Before our team left for Kolkata, we were told that India’s second largest city was a ‘city of contrasts’. This turned out to be one of the best phrases to describe Kolkata.
We saw a man chopping up mutton whilst live goats sat beneath the table he was working on; burning hot sunshine followed by a downpour of horrendous rain – but the biggest contrast was the people.
It’s so easy to ignore the problems overseas when we live so comfortably. I thought I knew what poverty looked like – I’ve watched comic relief and children in need every year – and I was completely certain about what to expect. All of our team were. But seeing poverty face to face is very, very different.
On our first week of orientation we were guided around all the different projects Tearfund’s partner, Emmanuel Ministries Calcutta (EMC) do. We went into some of the most insular slums, we played with children who literally had nothing, and we heard new heart breaking stories every day.
At New Market slum, before EMC intervened 25 years ago the children would eat raw meat, get married aged 8 and the mortality rate was so high vultures were a common site around the area.
At Sealdah station, children who had moved into the city to find work joined gangs who told them that if they got behind a car exhaust and inhaled the fumes they would stop feeling hungry.
At Lackermath (a red light area slum), EMC opened a night shelter so the children wouldn’t have to hide under the bed whilst mothers entertained their clients.
One of the hardest moments…
One of the hardest moments for me of the whole trip was sitting opposite a shy girl who we were told was 13 and six months pregnant with a bump barely noticeable. Her 16 year old husband had run away and left her and she was a glue addict. I wasn’t really sure why I was the fortunate one sitting the other side of the table.
For the next three weeks, we each chose our different projects and I decided to work at New Market (An informal school in New Market slum), Connexions (A vocational training centre which teaches sewing and crafts to women) and Lackermath- an after school club for the children of the slum.
At the children’s projects I helped teach English and the hokey kokey, as well as hanging out and playing with the kids. At Connexions, they taught me to sew and I got to know the girls working there. Despite the fact we live very different lives very far away from each other, God brought us together and our lives have been touched by his people in Kolkata. They taught me that happiness is having God, and with God you can pretty much do anything.
I’ve been back home for a few days and I’m having trouble adjusting to the quiet, cold and seemingly luxurious life I live here. But poverty has a face, and I can’t forget the faces of Kolkata. Hopefully we can be a voice for those faces.