In this edition, Brian Flanagan (Founder Director) shares some of his experiences when travelled to Calcutta in November 2015.
I returned to Kolkata on the 12th of November as the City of Joy celebrated one of the many festivals with its usual chaotic and colourful exuberance. Parades and marching bands with noisy drummers, built their rhythms to a frenzy as huge floats carrying effigies of the revered goddess Kali made their way through the crowded streets. The traffic, heavy at the best of times, ground to a halt as this Kali Puja was celebrated.
My accommodation this time was a modest room in an apartment kindly provided by the Hope Foundation which I share with several Hope volunteers. Many of these volunteers had given three months of their lives dedicated to the children and the poor which Hope reaches out to every day.
My first stop was, needless to remark, the Bekind Boys’ Home where I was smothered with affection and nothing would do only to join the children for Diwali, celebrated with fireworks and fun. Allowing young children access to fireworks had me on edge but the carers kept a close eye on things as the boys danced and skipped over the spinning sparklers.
One boy was missing from the group. Nine year old Rahul was in hospital for an operation on his throat. Rahul suffers from TB and had developed a mass on his neck. He’s making a recovery and should be discharged soon from Ram Krishna hospital. Rahul also missed out on a mini holiday in a resort an hour outside Kolkata where we spent two days.
In this place the kids were treated to great accommodation, good food, swimming, paddle boats and fun activities. For the staff of the Bekind Boys’ Home it was a well-deserved break. All this for only €27 per head.
Our driver, 22 year old Uttam was once a street child. He was rescued by Hope and delivered and collected us safely. He is employed by Hope and takes his driving very responsibly.
Never far away is the reality of the hardship, poverty and suffering which is brought to mind when I visited the Hope Hospital.
I had taken one of the children with special needs from Nabo Jibon (Missionaries of Charity Home for destitute) to the Hospital for treatment of a severe recurring ear infection. Samiran, the Hospital Manager arranged everything from admission, to the ENT doctor and a CT scan.
The patient, Ujjwal, was a boy I met in Nabo when my friend Niall Dalton and I first went to India in 2005. Ujjwal suffers from cerebral palsy and has spastic movements, so trying to get him to stay still for a CT scan needed a miracle! We await the results.
In the Hospital, I was to meet several children who touched my heart so deeply. With reference to Diwali and fireworks, I met 11 year old Suman who was trying to light a rocket when it exploded in his face. The poor lad was more concerned about missing his school exams than his injuries which you can judge from his photo were significant. He is lucky not to have lost his eyesight.
Then another boy named Bishnu who is six years old. With no one to care for him as him as his mother had run away from her abusive, alcoholic husband, Bishnu fell into poor health and a wound on his head became badly infected. So badly infected that despite efforts by local police to have the child seen to in local hospitals, three refused to take him because of maggot infestation in the deep wound. The Hope Hospital again came to his rescue and after several painful days of delicate treatment he has been cured. While taking his photo he insisted I take a photo of his scalp proudly displaying his scars. We hope to bring this child to Bekind Boys’ Home to start a new life subject to a court order being approved.
Then I met a little girl who had been found wrapped in newspaper in a plastic bag under one of the seats of a train in Sealdah Station. A train cleaner heard a whimper and discovered her. Traumatised and weak from lack of food and water the little mite has made a good recovery in Hope’s loving care. She has a congenital condition and despite her tiny size, it is thought she is eight or nine years old. She, much to the surprise of the hospital staff, started speaking after about a week and hasn’t stopped since. Mentally she appears perfect but her physical disabilities mean full time care is required. Who dumped her on the train we do not know but whoever it was knew she would be found. She is a pure joy to hold and is such a good natured child with a great sense of humour. She has been called Riya.
I was so pleased to receive word from the Hope Hospital Manager, Samiran, that on reviewing the CT results for Ujjwal and on the advice from the anaesthesiologist the surgeon was prepared to operate. Then on some pre-op blood tests it was discovered that the poor lad had Hepatitis B. It was impossible to continue as Hep B is highly infectious. This shows just how important having all the necessary inoculations it is for Irish volunteers.
Something good did come from Ujjwal’s visit to Hope Hospital. An eleven/twelve year old boy with an intellectual disability named Puri, also found abandoned and treated by Hope will be placed, on our request, with the Missionaries of Charity Brothers in Nabo Jibon. His new life can now begin in a safe and secure environment.
I have just returned home to my family in Dublin and look forward to my son Ricky’s wedding to the lovely Leah on December 12th.
Bekind (IRL) Ltd is an Irish private limited company (Company Number: 448441) and Irish registered charity (Charity Number: CHY 17971), with its offices at 33 Woodpark, Castleknock, Dublin 15.
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