Sunday, June 24, 2012

Working with Mother Teresa

My phone alarm rang at 5 AM in the morning Saturday. I hurriedly got dressed and headed to the Mother Teresa House, a 20 minute walk from my hotel on Sudder St. I sat down in the small chapel to listen to mass that the sisters of the house attend every day. After a quick breakfast of bread, banana and chai tea I headed with a group of girls to Shishu Bhavan House. This house only accepts female volunteers.

Shishu Bhavan is a location for neglected toddlers and disabled children. We started the day with a prayer and donned aprons. The room was filled with cribs and small beds. All the children were already awake, the ones that could walk and sit upright were singing prayers while the ones that lacked mobility were sprawled out onto a mat on the floor.

The group of girl volunteers, who were mainly new, and I sat down on the mat to hold and play with the children. Many of them could move without assistance, some did not react to the attention, most could not talk, and half could not even eat by themselves. Many of the children were not potty trained and wore cloth diapers, which we changed often throughout the day.

We placed the children in small chairs with restraints to feed them their breakfast. It was a struggle to get the children to open their mouths, and when they finally did, they often spit the food back out. Many cried and fought as we fed them, other just sat silently.

After breakfast we took the children out to play in the small playground outside the house. Some of the children excitedly played with the equipment, others you must hold upright as they sat on the swings, and many seemed oblivious to what was happening around them.

Mother Teresa's Grave
As I carried a young boy in my arms around the playground he seemed to take interest in certain activities. He would begin to cry when put in the swing by himself, but would smile as he swung on my lap. He liked to grasp the leaves and throw them and he loved to feel the rain on his face. He could not walk so I carried him to different activities. He must have been at least four years old.

After outside playtime we fed the kids and afternoon snack and water from a metal spoon. We sang songs and played with the children. We took a break to drink tea and eat crackers.

We then put the children to bed, changing their diapers if needed and covering them with talc powder to keep them dry in the hot humid Calcutta weather. I noticed a small girl in a bed near the window, she was not mobile and did not have the opportunity to go outside like the other children. She was wide awake and her eyes were shifting around. Her head was as large as a soccer ball but her body was so small. Her swollen head was supported by pillows and bandaged. I took her small hand as I sat by her bed. She squeezed my fingers as her eyes shifted around the room. She did not seem in pain but it was definitely painful to see her in her condition. I sat with her for a while just holding her hand.

The sisters asked us to leave for a lunch break. I was reluctant to leave the young girls side and let go of her small hand.

I joined a couple volunteers from Mexico at a small restaurant on Sudder Street before heading back to Shishu Bhavan.

We first changed diapers then sat with the children on the mat to play. Many of them could barely move their arms or legs and would just lay on the mat. We would help them move their arms and sit them up. A physical therapist who specialised in Cerebral Palsy came to help some of the children.

After play-time, we again struggled to feed the children. The young boy I was feeding did not like to open his mouth but with some patience and some coaxing I was able to feed him everything that was on the plate.

Again we played with the children. I realized how much the children wanted to be loved. They would grasp at me and as I held them in my lap they hugged me. I helped a little girl stand up, she enjoyed standing and when I lied her back on the mat to leave she began to cry. It was hard to to leave the children but I am sure to visit again.

Please visit to learn more about the services offered at the centers in Calcutta and to see how to volunteer.


  1. Thank you Adrienne for sharing your experience of volunteering at Mother Teresas. Would love to know how it affected you, did the exprerience change you?

    1. Hello,

      It was definitely a life changing experience, I am currently a medical student, and I have always known that I want to use my skills to service the community, but after volunteering at the Mother Theresa House, I was even more certain that I want to be a doctor for the underserved. I have volunteered a lot in the USA, but to volunteer in another country really opens your eyes to how much inequality there is in this world.

      I remember being overwhelmed with the suffering, and realized that instead of being angry and sad, I decided to use my energy to help them and bring joy to the children.

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  3. You may not be able to change the whole world, but every little thing you do, every show of kindness will brighten and make a difference in the lives of the ones you touch.If more people gave a bit more of themselves this world would definitely be a better place.

    You rock girl.