, his voice quivered with fear and his eyes filled with tears. I think about how frightened he must have been, but it is good to know that he is in a place where he is well cared for, accepted, and loved. I was grateful for the opportunity to sit with him and restore some of the dignity that he felt he was losing.
In the women’s ward, we sang "Shout to the Lord" to the patients as we sat with them. It was incredible to experience the presence of the Lord in that place. I could see the tears well up in the eyes of the women, just to feel loved through a simple song and touch. Immediately I would see the fear of rejection disappear from their faces. I was filled with compassion as I held what were the hands of one woman and saw her reaction. I can not help but think of the story of Jesus touching the lepers, and now I better understand the significance of His touch and how He showed His love through His actions. I pray that God would use me as His hands and feet to touch those around me and communicate His love.
What struck me most about Titagarh is the joy and hope found in that place. I love that these lepers who were once outcasts and invisible in the eyes of others, now live in a thriving community where they are loved and accepted.
Posted: June 1, 2001