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Volunteer trip to Calcutta, June 2015

9th Edition, August 2015

Welcome to our ninth edition of Bekind Update. In this edition Brian (Founder Director) discusses the experiences of our volunteer group which travelled to Calcutta in June 2015. Please like and share with your friends using the buttons above or below.

Almost ten years have passed since I went to India with my old pal Niall Dalton. A lot of water has passed under the bridges connecting our lives here in Dublin’s fair city and the lives of so many in that "City of Joy", Calcutta.

Brian Flanagan(Founder Director)
        and friend and fellow director Niall Dalton

Brian Flanagan(Founder Director) and friend and fellow director Niall Dalton

No visit to Calcutta would ever be complete for our Bekind volunteers without our now compulsory walk across the massive Howrah Bridge which spans the river Hooghly in the heart of the city.

It is here life spawns, as families bathe and cool themselves from the burning heat of the sun, where the burning heat from the fires along the Ghats burn the bodies of the city’s dead into charred and powder-whitened bones.

This city that has drawn me back time and time again for a decade, is drug-like in its attraction. The reason, as anyone who has been following the Bekind story will know, is honestly for the love of the children. It is for their chance of a childhood that we do what we do, simply that and no more, because every child deserves one.

The Howrah Bridge over the River Hooghly

The Howrah Bridge over the River Hooghly

Before: Our volunteer group

Before: Our volunteer group

After: Our volunteer group

After: Our volunteer group

These two pictures look like the same people in different shirts. Wrong. The young people in the white shirts are quite different to those in the navy t-shirts. The navy shirts worn on returning to Ireland clothe a group of people who will never be the same again. They, myself included, have been immersed in a different world, a different culture, seen and experienced so many things and so many emotions that it impossible to ever be the same again.

A wise old friend in Calcutta once said to me, “Brian, we are all in this together” and it’s true you know, even you reading this newsletter are part of this. Why? Because you care. Don’t think for a moment I’m being patronising, I’m not. I assure you of that.

So back to this latest visit to Calcutta. June 13th to 28th were two weeks that flashed past in the proverbial blink of an eye. Nine young student volunteers from Newport, Tipperary and nine from Dublin 15 made up the core of our total group of twenty nine.

For months these young people with family, relatives, friends and communities, city and rural, had put so much work into fundraising for Bekind Ireland. Now they would see the fruits of all that hard labour, sweat and no doubt a few tears.

A mother and her children beg for clothing

A mother and her children beg for clothing

As our summer slips away, and leaves start to turn and fall into autumnal colours, writing these words against the backdrop of what is currently happening in our badly divided world, where hundreds of thousands flee their countries of origin, thousands perish in the Mediterranean Sea, innocents are slaughtered by ISIS, it is easy to forget the daily drudgery of the street children of Calcutta.

Bekind has its focus on, in the words of founder of Hope Foundation, Maureen Forrest, “Do what you can, not what you can’t”, helping children have a childhood, a life, an education and a future.

I think as I write on the eve of the tenth birthday of one of our boys, Raju, (name changed) who came to us as a frightened six year old. Frightened for the fact that his father was an alcoholic who beat him and his mother in his regular drunken rages, frightened for through this abuse the boy’s mother took her own life in desperation, frightened as the boy was left alone wandering in the streets as his father went away and married another woman and abandoned his child.

He is no longer frightened, no longer begs or scavenges for scraps to survive, no longer seeks a place on the streets to sleep, no longer suffers the threat of being abused or used as a child labourer. He is a healthy, well nourished, protected and loved child who goes to school and is enjoying his childhood despite a tough start in life. Witnessing Raju’s progress, and that of the other children in our care, fills me with a joy which is truly priceless.

Our volunteers were based in Calcutta, working in Mother Teresa’s homes each morning and spending time with the Bekind Boys and experiencing the work of Hope Foundation in the afternoons.

As with all volunteers to India for the first time, it has an impact which assaults the senses and tests our coping abilities to their limits.

The Bekind Boys in their Tipperary jerseys

The Bekind Boys in their Tipperary jerseys

Our volunteers in Nabo Jibon

Our volunteers in Nabo Jibon

Here are some quotes from the Bekind volunteers 2015:

Something that impacted on me during my time in Kolkata was our trip to Ashirbad, an older boy’s home. Although we only spent 3 hours there, the bond I formed with the kids and the memories I gained will stay with me forever. Just like the Bekind boys, the boys in Ashirbad were so well-behaved, energetic and fun. They are so happy in the home and to see this made my heart melt. Although I played with all of the boys, I spent most of my time with Laltu, one of the loveliest children I have ever met. I was nearly in tears leaving him but was also on a high after such a brilliant day. Even though this was a small part of our group's trip, it was a big part of my experience. Leaving Ashirabad that day, and leaving the 20 amazing Bekind Boys on the last day, were probably the two toughest things I had to do over in India. I plan to go back, not only just help the charities working there, but to see all of the boys' smiling faces again.
What impacted me the most in India was the innocence of childhood. When visiting a girls home over there I began to sing to them and as I reached the chorus the girls began to sing back. Their sweet voices touched my heart strings so dearly. I’ve learned that where you live shouldn't determine how you live, especially for an innocent child.
"The whole journey was beyond all expectations. It was incredibly breath taking and wondrously inspiring. One experience that hugely impacted on me was our trip out to the Mother Teresa's leprosy colony (Titagarh). We were brought through the workshops, schools and hospital wards of these friendly people's community. In one ward, I began to sit with each person at their bed and even with the language barrier we were amazingly able to make conversation. What truly touched me was how most of them appeared shocked when I simply sat beside or made skin contact with them. They were so shocked if I simply held their hand or gave them a hug! One man I remember very clearly, knelt to touch my feet when I sat with him, when I immediately returned the gesture, the man asked me to say a prayer on his poorly leg. I'd have given him every penny I had at that stage or even my own leg, yet all he asked for was a prayer. I found it unbelievable how through simple kindness, we were able to brighten up someone's day. I will never forget those men in that ward and how they were outcasts from their society with nothing and yet asked for nothing but a smile and a prayer. Kolkata, will never leave me. It has left its mark. It was an awe-inspiring, wondrous, incredibly heart-breaking, joyous, humbling, mind awakening adventure that I'm so grateful for and lucky to have experienced. I will never truly be able to sum it all up in words, all I know is that I will be back one day to the City of Joy and its amazing people."
The Leper Colony at Titagarh

The Leper Colony at Titagarh

The visit to the Titagarh Leprosy Colony was definitely the most impacting experience for me. It was amazing to see people who had been shunned by outside society being able to find a home and a purpose in the colony. It’s great how self-sufficient the whole set up is and gives me hope for victims of leprosy in the future.
There were so many moments that impacted me throughout my trip but one that struck me most was when I was leaving my home (Mother Teresa’s) on our last day of volunteering and a little girl who I had grown close too began to cry. This made me realise how the little I can give can mean so much to others even if it's just my time.
Looking back on the experience I have recalled quite a lot of things that stick in my head. The landscape, the people, the culture is all so different and vast. But something that I remember is the contrast in the place. Adults and children in such depressing environments being the happiest and most enlightening people you'll ever meet. The children laugh and smile so easily and are extremely playful. They are greatful for whatever they are given and are very polite as well. Even though the streets are filthy and the conditions are poor people carry on with their lives as if it were anywhere else. The hustle and bustle in the streets is always there, just an average day in everyone's lives, but the way they use everything they have and make their own personal touches to everything to make it so beautiful and colorful stands out against the dullness of the streets and has its own sense of beauty about it. One last thing I will never forget is how the boys will always be boys. They came from distorted backgrounds with hardship and struggle yet a simple day in the water park brings out the child in all of them. They play with each other and care for each other wherever they are and whatever the circumstances may be, but the most striking thing about it is they're just like us when we were young. Through all they've been through they're still kids and I really liked that.
I knew before going, that the trip to Kolkata was going to be challenging and life-changing. What I didn't know is that those challenging moments would be accompanied by such profound beauty, present both in the frenetic, vibrant environment and the truly remarkable people I met along the way. It really was an experience that contained it all, highs and lows, joy and suffering, light and dark, and I feel very fortunate to have witnessed this beautiful duality while working together with a group whose vocation was to bring a little more joy to those in the greatest need of it.
The main impact traveling to Kolkata had on me was that now I don't take anything for granted. We're always been told how lucky we are to have so much and to have our health but I really didn't realise it until I came home. It's so different after coming home from Kolkata, I realised half the things I have I don't even need. The only things we really need are love and health. How only taking your time to talk to someone who has no one can really make their day much better. Thanks for such an amazing experience!
The villagers come out to meet our volunteers in Joka, West Bengal

The villagers come out to meet our volunteers in Joka, West Bengal

There are so many things that impacted me on my adventurer to Kolkata. The noise of the busy streets, the heat in the air, the bright colours around every corner and above all the kindness of the Indian people. One memory that stands out to me is the day we visited Sanchar- a community based organisation who support families in difficulty. My group visited a little boy with Cerebral Palsy who lived with his parents, his granddad, his uncles and aunties and his many cousins. They all lived in a tiny house in the middle of the village where we were welcomed with open arms! I couldn’t believe how friendly and welcoming these people were to a group of total strangers, it was such a nice thing to witness! The man with us from Sanchar was a physiotherapist, he introduced us to all of the little boy’s family members and we sat in the bedroom downstairs. The man told us that the king bed we were sitting on slept all of the members of the family! All of the aunties, uncles and cousins had come inside and were peeping their heads in the door to see what was going on, they were fascinated by us! I couldn’t believe that all those people could fit in that one bed! The physiotherapist started working with the little boy then, he took off the straps that straightened out the boy’s arms and legs and we played with him for a while. The physiotherapist involved us in his work, he showed us how the boy had different sitting and standing exercises to help him to one hand stay by himself and he showed us exercises for the boy’s hands to allow him to be more flexible. The boy had to squeeze a squeaky ball first with two hands and then with one hand, which is very difficult for a person with Cerebral palsy to do. The physiotherapist told us that Sanchar have been working with this little boy for the last three years. When they first started helping him he wasn’t able to sit upright but after their amazing, dedicated hard work, the boy is now able to sit up straight. It was so inspiring to see, first hand, the work that Sanchar does for families in the community. Without Sanchar, the family would not have the support or knowledge to help the boy get stronger and stronger every day. It was so incredible as well to see how much the lovely people in Sanchar cherished their work. When it was time to leave, we all hugged the little boy and said goodbye.it was hard to leave him but we left with a good feeling that he was in the very capable hands of the Sanchar organisation, Sanchar really stands out in my mind as one of the most inspiring places in Kolkata, the city of joy. I hope to one day go back and witness more of their amazing work and I would urge everyone to go for yourselves and experience the city of Kolkata.
I have a countless amount of memories that had an impact on me from my time spent in India but my fondest memory in Kolkata was when we visited Titagarh, a leper colony. We visited both the male and female wards, chatting and spending time with all the patients. When I got to the female ward I made my way around the room talking to everyone. It was a huge room with beds on either side. There were two pillars in the middle of the room and one lady's bed was between the two pillars. I visited her last and it was the most touching experience ever and one that will stick with me for a long time. Because this woman had leprosy, she had lost most of her fingers. I took her hands in mine and tried to make conversation with her with the basic Bengali I had picked up over the week. Next of all I kissed her hands and her face lit up. She was so happy with the basic human contact. She then kissed my hands and started to stroke my face. It touched my heart that this woman was filled with joy from something as small as human contact. It was this day that really made me realise that the people who have nothing find happiness in everything.
Kolkata for me meant everything and I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to experience it. I really miss the boys, especially Manu! Seeing how much the little things impacted people’s lives was incredible and it completely changed my perspective on life. It taught me that it's not about what you don't have but how you can make the most of what you do have.
Words can't really express the warmth you receive from the people you meet in Kolkata. They welcome you in to their homes and let you see the world from their windows. It's an addictive experience, the more they share their stories with you the more you want to do to help in whatever way you can. You often feel like there isn't a huge amount you can do but reflecting on it you'll find that a little kindness can go a long way. I realised this on my second trip. The children I had met two years before had not forgotten me nor had the connection we had made been weakened. The brief time we had spent with them had meant something. We created happy memories together which will not be forgotten. Giving these children (that weren't given a childhood) some happy memories was just one of the many things Bekind did to spread a little joy in Kolkata and this amazing charity gave us the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of those who have nothing as well as bestowing in us the passion to keep on returning. Thank you Bekind from the bottom of my heart.
Walking through the streets of Kolkata it is easy to get bogged down. Everywhere you look there is poverty and it is hard to fathom how you can even begin to help the people of the city. That is until you step into the Bekind Boy's Home for the 1st time. I can honestly say I have never been somewhere with such a beautiful spirit running through it. When we arrived on the very first night I was overcome with emotion at how happy a place it was. The boys are looked after with such love and kindness I found it difficult to imagine that the boys were once living on the street. For the rest of the 2 weeks, no matter how hard our day was or how many devastating stories we had come across, once we stepped inside that haven of a home we were instantly uplifted by spending time with the gorgeous young boys living in the home. Brian, Hope and the Bekind team are doing such a phenomenal job of bettering the lives of young children living in Kolkata and I pray that their success continues for years and years to come.

I think you can see by reading the comments above from our Bekind volunteers that their experiences impacted greatly upon them. For me having my wife, Martina and son and daughter, Shane and Katie on this trip made it all the more special. Our combined efforts to reach out and make a difference with our volunteers has been very rewarding and gives us the strength and resolve to continue.

A little quote from Mother hangs on a pendant in our kitchen:

We cannot do great things in this world. We can only do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa

If pictures paint a thousand words then the following photos from this trip can tell their own story. (Click on the image and use the arrows to view a selection of photos)

My gratitude to the Gupta family for all their assistance and support in logistics. A special thanks to Mrs Sharda Gupta for feeding our group and guests with beautifully prepared Indian food.

The Bekind Boys welcome our volunteers

The Bekind Boys welcome our volunteers

Thanks to Geeta and her team in Hope Kolkata Foundation for facilitating us and making us so welcome at all the Hope projects.

Thanks to the MC brothers and sisters in all of Mother Teresa’s homes. Tapan Banerjee and the Rupayan boys who we are privileged to support since Bekind started in 2007.

Thanks also to Tulika Das and her team in Sanchar who work so hard for families of special needs children.

For your support, a thousand thanks.

Brian