Tamrah Schaller O’Neil can be contacted directly regarding Pathways to Children.

Our day starts at 5:15 a.m. when we head over to “Mother House” to go to mass. We leave our shoes at the door. The nuns sit on the floor in prayer or reading their bible while we wait for the priests to enter and lead 6 a.m. mass. A crow outside the open window interrupts my thoughts with its relentless call. During the homily, horns drown out the voice of the priest from time to time. It is a good sermon nonetheless. We head back to the hotel for breakfast in the traffic which is packed with trucks, buses, rickshaws, mini-taxi’s called autos, bikes, dogs, goats and many pedestrians.

Wall of manureAfter breakfast we drive to a small village called Serampore. I try not to pay attention to passing cars because our life seems to be in jeopardy every few minutes. I have prayed a lot while in Kolkata. We arrive safely, and walk to the school we are going to visit. We pass a home where one wall is made of manure patties – probably very insulating and free but it doesn’t have a great perfume.

We enter the school and are greeted with flowers from the children. This is a Calcutta Mercy Hospital-sponsored school called “Monimala: childcare and non-formal education and counseling center for underprivileged children.” It has three classrooms for sixty or so students ages 2-17. They teach English and Bengali and also teach the older students vocational skills such as sewing, knitting and computers. We are entertained by children’s songs and clapping.

Passage to Chandras homeOne little girl especially captivates me with her beautiful smile. Her name is Chandra, and she had open heart surgery sponsored by the hospital. For some reason there is a high incidence of heart problems in India at a rate undifferentiated by social class.

We walk to Chandra’s house to meet her mother, who greets us quietly. A baby sleeps on a bed that takes up most of the room. The next room is a kitchen where floor is wet with pots and pans. Chondra has six siblings who live with her parents. I can’t imagine how eight people sleep here.

After driving back to Kolkata, the afternoon is again spent at Mother Teresa’s orphanage. I mention to the group that, in addition to the beautiful souls we have met, I have never seen such beautiful and colorful clothing for women. It contrasts strongly against the polluted brown background of poverty. I also notice that I haven’t seen a single person get mad in traffic. This would be a miracle in the United States. We talk about changing our mission statement from just volunteering to include cultural understanding, which each of us will pack in our bags to take home.

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