Sudder Street in Kolkata is a place where every alternate building boasts of hotels or B&Bs, restaurants, travel agents, money exchange outlets and shops selling curios and local textiles, it’s a place mostly frequented by foreign tourists, many of whom like to club charity work with their India tour.
And their route to do some social service while in the city is through the Missionaries of Charity, an organisation founded by Mother Teresa. At Raj’s Spanish Café, almost 80 to 90 per cent of customers are those volunteering at Missionaries of Charity.
The number of volunteers, many of whom are foreigners, is increasing every year, says Missionaries of Charity spokesperson Sunita Kumar, adding that the number has nearly tripled in the years since Mother Teresa’s death.
“By working here for a few weeks or months, we can in a small way be a part of the wonderful work being done by the Missionaries of Charity,” says 33-year-old Inigo from Spain, who was inspired after a friend spent some time working at a Missionaries of Charity centre in Ireland.
On a sunny August morning, a Missionaries of Charity Sister at Nirmal Hriday, the first home for the dying and destitute opened by Mother in Kolkata, points at a man giving the inmates a shave. “He comes twice every year to volunteer with us,” she says.
Marianne Allen Holmbraker has sold off her house in the US to come and volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. “I wanted to do this since I was 20, but never managed to do so owing to family responsibilities. Now, that my children have grown up, I can finally do what I want,” says the professional nurse and message therapist, aged in her fifties. She intends to work at the Missionaries of Charity centres not only in India, but across the world, “wherever they feel they need help”.
At Nirmala Shishu Bhavan and Daya Dan, volunteers take care of children with special needs. “These children are amazing. They can bring us something beautiful,” says Mareon, a 19-year-old student from Paris, in her halting English.
While Mother draws people from across the world, eager to share in the cause, Spain holds her in special reverence, feels 23-year-old Iciar, “partly because we are a Catholic country,”. The elementary school teacher from Spain is volunteering in Kolkata with a group of six friends. “We all have someone in our family or among our friends who has done it before,” she says.
The volunteers are as excited as the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity about Mother Teresa’s upcoming canonization on September 4.
“I think the canonization was only to be expected,” says Begona from Spain, on her second volunteering stint with the Missionaries of Charity. The 40-year-old says she constantly prays to Mother and her prayers are always answered.
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