Edition 6 Part 2, January 2013
Welcome to a very special edition of Bekind Update.
It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the Bekind Boys’ Home opened in Calcutta. My wife Martina and I will never forget the moment in the early hours of the morning on January 16th 2012 when, with bleary eyes, we connected by Skype to see many curious little faces peer at us and greeting us with “Good morning Uncle… Good morning Aunty”. The lady making the connection possible was Geeta, Director of Hope Kolkata Foundation, a lady who has made so many connections possible and has changed and saved so many lives working tirelessly for the poor in her country.
I find it difficult to express my gratitude to everyone who has donated to Bekind in so many ways but what a difference those donations have made and thankfully continue to do so in our various projects.
With India in the news of late for all the wrong reasons: brutal rapes which are “reported” at one occurring every twenty minutes and the unspeakable horror and gang rape of that young 23 year old student in Delhi. Ignorance has been blamed, lack of or no education, the rapists’ backgrounds and their lives in the slums where they are subjected to violence and antisocial behaviour brought on by alcohol and drug abuse and a life of depravity and squalor.
It is away from that depravity and hopelessness that in many cases the little boys in our home have come from. The counselling the boys receive help them deal with their past traumas. This coupled with a safe and loving environment, a chance of a good quality education and being able to have a happy childhood should with the moral guidance they also are shown shape them into young men Mother India can be proud of.
I have been privileged to have spent some time with these children during the past year and to have received updates on their progress and school reports from The Hope Foundation. It is so uplifting to be part of their lives and to share this good news with you.
Back in May 2004 we hosted a 15 year-old Indian student from Calcutta for two weeks here in Dublin. He and his family were to become great friends and have been a source of inspiration and support for us over the last number of years. This student went on to study law in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and is now qualified.
On this special day an unexpected phone call from Kolkata was a source of great joy. It was Akhilesh Gupta calling from the Bekind Boys’ Home. He had dressed up as Santa to surprise the children and made them all say in their loudest voices: “HO HO HO!”. They sang Jingle Bells and filled our hearts to bursting point.
Listen to our boys singing Jingle Bells with Akhilesh.
Listening to all of this was my mother, Jenny who was with us sharing Christmas day. It was her first day out of the nursing home in months. In November she was given just days to live, on December 29th Mam celebrated her 92nd birthday!
When I travelled to India to make final arrangements for the start up and sign the lease on the property for Bekind Boys’ Home in November 2011, my younger son, Ricky accompanied me. It was his second time there, as he had done voluntary work in Calcutta in 2007 when he had just turned 17.
Ricky has contributed to this newsletter by writing the following section:
The excursion with my father to Kurseong in December 2011 is one I will always remember. From the moment I set foot in Siliguri Train Station at the foothills of the Himalayas, it was an exhilarating experience. It was fascinating to see the various faces changing from having Indian features to Nepalese features as we ascended up the steep mountain roads of northern India. The poverty was one element of the excursion which never ceased to amaze me.
The rocky and battered road up to the village of Kurseong was partly destroyed by an earthquake several months previously so the roads were treacherous and life threatening to say the least, so a 4x4 was definitely a necessity to tackle the almost impassable road. When we got to Goethals memorial school where we were staying, we got out of the 4x4 jeep and we gazed over the mountainous region. It was right then where I was struck with the sheer beauty of the Himalayas colliding with the sheer poverty of the hundreds of wooden shacks perched dangerously on all sides of the surrounding mountains. These shacks were the homes of the locals.
We visited one of these homes perched on the side of a steep mountain about two kilometres from Goethal's School. This ‘home’ belonged to female student Anisha. She is a sixteen year old student of Goethal's and lives with her mother, father and three brothers along with their livestock in a confined homemade shack. You may have read about her story in previous Bekind newsletters.
The brothers had provided the small piece of land and Bekind had covered most of the building costs for this modest home. I wanted to give them something as a present for their house and Dad suggested a transistor radio. I bought one in the town with plenty of spare batteries, as they had no electricity in Anisha’s house. It cost about €14. but when I presented it to Anisha’s father he became very emotional and the tears of happiness rolled down his cheeks. He told us how, when doing some work for the brothers, they allowed him to listen to their radio and now he had his own one to share with his family.
The previous day dad had given some money to Anisha’s mother. The money had been given by two Irish donors who asked dad to make sure it went to some needy family. This time it was the mother who cried and cried for the €300 was enough to keep the family going for about five months. We learned from Anisha the following day that their family debts with the local shops had been cleared and her mother sent for the “travelling clothes salesman”. Warm clothes were purchased for the impending winter and a little happiness came into the lives of that poor family.
The walk Anisha takes to and from school every day is treacherous. It takes her over rotten tree trunks which act as bridges over the sheer drops below. It winds through dense undergrowth, shrubbery, barbed wire fencing and is full of slippery branches, tree roots and loose soil that she has to clamber over.
I was absolutely shocked that this girl is just one of many who have to walk similarly lengthy journeys every day, regardless of the weather. One very practical use of donations from Bekind Ireland is the funding of transport to take the girls to school from the remote villages. This is the only Edmund Rice Girl’s School in the world and these girls are truly thankful for the opportunity of attending such an institution. Every one of these girls travel miles upon miles and risk their lives on a daily basis to receive an education. It is their ticket to a brighter future and out of the sheer poverty they have struggled through all their lives. I was invigorated by their determination and how they all remain so happy when they really have nothing at all. Happiness and health frankly are the most fundamental elements of our lives and I feel people in Ireland really don’t see how lucky we have it. Although we all have our own problems, both financially and in terms of our economy, we need to open our eyes just a little wider and take in the whole picture.
On the day we were leaving we called to say goodbye to Anisha and her family. The girl had told her mother about the new Bekind Boys' Home which was due to open soon in Calcutta and in an extraordinary moment which even took my Dad by surprise, Anisha’s mother asked Dad to take her younger boy, aged about eleven, to live in Calcutta in the Bekind Boys’ Home. She sobbed and also asked my father to come back in three or four years and take her baby son also so he would have a chance of an education.
There was not a dry eye in the house. Dad promised he would see what could be done but knew the legalities involved.
Although everything is relative and we need to draw a line between both a first world country and a developing country we sometimes take for granted what we have and we need to live life to the full, and embrace every opportunity possible. For in the words of the Dalai Lama, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.
Keep positive, stay positive and just keep in mind just how lucky we truly are.
Ricky (December 2011)
If you would like to read previous editions of our newsletter, you can find them here.