Many people ask me what draws me to do voluntary work, which pays me nothing but takes up time from my everyday schedule. Sometimes I just smile to them and sometimes I try to share my point of view, which is not always convincing from the looks on their faces.
I remember when I finished my A’Levels, and had time off before the start of university, I was inspired by a friend of mine to spend some work doing voluntary services. Although at first I laughed the possibility out, I soon found myself making my way towards my destination via the busy roads of Farm Gate. It was raining hard that day and once when I reached the place, I was drenched. ‘Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity’ read a small signboard in front of a metal door. The yard was a bit slippery due to the rain and the place had an air of fulfillment and peace. With muddy shoes, as I set my umbrella on the balcony and proceeded to take off my shoes, I saw little children staring at me with bewilderment. I was looking around the place, hoping someone would redirect me to the office, when a kind, soft voice asked me, ‘Can I help you, son?’ dressed in white was a familiar and soft face of a sister, whom I later learnt was Sister Carmella. She invited me to her office, where she answered my questions and asked me a few herself. I learnt from her that the children living there were given food, shelter and education. Most of them were orphans and some were the unfortunate ones who were left at the doorstep of the shelter home. I learnt that while most left the shelter when they were grown up to take care of themselves, there were some, who were unable to work or who decided dedicate their lives working for the shelter home, who stayed back their for the rest of their lives. It was decided that I would go there 4times a week, and can stay as long as I wanted.
I was a bit nervous when I left the office. Perhaps they won’t like me or maybe I won’t be able to mix with them was the thought that kept haunting me for the next couple of days. But when I actually started working, I became one of their own. Since I worked during the morning hours, I started helping at the household chores. Laundry, dishes, baths, meals, and medicines – all of these things were done every day. Breakfast was always a happy hour as the children lined up on the balcony, and one by one the sisters passed them and filled their plates with food. I was usually in charge of the daal. There was a separate room where the injured were treated, and I used to stay there at least for an hour everyday either telling them stories or singing along with them, as the children eagerly tried to peer at me from their cots. I had a mixture of feelings – of contentment and sometimes became a bit sad everyday a child used to grab my fingers with their tiny fists! As they slowly wrapped their hands on my arms, I became one of their one and they started calling me Father Redwan (which eventually turned to Brother Redwan over the course of the next few months). I used to play games with them, and used to lie on the same cot. The ironic part was that, each and every child had a story to share with me, and their story was kind of related to their own lives.
Soon I realized, that these children, they do not want or deserve anyone’s sympathy. They do not want or need our money. All they deserve is some love, some attention and a few soothing words. These are children who were never hugged by their mothers, or given a ride on their fathers’ shoulders, or had fights with siblings, or listened to stories by grandparents like we did in our childhood. These are those unfortunate souls, who were left behind all alone, at the mercy of this cruel society – where the rich become richer and the poor, poorer.
I spent 10months working there. A good time, a happy time. Sister Carmella once told me that volunteers usually cry twice – on the first day of work and on the last. For me, that statement was true. The first tears were tears of shock and disbelief, fear, sorrow, and helplessness for the poor children who just started at me with their beautiful, big eyes full of dreams for a better and happy life. The final ones were those of thanksgiving, beauty, friendship, parting, and love. As I was shaking hands and hugging all the children who barely reached my waist, and in some cases my knees, I felt a small tug on my jeans. There stood Little Ratul, whom I got to watch grow from a 1year old baby to an infant who could walk and even talk properly. He was looking at me with his little head craned upwards and he just clutched my jeans and said, ‘When Brother?’
It is true I am not able to spend time with them anymore, but just the memories of the great times I spent there make me smile every time I think of them. But what I gained at the missionaries was far more than I can ever return.
The address to the main headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity in Bangladesh:
Missionaries of Charity
26 Islampur Road
Dhaka 1100, Bangladesh
I do not know the exact address of the shelter home I worked at in Farmgate, but it is situated right next to the Holy Cross School. If anyone is interested, I will be more than happy to take him there. 🙂
Disclaimer: Taking pictures is not allowed inside the shelter home. The photographs used in this post were provided from the charity database.