As the date was coming closer and closer I could feel myself getting more excited but also nervous about my upcoming trip to India with The Hope Foundation. I was so incredibly thrilled and grateful to be given the opportunity to travel to Kolkata with The Hope Foundation, but also on the other hand I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I had never travelled by myself or immersed myself in a third world culture/country , so I knew before going it was going to be a huge shock to the system. I had seen photos of other Roses in Kolkata, and even from these knew it was going to a life changing experience.
And my my my was it just that!
The whole week and every day blurred into one, when I reflected back on my time. It seems to be like a string of moments and every single stand out moment to me revolves around the very special people I met.
What really struck me and hit an immensely deep cord was that the people of Kolkata, particularly the children, were amongst the most kind and gentle people I have ever met. Daily life is so toiling and challenging in Kolkata, they really do survive and love day to day. What’s apparent is there is little value for life, and struggle and strife are just part of their habitual routine. What really amazed me though is how these hardships haven’t left the people angry or hardened. Rather the opposite. They have so little material possessions, only the clothes on their back. And these too they would give away if they thought it was going to help someone else.
I witnessed first hand this incredible kindness the day I went out to visit Bhagar dump, there was a little boy from one of the Hope schools and he was also local to the dump and he was showing us around. He has a beautiful and cheeky child-like smile, and impeccable English. We were chatting about everything and anything and I admired the necklace around his neck. It was a simple string with a plastic love heart attached, something he told me he found. Probably the prettiest thing he owned. After our tour of the dump and the goodbyes were said, he ran up to me shouting “auntie, auntie” and reached for my hand and in mine placed the necklace from his neck. An overwhelmingly selfless and beautiful gesture. I could not take it, so I said to him I would take the kindness and love he had shown me instead. This sums up the incredible spirit and generosity of these children. We have so much to learn from them.
On reflection, the most challenging and heart wrenching moment of my trip came the night we sat in the ambulance on “night watch”, this is an absolutely amazing service in which Hope volunteers travel around to different spots which are densely packed with people sleeping on the streets and see if anybody requires urgent medical attention or any help. It shocked me to the core to actually witness children, even newborns, sleeping soundly on the streets. The place where we lay our head at night to rest is so sacred. We are at our most vulnerable and fragile when we sleep, essentially defenceless.
It was here I met a young mother, probably about my age who had a tiny baby with her. No older than two or three months old that still struggled to hold his little head up. Here was a young woman, no different in make up to me. With a newborn child trying to keep him safe and protected to the best of her ability while living with next to nothing on the streets edge. Some of the volunteers were giving her some shoes and clothes for the baby, and I offered to hold him for her. I wanted so badly to take this precious little beautiful child with me away from the pavement to somewhere safe, and I really struggled to let him go. With tears in my eyes I handed it back to its mother and we left. I am still finding it hard to come to terms with all I saw that night, it was so unsettling and unnerving.
My trip to Kolkata with The Hope Foundation enriched my soul and opened my eyes to the life changing difference people can make to other’s lives. I saw the selfless acts of love and kindness from volunteers who give up their time and energy to help others, some had been there for months. It made me reflect too on my own life and count each and every blessing I have, and how fortunate I am to have grown up in Ireland and have had an amazing childhood and a supportive family. It made me thankful for day to day things we usually overlook and take for granted.
The Hope Foundation essentially save the lives of children and break a cycle of poverty and suffering. At Foundation Day, an event which sees the various children from the Hope homes perform musical dance numbers, there was a piece and its caption was “cut not the wings of our dreams”. The Hope Foundation give these children a chance at a better, brighter future and do everything in their power to support, nurture and encourage these children to follow and fulfil their dreams. A chance which every child in this world should have.