Tamrah Schaller O’Neil is volunteering in Kolkata, India, through Pathways to Children.

Try to imagine you are the mother of a child who has a cleft palate. Your child is a social outcast, has no future and brings shame to the family. The good news is your child has been offered a free corrective operation. However, you can’t afford to travel to the hospital, much less a place to stay or even a meal. What do you do? Calcutta Mercy Hospital helps solve all these problems. The hospital provides a place to stay for mothers of children having free surgery, plus bus fare and meals, and nightly launders the only sari they own.

Dr. Harlan Muntz from the United States has performed over 50 cleft palate surgeries and travels to India at his own expense. He works at Primary Children Hospital in Salt Lake City but volunteers at Calcutta Mercy Hospital about twice a year. His ultimate goal to train a local doctor and team to do cleft palate surgeries without him is now being realized. Because of their success, the hospital has the financial support of Smile Train.

The other Pathways to Children volunteers and I have the privilege to meet these doctors and the families they serve. We hand out 125 outfits made by a generous Minneapolis woman to the children who have cleft palates. Their families are grateful to receive clothes to replace their children’s tattered outfits. Although we don’t speak the same language as the recipients, we are able to assist them in finding the correct sizes for their children.

After lunch we flash our pre-registration cards at Mother Teresa’s and don aprons. We head up to the handicapped room for younger children where there are about 25 children whose handicaps range from autism to retardation. Each child has a book which lists what staff knows about the child and how they can best be helped with exercises. I work with Bobette, who has severe cerebral palsy. No birth date is listed in her book, which means she was probably left on the street. Mother Teresa’s ministries only take in children who have no one to take care of them. Bobette is dressed in an old sweater — it is almost 80 degrees today — a cotton diaper, pants and socks. She has very short hair which I suppose is easier to keep clean and to avoid lice. She doesn’t smell very good and I wonder when she was last bathed. I place Bobette on her stomach so we can work on exercising her neck muscles. She tires easily. She seems to like when I give her a backrub — always a favorite of my kids at home. An orphanage women worker clips each child’s fingernails and toenails. Then she comes back with Q-tips and cleans each child’s ears.

The bell rings to indicate that it’s time for the volunteers to leave. We say our reluctant farewells to these precious children. Before we go, I climb the stairs to the roof where women do laundry all day by hand. Rows and rows of the colored cotton squares that are used as diapers blow clean in the setting sun. It is almost peaceful looking over the rooftops and far away from the constant honking, bustle and begging of Kolkata streets.

1 comment:

  1. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

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