Volunteering at Mother Teresa’s hospital

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The Hospital for the Dying, in the Kalighat area of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, 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. or, perhaps, how underregulated they are in India.

In September ’06 I walked into the hospital, 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.

Besides the hospital, there is an orphanage (Shishu Bhawan), where women volunteer, and a home for lepers, run by the brothers.

I worked for only three mornings, but others worked for a month or longer. Volunteers must pay for their own hotel lodgings and meals. Rewarding, for certain, the experience was wonderful and meaningful — unforgettable.

Although I just dropped by unannounced, a person could make enquires to the Missionary Sisters of Charity (54a Lower Circular Rd., Kolkata 700016, West Bengal, India).

BRUCE KIELSMEIER

Klamath Falls, OR

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

The Hospital for the Dying, in the Kalighat area of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, 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. or, perhaps, how underregulated they are in India.

In September ’06 I walked into the hospital, 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.

Besides the hospital, there is an orphanage (Shishu Bhawan), where women volunteer, and a home for lepers, run by the brothers.

I worked for only three mornings, but others worked for a month or longer. Volunteers must pay for their own hotel lodgings and meals. Rewarding, for certain, the experience was wonderful and meaningful — unforgettable.

Although I just dropped by unannounced, a person could make enquires to the Missionary Sisters of Charity (54a Lower Circular Rd., Kolkata 700016, West Bengal, India).

BRUCE KIELSMEIER

Klamath Falls, OR