Welcome to our seventh edition of Bekind Update. This edition features the experiences of our June 2013 volunteer group when they travelled to Calcutta. Please like and share with your friends using the buttons above or below
In the autumn of 2012, the plans for a student immersion to Calcutta commenced. This time we opened up the opportunity for travel to the local community, rather than a single school as in previous years.
Bearing in mind the challenged economic conditions in Ireland, we knew fundraising was not going to be a “stroll in the park.” We needed everybody involved to make a concerted effort and to commit to several months of hard work and to have fun along the way.
Lifelong friend Paul Tobin got the ball rolling with the Bekind Golf Classic in beautiful Luttrellstown Castle on 18 October. The event, sponsored by Paul Tobin Motors, was threatened by monsoon-like conditions and flash flooding in Dublin on the 17th, which forced closure of the course, but luck was on our side and the weather on the day was superb.
Sponsored walks, table quizzes, busking, cake sales, BBQs, coffee mornings (and coffee afternoons), another golf classic, church gate collections, a Christmas card sale, raffles, the sale of Living Shamrock, a “Take Me Out” event and many donations from our generous supporters culminated in a successful campaign.
On June 2nd 2013, our group departed from Dublin, destination Calcutta: the city of joy. In an effort to maximise the funds raised, the five adults paid their own travel and accommodation costs. The teenage student volunteer group consisted of ten girls and two boys. Their comments are quoted below, as I asked for feedback soon after we returned to Ireland.
Here’s what some of them had to say:
Note: 'Kurseong' refers to a hill station, a town in the Himalayas ten hours by night train from Calcutta and three hours by road, where we took the children for a few days. We stayed in Goethal’s Memorial School as guests of the Christian Brothers. I am sure they breathed a sigh of relief when we departed as we numbered 64 in total: 38 children, 12 students and an accompanying adult/carer group.
I hope all in Kurseong are well! What impacted me the most was the realisation that these things actually happen! They don’t just exist on our TV screens or computers etc, it happens every day right in front of our faces but we don’t have the ability to help them! I think the whole experience shows you how one person can help so many others have a better life and future. I appreciate everything this trip has done for me I really do and cannot wait to do it again!
One thing that had an impact on me personally was seeing how far such a small act of kindness could go, to see how a smile could so easily be brought to someone's face by simply holding their hand when they're in pain or assisting them to carry out everyday things that we can do with such ease.
A week has passed and still cannot believe it is over! Looking back on the trip makes me so proud of the twelve of us! Words can't describe how much more I miss Nehal everyday [I] would give anything to hold him in my arms again! The one thing that stood out for me on the trip was the displays of happiness and thanks from the people’s faces after you simply just sat down with them for a minute to hold their hand and tell them your name! Also Brian I would like to thank you for the opportunity you have given me Kolkata was amazing for me and has helped me so much as a person you will definitely see me in Kolkata again!
Initially the chance to go to India meant that I could help others and do something worthwhile with my time. Now it means so much more to me it's the home of the many people who have opened my eyes touched my heart and changed my life. Growing close to the children and learning their stories put everything into perspective for me. They’re the bravest and most loving people I’ve ever met. The kids have had a huge impact on my outlook of my own life. I’ll never forget the friends I’ve made or the people who I’ve encountered along the way that have helped me to be the person I am now and that have made me so happy to be a part of their lives.
Just about settled back, still crazy to think the trip is over! To me the Journey was a definite eye opener. It made me realise how much of an impact the work of Bekind actually makes, yet how much is still yet to be done. It has certainly given me a drive to make any difference I can for these people in the future and the determination to never give up. Thank you for such an amazing opportunity,
The journey to India was such an incredible experience and I'm so grateful to have been part of it. The trip has made me realise how fortunate we are for the things we have in life. I found it hard to see so many people living in such harsh conditions, especially children. I know the memories from this trip will stay with me forever. The most abiding memory that will remain with me would have to be spending time with the boys in Kurseong. It was amazing to see how happy they all were and I enjoyed every second of it.
The journey to India was an incredible experience for me one that I will hold with me forever. I had been told different things about Kolkata but it is definitely something you have to experience for yourself to really know what it's like. While washing the street children I finally understood why Kolkata can be referred to as the city of joy because they were all such happy children. I found the Mother House a very spiritual place and I enjoyed visiting it and going to mass there. There's just something about it I can't explain. I also loved the song they sang in the Mother House for the final day of volunteering! I have so many fantastic memories from Kolkata which just makes me want to go back there to make some more.
The journey to India meant everything to me. I couldn’t sleep for nights in advance of our departure date. I was filled with emotions of joy, excitement, nerves and really not knowing what to expect. It really hit me when we walked through the arrivals gate in Kolkata airport to me greeted by happy, giddy little boys with big smiles on their faces. I have so many memories of the trip that I will never forget, like working with the disabled in Nabo Jibon, going on the night run with Hope Foundation, to bringing the boys up by train to Kurseong and to see the excitement on the boys’ faces was truly amazing to think of the lives these boys once had. One of my favourite experiences was washing the street children, to see the little boys and girls in rags and some living in slums be so happy washing and playing. Young boys and girls having to look after their younger brothers and sisters like a mother was amazing to witness. My hardest moment was seeing the men in the dying home (Khalighat, Mother Teresa’s Home for destitute) and having to leave the little boys as we had to go home to Ireland. I will definitely return to Kolkata when I’m in college to volunteer again. I will always remember my trip to Kolkata and the experiences we had and I am grateful to Bekind Ireland for giving me the opportunity to do this.
These comments perhaps give an insight into how this experience impacted on these young Irish student volunteers. Bekind Ireland started bringing groups to Calcutta in 2008. Seeing them in action, reaching out to the poor in a selfless manner, has been a privilege for me over the past few years. This group was no exception.
Once again the group could see who was benefitting from all their hard work and fundraising efforts. They got to meet and hold and hug and love the little children whose home was once the streets. This was the first Bekind student group to visit and spend lots of time in the Bekind Boys’ Home which opened in January 2012. The bonding started at the airport and built over the two week stay. As in past years, the group had a mix of work in Mother Teresa’s homes: with young and old, with able and disabled, with those with special needs and those without. When statistics about the number of malnourished and starving in the world are given to us, we can’t really comprehend. We as a group were to see first hand the result of chronic malnutrition and neglect, when we encountered a little four year-old child in the Hope Hospital in June.
His name was Ganesh, named after the Hindu God of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune, but good fortune was missing in this boy’s life. He had been rescued by the Hope team and admitted to hospital last Christmas, weighing just 8kgs (approx 16lbs). Ganesh had come from a family of nine children; his parents were impoverished rag pickers eking out an existence on the streets where they lived. There was not enough money or food to go around and little Ganesh was not strong enough to beg, not nourished enough to live. Months of care and dedication by the staff of Hope Hospital saw the boy gain another two and a half kilos, well short of the targeted five to six kilos. I have held many malnourished little one in my arms over the years in India but never anyone as fragile as Ganesh: every bone, every rib could be felt. Maureen Forest, head of Hope, described him as a “little bird.” If any of you have ever held a little bird in the palm of your hand, you may have been surprised to find how little it weighed.
This picture of Liam as I handed our little bird into his arms. The expression on his face speaks volumes. Everyone in our group was immediately taken by the boy, captivated by his big smiling eyes, his gentleness and his willingness to go to any of us with his tiny arms outstretched.
I knew in my heart and soul his place should be in the Bekind Boys’ Home, where he could join the other children and be cared for and loved by the very special staff. I pleaded with Hope management never to allow his return to the streets or to parents who could not provide for him. On our last day in Calcutta I returned alone to the hospital to spend an hour or so there. Ganesh and I went walkabout, dropping in to say hello to the other patients on the other wards. We had lunch in the staff canteen and even went outside for a while into the street. Ganesh was to be discharged and arrangements were being put in place for him to go to our Bekind Boys’ Home a week or so after we returned to Ireland in mid June.
At home, I reached for my mobile on the morning of 9 July. The text was from Hope Director, Geeta. It read:
With deep regret we wish to inform you that Ganesh the malnourished child died this morning from severe respiratory distress. May his soul rest in peace.
This cruel world had claimed another innocent victim. In India, the Hope Foundation mourned the loss of Ganesh. In Ireland, we too shared in the sadness.
Several of the children in Bekind Boys’ Home have celebrated their birthdays for the second time since the home was opened and as you can see from the photos it is pure joy in motion. We as a group also were able to partake in one of those birthday parties when Aditiya (6) had his special party during our journey to Kurseong. A simple thing we take for granted, but those special occasions are part of giving a child back their childhood.
The following pictures really tell their own story and in face of each child we see happiness, health and wellbeing. Without the protection of Bekind Boys’ Home would they too have been like little Ganesh?
One hundred teddy bears knitted by the children of St Joseph's Girls' National School in Mountmellick were given to many poor children in Calcutta and in the surrounding villages.
Our student group met Mongol Bojaixhu in June 2013. Bekind Ireland had previously provided him with a tablet computer to aid him in his computer studies. He was doing very well in his exams and was a most inspirational young man. He loved to email and use Whatsapp, Viber, Skype and Facebook.Touch screen technology was ideal for Mongol due to his limited movement and muscular dystrophy.
Bekind had worked with Mongol since 2007, when Brian (Founder Director) and his daughter Katie met him for the first time. Unfortunately, Bekind received the devastating news that Mongol had passed away suddenly on the morning of 26 November 2013. He was a shining light and a massive presence any time we met him and was a friend to the many volunteers that had met him throughout the years. We will miss him terribly.
On a very personal note:
The repercussions of the 2008 economic crash have affected so many of us in our country and beyond. Financial loss is one thing and we will in time recover.
Loss of a loved one is totally a different matter. On the 5th of October, I lost someone whose absence is unquantifiable. Resuming and finishing this current newsletter can never be the same, for my beloved mother, Jenny, passed away at the great age of ninety two. She was always the first to read the Bekind newsletters and took a great interest in the various Indian children we have been privileged to help over recent years. Her gift to several of the children in Bekind Boys’ Home was short YouTube clips where she sang happy birthday to them. They adored their “Irish Granny” and just a week prior to her death, after she had suffered a stroke, a picture of the boys saying prayers for her arrived by email. It will remain with me forever.
In her eulogy, I spoke of how I had asked Blessed Mother Teresa to take her gently to her bosom, as she had done countless times with the dying. To try to visualise that iconic image of one great mother holding another great mother is of some comfort to a broken heart.
Rose Janette Flanagan, Rest in Peace.
For all your support in so many ways, thank you.
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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