Calcutta for Baal Dan

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
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Trip End Sep 30, 2009


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Flag of India  , West Bengal,
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Those of you that have been reading my blog for a while, know that I went to Calcutta (Kolkata) around this time last year to volunteer for Baal Dan which is a charity ran by my close friend from Dallas...Tanya.  By the way, click on the link in the previous sentence to read more about the wonderful work Baal Dan does and to donate to the cause.

Anyway...the decision to return to Calcutta this year was a no-brainer given my experience last year...so on Friday morning I was off to Calcutta to spend 3 days helping Tanya and working with the wonderful kids I met last year.  Upon arrival, Tanya picked me up in a car she had arranged (she arrived into Calcutta several days earlier) and we were off to visit the Parivaar group which has been helping street children in West Bengal for many years.  The drive to Parivaar was long and we first had to stop off and visit one of the leaders of the charity for  tea and discussion.  He was a nice guy and loved to chat, but both Tanya and I were anxious to visit the kids which were at a compound 40 minutes away.  Finally we were off and after a incredible back-country tour of India (I swore we had to be lost) we arrived at a beautiful school compound surrounded by grasslands and trees.  It was very shocking to see so much green in India actually.  Despite the beautiful surroundings...we didn't see a single kid...what's going on?  Turns out we had turned up exactly at nap-time...ugh.  After a tour of the grounds and seeing a bunch of sleeping children, we finally ran into some kids playing cricket...but you could tell everyone was still a bit groggy from having just woke up.  The kids were great though and even though our time with them was short...it was fun.  It was starting to get dark, but one of the Parivaar leaders asked us to visit another orphanage (Shishur Sevay) on our way back to the city center.  Shishur Sevay is actually a private home rented by a former U.S. doctor (Dr. Michelle Harrison) who has dedicated her life (and her savings and her social security) to help a group of  of street children (all girls) that live in this small house with her.  She's turned this 2 bedroom, 2 story home into a part-school, part-kitchen, part-church and part-home for the 10+ girls who she helps.  A couple of the girls come from abusive homes, a couple have cerebral palsy and the others have either been abandoned or were found on the streets.  Some of the older girls were in the middle of a school lesson when we arrived, but they were more than happy to drop their books for the chance to talk to some visitors.  Dr. Harrison is an amazing women who is doing this all on her own and out her own pocket.  You read an article from the Times of India on Dr. Harrison by clicking here.  After this visit it was starting to get late so we headed back into town to the hotel as tomorrow we had a busy day....taking 30+ girls (all orphans or street children) to the zoo.

Saturday morning...it's raining, Tanya is sick, driver is late....not a good start to the day.  So we had to cancel the zoo as the shelter we work with doesn't want to risk getting all the kids sick or even worse in a car accident given the weather conditions.  We drive to the shelter and meet Nick who is another volunteer for Baal Dan.  The girls are sad that we're not going to the zoo...but happy to see us and we make the best of a rainy day by playing games, taking photos and passing out sweets.  The girls were great and I really wish we could have gone to the zoo...maybe next time.  After playing for a couple hours, we were off to pick up 40 boxed lunches which we were taking to the Calcutta railway station at a small shelter which helps boys who live in the station.  Imagine you were a homeless child in India...and you're trying to figure out the best place to go where maybe you can earn a couple hundred rupees (<$4) each day to buy some food for your hungry belly.  Right or wrong...many of these children come to the local railway station where they beg, scavenge and search for food and money.  Baal Dan has been helping these "Railway Children" for several years and I can't imagine a better organization to support.  The shelter at this train station supports mainly boys by providing them a place to sleep, eat, store their meager ownings and to interact with other kids....basically a chance to play and be a kid again (you can read more about the organization by clicking here).  When we arrived two dozen boys swarmed our car and immediately asked us to play, talk, take photos and just interact with them.  These boys were starved for attention.  After moving inside the small one-room shelter, Tanya organized several activities including yoga, duck-duck-goose, simon says, carom and eventually lunch.  The boys were so great...naughty, but great.  After a couple hours, we handed out some sweets and then nearly passed out of exhaustion on the way back to the hotel.  Poor Tanya's sickness was getting worse...and tomorrow we had an even bigger day, taking 100+ girls to an amusement park.  I need sleep.

Sunday morning the weather had cleared...but Tanya was sicker.  Trooper that she is, we managed to find our way to Loretto Sealdah school where 100 screaming girls were waiting for us to take them to the amusement park.  Also at the school were a bunch of people from Australia who were told by the school they could come along on our little excursion....without letting Tanya know.  Tanya had to explain to this group of 15 people why they couldn't come which made us feel a little bad...but we didn't need that many volunteers (we already had 5...Tanya, me, Nick and two American girls)...nor did we have any room on the bus for more people.  After loading the bus (to the brim) we were off.  I've been to this "amusement park" on  my previous trip to Calcutta...and let me tell you that most apartment complex playgrounds in the U.S. are nicer than this place.  But the girls love it and as soon as the doors to the bus opened, 100 girls scattered...in every direction....screaming.  Tanya was getting worse...so I and the other volunteers did our best to keep the girls entertained by pushing them on the swings, dancing, climbing this "fort" thing and taking them on paddle boat rides.  Lunch was a welcome event as I was famished...but Tanya had had enough and she decided to head back to the hotel to rest and visit the local pharmacy.  So for the rest of the afternoon I played some more, danced some more and was dragged around by dozens of little girls yelling "Uncle!  Uncle!  Come with me!  Push me on swing!  Take photo of me!  Uncle!  Uncle!".  By the way....little kids call adults either Uncle or Aunty as a sign of respect...not because they think I'm their actual Uncle.  After the kids afternoon snack, I and the other handlers pushed everyone back on the un-air conditioned bus for the long, bumpy, hot ride to the school.  By the time we got back, everyone was either asleep, car sick or near heat exhaustion. 

Volunteering is a lot of work...but I hope the pictures show some of the fun we had as well.  More blog entries and photos coming shortly!

Oh...and check out Baal Dan.com and donate, donate, donate!!!
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