A volunteer’s perspective

Last summer I finally managed to make my dream come true: that of volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, otherwise known as the Sisters of Mother Teresa, in Kolkata, India. I have always wanted to be a missionary and the fact that Mother Teresa is very close to my heart it always made sense to me to go where it all began: in the City of Hell, in the slums of West Bengal.

The Missionaries of Charity have grown in number over the years and currently have around 15 houses just in Kolkata which cater for the poorest of the poor of all ages; from new-borns to people who are counting their days.

When I finally reached my dreamland it was far from what I had dreamt and imagined it to be. Over half of a population of 14 million people live in the streets. The place in which they are born is generally the same place in which they die. With such a reality one must add the numerous stray dogs who hang around the streets as if they own it, mosques and Hindu temples who call people to prayer throughout the day on loud speakers, and one must not forget the non-stop traffic where drivers have their own driving laws and honking rules. It felt like I had just landed in a new world and I had no idea from where I should start. The reality is so vast and hopeless that I started understanding what Mother meant when she referred to them as the “distressing disguise of the poor”.

What could I, a young woman who was on her own, do in such a desperate situation? What could I possibly do that could actually help these people? My work or even anything I could do was really meaningless. I learnt, however, that even though it might have felt like that, my presence was still important. Mother Teresa taught me that when faced with that reality there is no need to see the bigger and the broader picture. I can be a missionary just by loving the person who is right next to me at that very moment.

This simple answer taught me that one doesn’t need to cross the world to love. One can do it right from home, with our friends, with our colleagues. There are people who are poor, hungry, lonely, and distressed everywhere, and not just in West Bengal. In other words, Mother taught me that one doesn’t need to go to Kolkata to do missionary work. The point is to see Kolkata right from where we live.

Maria Vella graduated in BEd in 2011 and completed an MA in Social Justice and Education in 2012. She took part in a number of voluntary work experiences with the missionaries of charity both locally and abroad, and she currently teaches Chemistry at a boys' secondary school.

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