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Volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata
by Verity Worthington Volunteer:
Many people have asked me what draws me to Kolkata, and it’s a difficult question to answer. For my confirmation, way back in the last millennium, I received a book with daily quotes from Mother Teresa [“The Joy in Loving”]. I remember reading one entry which described a young girl visiting Kolkata from Paris. Mother noted that her eyes weren’t smiling, and sent her to work in Kalighat, where she found Jesus.

Perhaps I knew my eyes weren’t smiling either, because as soon as I finished school, I decided I would go to Kolkata to volunteer. Looking back I was certainly very young and innocent. I remember my journey from the airport, wondering if these people really slept on the streets, who owned the dogs and cows etc! It was akin to landing on another planet - many miles away from my all-girls school in rural England. However, I was soon captivated by the volunteer community; by the warmth and friendliness of the people and sisters. For the first time in my life I felt accepted for who I was, not for what I could do. I began working in a dispensary, and led a group of volunteers painting the park at Shishu Bhavan. It probably sounds cliched, but from the very beginning it became apparent that whatever we gave, we received much more.
Since that first visit nearly 10 years ago, I’ve returned many times to Kolkata, and have volunteered elsewhere with the Missionaries of Charity. Like many other volunteers, I enjoy sharing in the prayer life of the sisters as well as the apostolate. We began our day at 5am with morning prayer, and ended it with adoration. In a city as chaotic and noisy as Kolkata, the chapel becomes a vital part of the volunteer day. Mother’s Tomb is also a very special place to offer prayers and find moments of solitude. The volunteer community, under the care of Sr Mercy-Maria , is remarkably close
Sometimes it’s easy to become immune to the poverty in Kolkata – after all, everything is relative. However, volunteering is a very humbling experience. Kalighat especially is a very special place. It is a quiet place; a place where the tears of the dying and the tears of the searching meet; a place where east meets west; where boundaries are broken. I was continually humbled; at the lady who thanked me for helping her eat, at the lady curled up in the corner of her bed sobbing who let me sit with her ... at the woman with excrutiating burns who endured daily agony, yet raised her hands in gratitude to the doctor.
You’re reminded that it’s 2009 and people are dying without anything and anyone; forgotten by the world; rejected; unwanted; unloved. One lady in particular stands out in my memory – she had such sad eyes; our lives had been so different; different languages and cultures and customs; yet as I fed her, we were somehow united "together" in our humanity. That shared experience matters, and you realise that touching each other’s brokenness is where we find Jesus.
Every volunteer contributes a drop to the ocean of humanity, and it is certainly true that  the ocean would be less without these drops. It is so easy to look at the big picture; to see the thousands of suffering people, and forget that we can only do small things with great love - that the one person we serve at a given moment is Jesus. This was definitely apparent when on Christmas day we served food to thousands of people who queued so patiently at the gates of Shishu Bhavan. This is a passage from an email I sent home: "There is a chilly cold in the air at the moment, and as I walk to work past bodies wrapped in sheets on the pavement - I realise how close to that first nativity we are here. When we tend to the dying in Kalighat - when we give out blankets as we were this morning ... this is Christmas ... not fairy lights and tinsel. I find myself seeing the Holy Family on every pavement in this city - poor, needy and vulnerable; whole families surviving in this cold weather, on a patch of dirty pavement - one day to the next, one year to the next. They aren't busy preparing the turkey or wrapping last minute presents. They haven't sent any christmas cards this year, or decorated a tree. These babies know nothing of Santa-Claus, they don't have a stocking to hang at the end of their bed - yet they have something many people with all of those things will lack this Christmas. Perhaps it sounds cliched, but Mother Teresa was right, here people share ... they huddle under the same blanket; they share the little food they have with their neighbours. There is no room at the Inn for them either ...  they live in the cold, rejected by the world - and they do so with humility.
I was reminded this morning as we gave out blankets and rice, of the queues around the world in shopping malls at this time of year. People waited so long for these essential items, which they received with such gratitude. It is a lesson to us all."
I have met so many wonderful people during my time volunteering, and I consider the Missionaries of Charity to be my extended family. People think it is courageous, to go to Kolkata and volunteer – yet those who do so discover that far from being difficult, they are embraced and welcomed with such love. I would like to say my motive for volunteering was alturistic, but I needed them far more than they needed me. The irony is, it is easy to love in Kolkata, where the physical poverty is so great. As Mother said “you will find Kolkata all over the world if you have the eyes to see”; and this is the biggest challenge for long-term volunteers and indeed, for all of us.
  • If you are arriving in Kolkata by plane, take a pre-paid taxi from
    the airport – the desk is located on the right before the exit. This will not cost more than 200Rupees, but drivers will try and ask for more, so be prepared! 
    -     Many volunteers find accommodation on Sudder Street, which has a
    host of backpacker type dormitories. Sudder Street is a 20minute walk from Motherhouse. Closer accommodation can be found at Monica House on A.J.C Bose Rd, opposite Shishu Bhavan, and at Bely Guest House – right next door to Motherhouse, above the WEB internet café. There is no need to book rooms in advance. Dorm beds cost around 100-150rupees a night.
  • It is advisable to get your shots [Typhoid, Hep A and B, Tetanus] and bring with you any prescription medication you are taking. Personally, I did not take antimalarials, but these are available in Kolkata [as is most medication] much cheaper than in the west.
  • You do not have to write to the sisters or call before you arrive. However, you do need to register as a volunteer before you can start working in the centres. To do this, bring your passport to Shishu Bhavan, located at 78 A.J.C Bose Road, at 3pm sharp, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Alternatively, the Sister in charge of volunteers issues day passes at breakfast in Motherhouse, [54a A.J.C Bose Road] after mass in the mornings.
Mass is at 6am every day at Motherhouse, followed by a breakfast of bananas, bread and chai. You don’t have to attend mass to get breakfast, but you’re most welcome. At 7.30 we say a prayer, and disperse for work. Volunteers are also welcome to Adoration, which is at 6.30pm every evening except on Thursdays and Sundays when it’s at 6pm.
  • Be aware that many of the beggars working in the vicinity of Motherhouse are professional. It is difficult at first to understand the many levels of poverty in Kolkata, but it is not encouraged to give money to people in the street.
  • There are many places to eat around Sudder Street, with Blue Sky Café being a favourite haunt amongst volunteers. On AJC Bose Road, Delhi-Dabar serves cheap rice and dahl at lunchtime, and fantasti  khati rolls [a Kolkata speciality] in the evenings. Hotel Circular, on the other side of A.J.C Bose Road, offers a range of cuisine, but be prepared for slow service! Alternatively, if you have cooking facilities, there are many bazaars which sell fresh fruit and vegetables, and there is a
    supermarket chain called MORE, located at New Market, and Elliot Road.
  • For treats, Flury’s on Park Street offers wonderful cakes and
    afternoon tea. Kolkata also has a KFC on Middleton Row, and a pizzeria called Fire and Ice on Camac Street. Be kind to yourself, volunteering can
    be hard work. If you’re in need of a break, you could also head to
    the Forum on Elgin Road, where there is an INOX cinema showing western and Indian films.
  • Do be careful of the water; make sure you drink bottled water, and
    check the seal first.
  • Be prepared to wash your clothes in a bucket! One thing I’ve learnt over the years is to wash my clothes every day, otherwise it is really hard work! You can buy detergent  [brands like Ariel] at many street stalls. Soak them first, and then get scrubbing!
  • You can receive mail at Motherhouse, kept in a box in the breakfast
    room. Letters should be addressed c/o Sister in charge of volunteers, Missionaries of Charity, Motherhouse, 54a A.J.C Bose Road, Kolkata 700016, West Bengal, INDIA.
If you’re working in Kalighat, Prem Dan or Daya Dan, you will need
to get a bus to work. It is advisable to keep a ready supply of coins, as the conductors don’t like giving change. It costs 4rupees from Motherhouse to Kalighat.
  • Thursdays are volunteers day off. There is no breakfast on Thursdays, but there are often volunteer activities arranged such as visits to Titagargh, the leprosy centre run by the MC brothers.
  • Take a deep breath, a journal to write in, and be prepared for a life changing experience!
Tips for volunteering in Kolkata
Many people have found volunteering to be the experience of a lifetime. Volunteers are welcome to help the sisters in their service to the poorest of the poor for a week, a month, or longer.The qualifications required for volunteering:
“Hearts to love and hands to serve!”
(Mother Teresa)
You are not required to call or write to the sisters ahead of time to go to Kolkata to volunteer. Simply “show up” for Orientation and Registration:
At:       3 p.m. 
Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (Home for Children), 
78, A.J.C. Bose Road, Kolkata – 700016
On:      Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Please bring your passport as you are required to show it to the Volunteers’ Coordinator at the Orientation.
Note:  Volunteers’ Coordinators are not available on Sundays and Thursdays.
Thursday is a day of prayer for the Sisters.
There is also no orientation and registration on the following days: 
The Monday after Easter 
August 22
September 6 
December 26
Volunteers share in the works of love at the Homes for: the dying destitutes, children, and physically and mentally challenged children.
Details will be given at the Orientation.
For those who wish to join the sisters for Mass and Holy Hour at Motherhouse (54, A.J.C. Bose Road, Kolkata – 700016) or to see the Museum, the schedule is as follows:
  • Holy Mass at 6 a.m. followed by breakfast
  • Holy Hour at 6.30 p.m.; Thursday and Sunday at 6 p.m.
  • Holy Mass and Blessing (with Mother Teresa’s Relic) at Mother Teresa’s Tomb on Fridays at 4.30 p.m.
  • Viewing of the Museum and Mother Teresa’s Room: 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Visiting Hours for our Homes: 9 a.m. – 12 noon and 3 p.m. – 5.30 p.m.
Volunteers must arrange for their own accommodations. Some of the nearest and cheapest places of accommodation are:
Hotel Circular, 177, A.J.C. Bose Road
Monica House, St. James’s Church, A.J.C. Bose Road
YMCA, 25, Chowringhee Road, 
Hotel Maria, Center Point, Modern Lodge, Salvation Army Hostel, Sudder Street
Baptist Mission, near Baptist Church A. J. C. Bose Road

For those wishing to volunteer elsewhere. Please contact directly the regional house for the Country , where you plan to go NO E-MAIL AVAILABLE . View list of regional house of the Missionaries of Charity with the respective country in each Region: Europe, Africa, Asia,Oceania, The Americas
Contact Information
Many people have found volunteering to be the experience of a lifetime. Volunteers are welcome to help the sisters in their service to the poorest of the poor for a week, a month, or longer. 
For those wishing to volunteer in Calcutta, please write directly to Sister in-charge of volunteers, who is presently in charge of the volunteers at our Motherhouse:
Missionaries of Charity
Sister in-charge of volunteers
Or call: Tel : 91-33-2249-7115 or 91-33-2217-2277

For those wishing to volunteer elsewhere. Please contact directly the regional house for the Country , where you plan to go. View list of houses of the Missionaries of Charity 
Regionalhouses in: Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, The Americas
For England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Iceland:
Missionaries of Charity
177 Bravington Road,
London W9 3AR
England, U.K.
Tel.: +44-208-960-2644
For Northern Italy, Vatican:
Missionaries of Charity
Piazza San Gregorio al Cielo, 2 
00184 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39-06-700-8435
For Southern Italy:
Missionaries of Charity
Vico Panettieri Ai Tribunali, 44A
80138 Napoli, Italy
Tel.: +39-081-4403000
For Spain, France, Portugal, Morocco, Switzerland:
Missionaries of Charity
Paseo de la Ermita del Santo, 46
28011 Madrid, Spain
Tel.: +34-91-463-3744
For Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia - Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Holland, Slovenia, Sweden, Norway:
Missionaries of Charity
Elisenstrasse 15
45139 Essen, Germany
Tel.: +49-201-235641
For Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia:
Missionaries of Charity
Dom Sw. Jozefa
Ul. Poborzanska 33
03368 Warsaw, Poland
Tel.: +48-22-614-5074
For Albania, Bulgaria, Kosova, Macedonia, Greece:
Missionaries of Charity
Rr. Kajo Karafili, 42
Lagja 4
Tirana, Albania
Tel.: +355-42-239296
For Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine:
Missionaries of Charity
Ul. Chechulina, 13
105567 Moscow, Russia
Tel.: +7-499-308-9383
For Egypt, Libya, Malta, Northern Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria:
1, Yousef Roshdi St.
Ahmed Badawi - Shoubra Msr.
Cairo, Egypt
For Ethiopia, Djibouti:
Missionaries of Charity
Post Box 21871
Shoa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Tel.: +251-11-1232597
For Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Sudan:
Missionaries of Charity
Post Box 32778
Nairobi, Kenya
East Africa
Tel.: +254-20-2430472
For Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi:
Missionaries of Charity
B.P. 1174
Kigali, Rwanda
Central Africa
Tel.: +250-252-574575
For Republic of South Africa, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Seychelles:
Missionaries of Charity
76 St. George’s Street
2198 Bellevue East
Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa.
Tel.: +27-11-648-6315
For Central African Republic, Congo, Cameroun, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad:
Missionaries of Charity (Mailing Address)
B.P. 185
Yaounde, Cameroun
Tel.: +237-777-428-50 or +237-220-032-57
For Ivory Coast, Benin, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Togo:
Missionaries of Charity (Mailing Address)
12 B.P. 186
Abidjan 12, Ivory Coast
West Africa
Tel.: +225-213-616-80
For India:
Mother House
Missionaries of Charity
54/A A.J.C. Bose Road
Calcutta 700016, West Bengal
Tel.: +91-332-2249-7115
West Bengal (Calcutta), Bihar
78 A.J.C. Bose Road 
Kolkata 700014, India 
Tel: +91-33-22175267
West Bengal (Siliguri), Sikkim, Bihar, Nepal
H/185 Pradhan Nagar 
P.O. Siliguri, 734403 
Dt. Darjeeling, W.B., India 
Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam
Camel Back Road
Shillong 793001, Meghalaya, India 
Tel: +91-364-2226283
Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Bharalumukh P.O. 
Guwahati 781009, Assam, India 
Tel:  +91-361-541244
Bihar, Jharkhand
c/o Catholic Church 
Doranda P.O. 
Ranchi 834002 
Jharkhand, India 
Tel: +91-0651-2490103
Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal), Chattishgarh
P.O. Jinsi 
Jehangirabad, State Bank Colony 
Bhopal 462020, M.P., India 
Tel: + 91-0755-2574867
Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow), Uttaranchal
5, Sapru Marg
Lucknow 226001 U.P., India 
Tel: +910-522-2627492/2283416
Union Territory (Delhi), Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir
Coninissioner's Lane
Civil Lines
Delhi 110054 India 
Tel: +91-11-23831080
Gujarat, Rajasthan 
Opp. Novino Batteries Makarpura Road
Vadodara 390010 
Gujarat, India 
Tel : +91-0265-2643105
Maharastra (Bombay), Goa, Mangalore
Church Road, Vile Parle (W) 
Mumbai 400056 Maharashtra 
Tel:+ 91-022-2618-4068
Plot No. 13
Bhubaneshwar 751007 
Orissa, India 
Tel : +91-674-2570930
Andra Pradesh
A Krishna Lanka 
Vijayawada 520013 A.P., India 
Tel: +91-0866-2521460
Tamil Nadu, Union Territory, Andamans
71, West Madha Church Road 
Chennai 600013 T.N., India 
Tel: +91-44-25953078
Kerala, Karnataka
S.R.M. Road, Ernakulam 
Cochin 682018, Kerala, India 
For Jordan, Israel, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine:
Missionaries of Charity
Post Box 9645
Amman 11191, Jordan
Tel.: +962-6-552-4218
For Philippines:
Missionaries of Charity
1030 Tayuman Street
Tondo 1012, Manila
Tel.: +63-2-255-0832
For Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Sakhalin Island (Russia):
Missionaries of Charity
Pyeonghwa-Gil 8, Danwon-Gu
Ansan City, Kyong-Ki-Do, South Korea 425-806
Tel.: +82-31-402-0892
For China (Hong Kong, Macau), Taiwan, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand:
Missionaries of Charity
Nam Cheong Estate, Block 6
Cheong Chit House
Shumshiupo, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China
Tel.: +852-2-386-7707
For Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan:
Missionaries of Charity
Ul. Nusamuhamedova, 29
700077 Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Tel.: +99-871-2687443
For Bangladesh:
Missionaries of Charity
26 Islampur Road
Dhaka 1100, Bangladesh
Tel.: +88-02-739-1116
For Sri Lanka:
Missionaries of Charity
Shanthi Nivasa
81, St. John's Way
Colombo 15, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94-011-252 5995
For Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia:
Missionaries of Charity
P.O. Box 337
27 High Holborn St., Surry Hills N,S.W. 2010
Sydney Australia
Tel.: +61-2-9318-2881
For Papua New Guinea:
Missionaries of Charity
P.O. Box 926
Boroko, Papua New Guinea
Tel.: +675-321-2201

The Americas
For Eastern U.S.A. and Eastern Canada:    
Missionaries of Charity
335 East 145th Street
Bronx, NY  10451
Tel.: +1-718-292-0019
For Central U.S.A. and Central Canada:
Missionaries of Charity
3629 Cottage Avenue
St. Louis, MO  63113-3539
Tel.:+ 1-314-533-2777
For Western U.S.A., Western Canada, Mexico (Tijuana):
Missionaries of Charity
164 Milagra Drive
Pacifica, CA 94044
Tel.: +1-650-355-3091
For Mexico, Cuba:
Missionaries of Charity
Calle Galeana 225
Colonia Santa Fe
Mexico D.F.  C.P. 01210
Tel.: +52-55-5570-5425
For Haiti, U.S.A. (Florida), Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands:
Missionaries of Charity
Rue B. de Larnage, Delmas 31 
Haiti, W.I. 
Tel: +509-3719-7659
Mailing Address:. 17th Street
P.M.B. 800-C 104
6800 SW 40th Street 
Miami, FL 33155
For Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama:
Missionaries of Charity
Apdo. 94-2200
Coronado, San Jose
Costa Rica, Central America
Tel.: +506-229-4269
For Venezuela, Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia:
Missionaries of Charity
Apdo. No. 12
Catia La Mar
Municipio Vargas
Venezuela, South America
Tel.: +58-212-351-2313
For Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia:
Missionaries of Charity
Apdo. 2726
28 de Julio 2821
Lima 100
Peru, South America
Tel.: +51-14-742-534
For Brazil:
Missionaries of Charity
4947 Avenida Brasil
CEP 21040-360 Rio de Janeiro
Brazil, South America
Tel.: +55-21-22700619
For Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay:
Missionaries of Charity
Posadas 1848
Beccar 1643 PCIA. de Buenos Aires
Argentina, South America
Tel.: +54-11-4723-0873
Tips for volunteering in Peru
by Sonya Apodaca Volunteer
Four Missionaries of Charity houses are located in Peru, one each in Lima, Juli, Cuzco and Chimbote. The houses serve children and the elderly, many of whom are physically and mentally challenged as well as orphaned. Some locations regularly feed the hungry in their community. Others distribute provisions to the poor, teach catechism, and provide services as needed and possible.
It is recommended that you call or write to the mother superior of the location(s) where you want to volunteer, as these locations do not host regular orientation and registration meetings. They will appreciate knowing in advance that you are coming.
Visiting hours are generally from 8:00 to 11:30 a.m. and 3 to 5:30 p.m. every day except Thursday and, in some locations, Sunday. Volunteer work hours can differ slightly from visiting hours depending on need. International volunteers commonly work only in the morning. Ask the sisters about their needs.
The sisters speak English but most residents, employees and local volunteers do not. If you do not already know some Spanish, learning at least basic words and phrases will be extremely helpful not to mention culturally respectful. 
It is wise to get vaccination shots prior to traveling. The Center for Disease Control web site is an excellent resource and should be consulted along with your doctor. Usual precautions apply regarding drinking water and eating food while in a foreign country. 
Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own travel and accommodations. A few tips are provided below but it is recommended to always consult travel guides and sites for the most current information.
Physical address: 28 de Julio 2821
Phone: 011 51 474-2534 (While in Lima, local calls need dial only 1 474-2534. 1 is the city code.)
In Lima, Missionaries of Charity is located in the district (neighborhood) of La Victoria north of central Lima. Expect most locals to cringe when you mention La Victoria because it has a bad reputation, but do not be discouraged from going there to volunteer. Do take precautions, e.g. do not wear jewelry including watches and do not take any valuables such as mobile phone, camera, purse, or other items that might get attention especially in an extremely poor neighborhood. 
Arrange for a taxi service to drop you off and pick you up in front of, or as close as possible to, the house door located on Avenida 28 de Julio. (Note: A door is visible from the adjacent block but it is not in use and will not be opened for anyone.) A block-long vegetable market on Avenida 28 de Julio operates every morning so the driver might need to leave you at the corner where you will then walk about 20 yards to the door. Ring the bell and the door man, who generally responds quickly to the buzzing, will unlock the door to let you inside. 
If you arrange to be picked up after 11:30 a.m., the market normally clears out by then and the taxi can drive up curbside directly in front of the Missionaries of Charity door. Some taxi drivers might refuse to venture into La Victoria due to its reputation but might have a change of heart when they hear where you are going to volunteer. Arrange a day or at least several hours in advance for round-trip transportation, and always carry the taxi service phone number on your person. A safe and reliable taxi service in Lima is Taxi Seguro (275-2020).
Physical address: Jiron Juli #385
Phone: 011 51 5155-4102
Juli is located in the deep south of Peru, about an hour’s drive south of the better known city of Puno. Both are on the bank of Lake Titikaka and at high altitude. Be sure to bring altitude remedies with you and allow at least one day to rest until you adjust. Bring layers of clothes as it can be warm during daylight hours then get very cold when the sun goes down. 
The fastest and most direct route to Juli from Lima is via airplane to Juliaca, then in a taxi van called a “collectivo” from the Juliaca airport to Juli. The collectivo is likely to squeeze more than 14 passengers into a 14-passenger van. Luggage is tied onto the top of the van. Local street vendors rely heavily on this mode of transportation so several stops along the way are common. Be sure to confirm cost directly with the driver prior to the ride and expect to pay a very economical 20 soles (approximately 15 soles to Puno plus 4 soles to Juli). In comparison, a private taxi will cost approximately 80 soles to Puno alone which is only about a third of the distance to Juli. A morning flight to Juliaca is recommended to allow plenty of time for travel by rode and arrival in Juli during daylight hours. Note: Puno and Juli are both in the region of Puno.
The sisters in Juli might be able to offer a guest room if it is available. Expect clean but very basic accommodations with limited plumbing. Juli is a small village and finding accommodations might be a challenge so be flexible on travel dates, allow ample planning time, and be open to alternatives such as home stays.
Internet cafes are plentiful and very affordable in Juli, usually one sole for 20 minutes. There are no money exchange houses or ATMs in Juli but there is at least one Peruvian bank located close to (not on) the Plaza de Armas. Expect local banks to be very busy with long lines, arbitrary hours, and less favorable than average exchange rates.
Physical address: Av. Victor Raul de la Torre #235 (Next to the regional emergency hospital.)
Phone: 011 51 8425-6932
The experience was wonderful and meaningful- unforgettable
Volunteering for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity
Working at Kalighat was a life-changing experience
“I Thirst” defines my experience serving the poorest of the poor  “I Thirst” defines my experience serving the poorest of the poor  
by Sam Ballou Volunteer
“I Thirst” These two words said by our Lord Jesus as he hung upon the cross defines my experience serving the poorest of the poor along side with the Missionaries of Charity. It is this infinite thirst that we seek to quench in every small act of love we give to the poor. I am grateful to God for this time that I have been blessed with, here in Kolkata. In every difficult moment, God’s grace is always there to help get through the trial, no matter what situation we may find ourselves in. God’s Love and Mercy is very much alive and at work here. In each of the Sisters, Brothers and Fathers smile, the love of Jesus is radiated throughout the wor
Working at Kalighat was a life-changing experience
by Marissa Turner Volunteer
One of the sisters told me that volunteers usually cry twice – on the first day of work and on the last.  For me, that statement was true.  The first tears were tears of shock and disbelief, fear, sorrow, and helplessness.  The final ones were those of thanksgiving, beauty, friendship, parting, and love.  Working at Kalighat was a life-changing experience, and I feel blessed to have spent three months working there.
I worked the morning shift at Kalighat, which meant that a lot of the household chores needed to be done.  Laundry, dishes, baths, meals, and medicines – all of these things are done every day.  In each of these things there is a sense of peace and simplicity and grace; somehow no matter how much or how little work there is, it all gets done.  The other volunteers and the sisters radiate joy and love in all that they do, and I always pray that I can do the same.  Perhaps the most special moments of the day come about when interacting with the patients.  Whether it’s a smile, a massage, or just sitting in each other’s presence, a special bond is formed – one that transcends language and culture.  Another honor, probably the greatest in my mind, is sitting with women as they pass from this life.  Trying to give any comfort possible and being there so that they don’t die alone: I cannot think of a greater honor than that!
Although blessings abound at Kalighat, there are also many challenges.  Witnessing the pain and the loneliness that so many of the women experience day after day is not easy.  My heart broke every time a patient would start crying or when she screamed and her body writhed with pain.  Those things do not get easier to handle each time they occur, but maybe we just recognize that those experiences, too, are a part of this life.  Another challenge is not being able to do all of the things that you want to be able to do to stop the suffering.  If only I had other medicine or more technology or more knowledge of this disease or if I knew the language or how to stop the injustices that are done to these women, but we all have one undying connection: we are human.  So we do our best to minister to the human person inside each one of us!
Kalighat, especially the women there, has forever changed my life!  I have learned that life is extremely fragile and should not be taken for granted; I have been humbled time and time again; I have seen great acts of love even in the midst of extreme pain and suffering; I have found out that poverty is a complex problem; and I have lived life in the moment.  I know that I gained more from Calcutta and Kalighat than I was ever able to give.  The two will always hold a special place in my heart.
Volunteering for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity
By David Jolly
KOLKATA, India — It's only 9 a.m. here at Prem Dan, a long-term convalescent facility run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, but already my fellow volunteers and I are soaked with sweat as we bend over tanks of water, hand-washing laundry for close to one hundred patients.
It is hard work in the early June heat. Six volunteers are sloshing clothes around in soapy water; the rest, myself included, rinse and wring out the garments before they are taken to dry in the harsh pre-monsoon sunshine. As the old man, at 44, I initially fear that I won't be able to keep up with the 20-something guys around me, but I soon get the rhythm. There is a strong spirit of teamwork here, and when a wet shirt goes zipping by my ear, knocking my baseball cap into the water, I turn to face the grinning culprit and laugh with everyone else.
Everyone is familiar with Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in 1997, but not everyone realizes that the order of Catholic nuns she founded here in this city, formerly known as Calcutta, continues to thrive and that the sisters and brothers of the order welcome volunteers as they seek to fulfill their vow of caring for "the poorest of the poor."
Unlike the majority of the volunteers, many of whom have been planning their visits for months or even years, I have come on a whim. I had already been in India for three weeks, on a study-tour with a group of American social workers, but tiring of the travel pace, I left the group in the southwestern state of Kerala, and via a couple of cheap flights made my way across the country to Kolkata.
Finding my way to Mother House, the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, is simple. At lunch on the day after my arrival, I meet a group of Americans in a restaurant on Sudder Street, where most of the city's foreigner-friendly accommodation is located. They are themselves on their way to volunteer and invite me to join them for an orientation session that afternoon.
At Mother House, I meet volunteers from all over the world, including French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spaniards, Germans, Americans, Canadians and Irish. While there is naturally some cliquishness along national and linguistic lines, the common challenges help to bring the strangers together. Many volunteers are seasoned travelers, while others were outside of their home countries for the first time. (I am stunned to find a couple of midwestern Americans violating a cardinal rule of Indian travel, eating raw salad in a local restaurant. Sure enough, they both go out of commission for 48 hours). Some of the volunteers are medical professionals or social workers; there are quite a few office workers, and many students. The youngest volunteer I meet is 17 years old, the oldest is probably well beyond retirement age.
At the orientation session we learn the history of the order, are given some advice about dealing with beggars and street scams, and are assigned our work. I am assigned to a group home called Nabo Jibon, where I will work with severely disabled adolescent boys.
When I arrive the next morning at Nabo Jibon, 45 minutes and two bus rides from Mother House, I learn that most of the heavy lifting - cooking, cleaning and washing - is done by local women and the friendly young novices. The other volunteers and I sit and talk individually with the boys, recite the alphabet, kick a ball around, push them on the swings, and help at mealtime. I find that my singing, which enjoys little repute in most circles, is a big hit here, and the kids clap, laugh and smile at my efforts. One boy, who had appeared closed to the world, leaps to his feet and dances rapturously when I sing the melody to the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
A social worker from Nebraska, Liz, volunteering in Kolkata for the second time, urges me to work at some of the other facilities, as well. "You're not getting the 'true' experience," she nags in a friendly way.
So a few days later, I spend the afternoon working at a place called Nirmal Hriday. I approach it with trepidation. Kalighat, as it is also known, for the Hindu temple complex with which it is associated, is the hospice for the dying that was the first of the facilities Mother Teresa founded here. It houses perhaps 150 patients in closely spaced beds, with men and women in separate wards. Most are old and sick, but no one is in obvious pain.
Instead of the solemn, oppressive atmosphere I have been anticipating, I find a beehive of activity and, once again, a lively sense of camaraderie among the volunteers. The sisters come from all over the world, including India, and they are kind and extremely efficient. But while the other, more experienced, volunteers seem to know exactly what they're doing, I feel that I'm in the way, and after giving hand massages and chatting for a while with patients, I am eager for tasks. When a no-nonsense Italian nurse puts me to work feeding little pots of what I imagine to be banana custard to a sightless and nearly toothless old man, I jump at the chance to be useful.
This experience drives home the fact that longer-term volunteers are a lot more valuable than us tourists. I meet a Japanese volunteer, Hide, a trim, middle-aged man, who commands the Kalighat dishwashing operation. He has been working for the sisters in India, and also in Ethiopia, for several years. He has left Japan in the prime of his working life to help the poor. So serious and competent is he at the primitive dishwashing station (obviously a critical operation in any such institution), that I can easily imagine him as a quality control officer in a state-of-the-art semiconductor plant.

Later, I learn that many of the patients have tuberculosis. I have a small son, and I worry about getting the disease. When I express my concern to a Canadian doctor named Luke, he assures me that it is very unlikely that I will contract TB from such limited contact. "I worked for months with tuberculosis patients in Nigeria, and my markers still haven't turned positive," he tells me, referring to a test for antibodies that show exposure to the disease. He almost sounds disappointed.
I am not Catholic, though many, probably a majority, of the volunteers are; nonetheless, no one has tried to convert me or anyone else that I know of. Indeed, the sisters are probably too busy, and anyway, their example is probably as good an advertisement for the faith as one is likely to find. Nonetheless, I start each morning with 6 a.m. mass at Mother House, where we volunteers sit to one side, cross-legged on the floor, already drenched with perspiration. The nuns, in their white saris, and the priests in their cassocks, suffer silently. A few electric fans stir up the humid air. After a shared breakfast of bananas, white bread and the sweet, milky tea known as chai, we sing devotional songs, say a prayer and then it's out into rush-hour Kolkata for a bus ride to our "jobs."
Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal, is renowned for its music and arts. It ranks in size behind only Mumbai and Delhi among Indian cities, with a population of about 14 million people in its wide orbit. Proud locals argue that the city's reputation is worse than its reality, and there is something exhilarating about moving about this sea of humanity. But even a first-time visitor with wide experience in Asia may find the scale of misery overwhelming, and hunger is evident in the faces of the hundreds of people I see sleeping on the sidewalk every morning on my way to the Mother House.
A visitor with no experience of the developing world is apt to face a period of adjustment, in the petty rip-offs, the fetid air, the choking crowds, the open-air baths and toilets. I arrived in early June, just as the monsoon was getting under way, and I spent several hours one morning huddled under a flimsy roof, soaking in the pouring rain as traffic throughout the entire city was halted by thigh-deep floodwaters. It's all part of the experience.
In the end, Prem Dan, the convalescent facility, is the place where I feel most useful; the volunteers really work, and unskilled laborers (i.e., journalists) are valuable here. Back at the laundry station, clothes done, we recycle the soapy water, scooping it up in buckets and carrying it out to scrub down the sidewalks and driveways of the facility. By the time the sidewalks are clean the heat has left me distinctly woozy. At least I thought to wear a hat.
At mid-morning, we bring the patients a snack of hot milk, and after a quick cup of chai, I find a new job preparing lunch. I swap stories with a young Bengali man and a couple of thoughtful American volunteers as we work the slippery pits from the flesh of gooey yellow jackfruit. After we feed the patients, we help them to the bathroom, and after cleanup, our day is done.
It's all I can do to eat lunch myself and then collapse for an hour or two in my hotel room.
Going to help out with the Missionaries of Charity might sound daunting, but nothing could be more simple. I showed up at Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Airport after 10 p.m. with no hotel reservation, not knowing anyone. A taxi got me to Sudder Street, where I found a hotel - it won't show up in any luxury travel guides - and learned everything I needed to know about volunteering by asking.
I had the chance to travel in India before my time at Mother House, but I met quite a few volunteers who had come directly to Kolkata and planned to spend their entire trips there. That seemed a shame, because they would see little of India's famed cultural and artistic riches. Volunteers work hard, and the heat, pollution and scale of the city make it easy to spend a lot of time lying in a hotel room bed, staring at the ceiling fan.
What I can say, is this: The organization she created in Kolkata attracts a lot of interesting and warm-hearted people as volunteers, and I feel lucky to have been a small part of it.
The experience was wonderful and meaningful- unforgettable
In the Kalighat , is where I spent three memorable mornings as a volunteer. The hospital, established by Mother Teresa in 1950, is run by the Missionaries of Charity with the help of volunteers. Working there made me realize 1) how fortunate we Americans are and 2) how overregulated we are here in the U.S. ....
It was September when I walked into Kalighat, which was very Spartan and clean but satisfactory, and said to the nun (all the nuns spoke English), “I would like to do some volunteer work.”
“Good,” she said. “Go over there and help that fellow to bathe the men.”
That was it. I didn’t have to fill out any papers. No fingerprints. No social security number. Nothing. Later they took my name and address and sent me a ‘Thank you’ card.
And so another volunteer and I carried an emaciated man to the bathing area, where I alone used a plastic pitcher to pour tepid water over the man’s head and back and chest and arms and legs. I then soaped most of his body and rinsed him off and dried him. Another worker helped me to carry the man back to his cot, where I dressed him in clean pajamas.

Most of the morning was spent bathing men. I also used Johnson’s Baby Oil to rub the dry scalps and backs and limbs of some of the men, most of whom seemed pleased with the massage.
I also helped some to take pills, and once I spooned glucose into the mouth of a younger fellow, paralyzed by a fall, who could not even swallow. The glucose just ran into his mouth and down his throat. He could not speak nor move. He only stared, emotionless, at me.
On another morning I helped other volunteers, most of them college-age persons from around the world, to wash the pajamas of the men and women. The washing was all done by hand and by feet.
The first “cycle” involved tramping, as though the pajamas were grapes, on the soiled clothing in soapy water. The clothes then were rinsed by hand in another concrete basin and then put into the basin where I worked with two students. Our job was to rinse them in disinfectant, wring them out and pass them on to a volunteer who hung them on the roof in the sun.
On the third morning I helped wash dishes, by hand, of course, squatting before low tubs on the floor. The dishes were metal plates, cups and spoons.
Elsewhere I saw middle-aged women volunteers at sewing machines. I assume they were repairing the blankets and pajamas.
The patients are among “the poorest of the poor” who have nowhere else to go. Mother Teresa was determined that no one should die unwanted on the streets.
I worked for only three mornings, but others worked for a month or longer. Volunteering is rewarding, for certain, the experience was wonderful and meaningful — unforgettable.
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