Chair's India Blog - Kolkota October 2016
"By blood I am Albanian, by citizenship I am Indian, by faith I am a catholic nun. As to my calling I belong to the world, as to my heart I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus." - Mother Teresa.
Phase two completed, Now arrived in Kalkota. Dubai is always an interesting experience last night it was a 20 minutes walk 4 escalators and a train and still within the same terminal! I am now at the Lytton Hotel in Kolkota. Things occasionally in India are not as they seem and no WIFI in the rooms so now I am camped at the reception desk courtesy of the receptionists who given me the private code just for this area! My first meeting is tonight so now for some emails! Thank you to everyone for your prayers they are much appreciated.
My second breakfast of the day, I was woken at 6am today by my breakfast that I had not ordered! Last night was really interesting as I had dinner with RupKatha and Arun Sarkar. Rupkatha is the principle of La Martiniere Girls school, the best school in India according to the Indian Ofsted. The biggest challenge is for girls with special educational needs and as girls come into the school at 2 they have no way of knowing at that stage how the girls are going to develop so the school is looking at what the SEN provision should be. Arun is the principle of the AOG college and so we talked about the training needs of ministerial students. I did not know that there are 5000 AOG churches in India. We were joined by a very interesting woman, Finella, a maths teacher from London whose mother had attended the school many years ago and also a male colleague of RupKatha who was the principle of one of the local schools in the area and had just attended a very interesting conference.
Really wide ranging conversation and its then you realise how similar the issues are in education and how so many people are striving to enable our young people and ministerial student to be the best they can be and to make the most of the opportunity of learning, I am not able to post photos due to the limited wifi but will do so as soon as I can.
Day three turned out to be a very salutary experience yet challenging and hopeful all at the same time. When in Delhi three years ago I felt a sense of hopelessness I am not feeling that here in Kolkata, I have met some people today who are doing a great job under what can only be described as primitive conditions working in a country that is only 2.8% Christian yet sharing the gospel in real ways where it's not just about mission but also evangelism.
I first went to the Arunima hospice who care for people who have been rejected by their families due to HIV Aids and are needing care. Men and women who looked dreadfully ill and were suffering from all types of conditions as a result of the HIV Aids. Two rooms, one for men and one for women with 25 beds in total, in tin roof buildings with primate washing facilities and toilets. The only hospice of its kind and in England we would think we were back in the dark ages, such were the conditions. On the same small complex is the orphanage again for children rejected due to HIV Aids. I took part on the morning devotions and I was so impressed by the readings [in English], violin playing, traditional dancing and hymn singing. The children looked cared for, happy and well, and what a welcome as I was shown with such pride the memorial stone which indicated that it had been officially opened by Deacon Eunice Attwood when she was Vice President. The vision now is for £50K to extend the building by two floors.
I was then taken just a few hundred yards to the Sister Florence College of Nursing and met Reena Bose RN, RM, M.Sc, [N] Dip. [H Ed.] now advisor to the college. She shared with me her vision which she has passed to me and what a formidable woman, who at 82 still come daily to oversea the college even though she is officially retired. She was principal for 50 years. I was shown round the college and saw where the nursing students live for 4 years with just with a bed and a shelf for personal clothes and possessions. I could not help but compare it to my nurse training school with all our high tech machines and facilities. I met the nurse tutors all of whom are graduate level with B. Sc and higher degrees and the commitment was just phenomenal.
I was shown with such pride the overhead projector which they prefer to the laptop and protector which only comes out of the office very occasionally. Every Student nurse is given a set of equipment to start them off which includes a stereoscope, uniform, bucket for washing and folder for notes. They are taught in English and interestingly many of them go to the states to work and not England as they don't feel they would be welcomed even with the qualification of Registered nurse and midwife. I think this says a lot about our country.
So what now is my mission? Reena is concerned that teachers and curates are going over to India and she wants to know why not nurses? She is happy to pay for nurses to come to us if we can provide hospitality and the experience and so now I am on the look out for any nurse who wants to talk to me about this possibility. I don't really want nurses to come over to England and go to Manchester where I still have contacts, I want them to come to Derbyshire. There will then be the possibility of a return trip to Kolkata. So if you are reading this and you are a nurse or you know one then please let me know and let's try and make this happen.
The photographs are of the children and also the nursing tutors, the training rooms and the project they do before they go to work in the village on placement trying to understand how the village organises itself.
What a day! When I feel honoured once again to be here and to have SRN at the side of my name even though it's never used now and to appreciate how much I gained from my training and how richly blessed we were in our school during and by our ward placements. More news hopefully tomorrow when I am visiting projects that are supported by the cathedral mission agency in Kolkota.
Today I have been hosted by the ‘Cathedral Relief Service' and its director Rig David and the staff he works with. A special mention must go to Cheryl who was pleased that I now know two Cheryl’s both who work for the church on two different continents. But also mention to Kuheli, Tandra, Kali, Jagdev and Ritaparna who talked with such eloquence and passion about the projects they had grown and developed. I have seen three types of projects, Education, Women’s empowerment and Health. These are all inspiring projects in the slum area of Kolkata. The photographs are of the children, 30 or so to a class and you can see the conditions under which the teachers are working, yet many of the children get into government schools as they pass the entrance exam.
The policy and strap line for CRS is ‘Building communities of resistance and hope” and that is exactly what I saw in action. The lady doing Cheryl’s eyebrows trained as a beautician in one of the projects and now has her own salon, this is a fantastic achievement of how women are being empowered. Women’s empowerment is a important focus for CRS and considering that India is very patriarchal society its the women who are taking their families out of poverty. They are forming what we would call co-operatives and at festival times they take the jewellery, napkins, clothes and the many things they have made in the projects and they sell them and take orders and you cant not be impressed by the quality of the work, again in such cramped and confined spaces, often hot and sticky and with one or two sewing machines, yet most of the work I saw was done by hand. They learn first by making small replicas and then graduate to the normal sizes. Each project had a teaching plan for each month of the year and by looking at them you can see the progression form simple embroidery to making there own clothes.
You will also see on the photographs people queuing in the street to see the Dr who is sat in the back of the vehicle and I am never going to complain again when I am kept waiting at my GP’s surgery. The main problems are malnutrition, iron deficiency and infections and you can understand that when you see the streets we had to walk down to get to the projects we were visiting.
Well, what a celebration of 150 years of the Wesleyan church. Lots of ceremony, joy, the obvious presence of God a people who are so appreciative of their Methodist heritage and are faithful and so generous in welcome. A great honour for me and privilege to represent the churches together in Derbyshire but also the whole of the British Connexion. This visit will stay long in my memory and the people I have met in my heart. The sheep and goats are the welcome committee outside of church so could not resist the photograph. Sermon there I think.
You travel thousands of miles and find yourself using a hymn book from home! Thank you Sherwood Methodists for your generosity your hymn books are still used twice per month in the Wesleyan church in Kalkota.
Cultural day today hosted by the David sisters members of the Wesleyan church. First St Johns the oldest church in Kolkota with a very interesting picture of the last supper. Traditional Bengali lunch when I noticed an interesting notice behind the toilet door. Everything that is supplied in order for you to enjoy the delicious food. Then a visit to the New Market famous through all of India full of vibrancy, colour and smells yet reassuringly like markets at home. Now for a couple of hours rest before the rehearsals for tomorrow's anniversary service.
My last day and the best was last a visit to the Mother House of Mother Theresa when I was given a prayer card and symbol which I will of course treasure. Visit to the Boskati project a home for orphaned boys run by CNI and the TB hospital. TB is rife here not just chest but also spine which is accompanied by intense pain and the patients are often young girls. You will see the mother and baby born while in hospital and she will stay for at least a year. Then to St Thomas school where I got asked lots of questions about culture in England- where do you start! Back home tomorrow when I will be travelling for 21 hours! Lots of time to reflect upon this amazing visit.