Mother Teresa’s Kolkata (Calcutta) base, known as the Motherhouse, still accepts fresh-faced, wide-eyed tourists who want to help the world. I was one of those who joined the 50 or so volunteers at 7am for a breakfast of banana, bread and chai. This was followed by some singing, clapping and praying (a weird primary school-like combo).
The group are then divided up to go their desperate ways. I was sent off to Prem Dan in a group of 15 people.
Prem Dan is a 25 minute walk away from the Motherhouse and it houses roughly 200 terminally ill old men and women.
I didn’t register, but instead was brought along by the lovely James, who is a nurse and has worked for MSF in South Sudan among other places. I was given a one-day pass by the sisters and sent on my merry, but apprehensive way.
When we arrived at Prem Dan, we were shown into a room where we could leave our valuables and then we were told by those who had been the day before that we were to help with washing clothes. We spent about 90 minutes washing clothes in huge tubs
While we washed, and consequently got covered in water, others were hanging the clothes upstairs in the sun. After the clothes washing, the water was used to clean the floors (recycling at its best). We then washed up cups so that the infirmed could have chai.
After a break for our chai, we massaged the legs of the ill. Most of the men there did not appear to be in pain, but some were worse than others, and massaging arthritis-riden knees is apparently a good way to relieve some of the pain.
Then it was time for lunch, and that meant serving a large portion of rice, dhal and chutney to the masses. After serving we settled in for our washing up stint before heading off home after a good morning of helping out.
Overall, it was a memorable experience, and I would definitely go back and volunteer again. But, I was left with the feeling that there was little direction given, and that the conditions these people were living in were somewhat squalid.