Saturday, August 1, 2009

Indians wanting to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are often rejected or turned away by the organization.

Indians wanting to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are often rejected or turned away by the organization.

March 2, 2011 at 12:40am
Interview with: Santosh Kumar Nayak
By Hemley Gonzalez, STOP The Missionaries of Charity
February 18, 2011

Indians wanting to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are often rejected or turned away by the organization. Santosh Kumar Nayak, a Kolkata native interested in volunteering and helping his fellow Indian men and women who are less fortunate was refused by the Missionaries of Charity, apparently a common practice as they prefer to keep a steady flow of short-term foreign volunteers who can’t effectively communicate with patients, aren’t in the city long enough to develop relationships with the patients and most importantly will leave behind large donations, wont demand financial information/transparency and or necessary and significant changes needed inside the organization.

Hemley Gonzalez: Would you us tell which house you tried to volunteer in?

Santosh Kumar Nayak: I tried volunteering at Kalighat and I was rejected because I am Indian.

HG: Please explain?

SKN: When I went there my decision was to be a translator for the foreign volunteers who don’t speak Hindi or Bengali. So I thought perhaps my help as a translator could be effective. I was immediately told by the nuns who run the house that they were full at that time and needed no additional volunteers.

HG: Isn’t it strange that they are rejecting help from someone who speaks the language of their patients and instead prefer the help from foreign volunteers who do not speak Bengali or Hindi?

SKN: I found it very strange indeed. I explained to them I could be of great help, including help from other Indians friends who are also willing to volunteer and help with translations and other tasks but we quickly came to the realization that what the Missionaries of Charity are looking for is for the easy and large donations these foreigners bring and leave Kolkata quickly.

HG: Would it also be fair to say that if Indian volunteers were allowed in the houses operated by the Missionaries of Charity they could start communicating ideas for solutions?

SKN: Yes of course, things would start to change immediately, I felt this when I visited Kalighat, I have seen other houses where communication with the patients and genuinely hearing their concerns versus just only handing them things as the nuns often do there would be major change and would reduce the number of people they keep in this places.

HG: It’s it true that the workers in these houses are themselves Indians?

SKN: Yes, but there’s a big difference between someone who gets paid to do a task versus someone who wants to come in and help without expecting compensation and wanting to change things for the better. Besides, the majority if not ALL of the workers are usually men and women from the slums who are hired and paid very little so they rarely complain about the things they see and in fact often remain quiet the negligence and abuse they witness to protect their job. It is terrible.

HG: Have you spoken to the workers and ask if they could ever speak up about the horrible things they often witness?

SKN: I once did and a nun came running towards me immediately screaming and asking who I was to question their practices!

HG: A nun, a foreign “social” worker questioned an Indian resident who is concerned for the welfare of other Indians?

SKN: Yes, and aggressively, I really don’t understand what is going on there!

HG: Actually it seems quite simple really, after analyzing the practices of this organization for the last two years it seems their strategy is to allow foreign volunteers who on an average come to these houses for 4-5 days and they don’t stay long enough to realize the monumental need for improvements and changes and never witnesses a lot of the abuse that takes place after their shifts are over and the patients are left alone with the nuns and the workers. This is probably the main reason why they don’t want outspoken and progressive Indians to come into these houses because they would likely speak up and force the Missionaries of Charity to change. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?

SKN: Absolutely. Especially with many of my friends who are well educated, if they were to be allowed into these houses they would come forward to the media and demand serious changes immediately. The Missionaries of Charity are definitely scared of allowing middle class and educated Indians inside the houses; they realize their negligence would be exposed.

HG: So you seriously believe a rush of educated Indian volunteers would produce changes inside the Missionaries of Charity?

SKN: Yes, because as it stands right now it is a business. People from other places around the world come, they see these sick people, they can’t really communicate with them, and they do what the nuns tell them too, leave some money and other donations and go home. Indians would never stand for that.

HG: I have said this before publicly several times and will say it again, I believe these houses are “Museums of Poverty” and “Poverty Petting Zoos” where foreigners can come for a few days, wash some clothes, clean floors, feed a few homeless folks take some pictures and return home and because of this machine and image that has been built around Mother Teresa they can say and feel they did something great for humanity.

SKN: Yes, and there is nothing great about this. As an Indian, I feel ashamed, used and abused by these people who don’t even know our language or culture and are just often passing through Kolkata as if visiting these houses was just another attraction on their traveling schedule.

HG: Do you have any idea of the kind of money the Missionaries of Charity receive in donations in India?

SKN: I have no idea, no one does, and it is never reported.

HG: As an Indian you have the first right to question and have any opinion about any organization that comes to your country to help your people, so what is your general opinion of the missionaries of Charity?

SKN: This organization is a popular international charity, what happens inside India versus what the world knows is very different. For example, I have seen many items that have been donated to the Missionaries of Charity and later re-sold on street markets; perfumes, food, clothes, etc.

HG: You mean donations given to the Missionaries of Charity are being re-sold?

SKN: Yes.

HG: what happens to the money from the sale of these items?
SKN: No one really knows what happens with this money! The organization receives tons of medicines, clothes, and other items that could immediately help so many families living in the slums around Kolkata but they only care about giving tours inside their houses and showing foreigners the help they can control inside those walls – The money vanishes. Period.

HG: There has been a lot of controversy with the Missionaries of Charity and their religious conversion practices in Indian and other parts of the world. For example, baptizing Hindus and Muslims as Christians in exchange for giving them help. Are you personally aware of any of these practices?

SKN: I actually have personal knowledge and experience with this issue in particular. I have a lot of friends and their families who only receive help if they accept to convert to Christianity and we’re talking help with things like rice, beans, just basic everyday items that anyone who is poor needs. One of the better benefits they also offer in exchange for conversion is an education in one of their Christian schools around the city for the children of some families. The nuns also come around the house of those they convert to make sure the families remove any statues of references of their old gods which must all be replaced with images of Jesus.

HG: So these nuns not only actively convert but they also investigate and continue to make sure the conversion of new families to their religion remains effective?

SKN: Yes they certainly do this. If I take my daughter to one of their school tomorrow for admission, they would ask for a big donation and would start pressuring me to convert my child and myself to their religion. This is a fact.

HG: So these statements the Missionaries of Charity often make that they aren’t in India to convert anyone and only help regardless of religion aren’t true?

SKN: They can tell whatever they want to the world. What we see here in India is a completely different story.

HG: What is your actual religion?

SKN: I am Hindu.

HG: Obviously you’ve tried to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity but that hasn’t worked out. Have you tried to volunteer with other organizations?

SKN: Absolutely. I work with a small NGO that deals with educating children who live on the streets or come from very poor areas and slums, the name of this particular organization is: Lights of Hope, is a small NGO but one that is very much dedicated to making a change in the lives of many children in need around Kolkata without predicating any religion or asking anything in return from those they help.

HG: So this ridiculous idea that many people have that Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity is the only charity in Kolkata is just a myth?

SKN: Yes of course. There are many NGOs here, some better than others, especially those who are working with translators to understand the real issues of people in need and giving Indians tools to empower themselves, to educate themselves, to learn a trade or skill and with all these efforts create a real chance for these people to overcome poverty.

HG: You are 25 years, you’ve lived in Kolkata all your life and have personally seen and witnessed the work of the missionaries of charity, in your opinion, are they ever going to change?

SKN: If educated Indians are allowed to volunteer inside these houses and start demanding changes, they would certainly have to radicalize their entire operation.

HG: I want to thank you for your time, for your courage to speak up and for your interest to wanting to change things in your own country as I personally believe it is your right and duty. Once again, thank you.

Hemley Gonzalez
STOP The Missionaries of Charity

This is Mother House one of he many houses operated by The Missionaries of Charity where Indians wanting to volunteer are often rejected or turned away by the organization.

This is Daya Dan one of the many houses operated by The Missionaries of Charity where Indians wanting to volunteer are often rejected or turned away by the organization.

This is The Home of the Dying, one of the many houses operated by The Missionaries of Charity where Indians wanting to volunteer are often rejected or turned away by the organization.

                                         Santosh Nayak

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