Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Our final day in Kolkata was bittersweet. The sad goodbyes were overshadowed by our celebratory visit to the property on which the future hope house will lie. The tranquil setting drowns out the incessant noise of the city with ease. In fact, it makes you forget the chaos entirely. How perfect this escape will be for the most deserving women and children. I stood in the stillness and reflected upon the hope, care, love, and restoration that will soon be provided to these beautiful girls. Pure joy!

I parted with sorrow, but I know I will return soon. You have my heart, Kolkata.

Monday, January 25, 2010

a homecoming.

This adventure has been special for our entire team. It has been particularly monumental, however, for my dear friend Regis. Born in Kolkata, Regis contracted polio as an infant. With hospital bills piling up, his incredibly poor mother abandoned him at the hospital. Regis was placed in an orphanage where he lived for three years until he was adopted by an amazing woman. Regis' adoptive mother had just lost her husband in a swimming accident while vacationing in Hawaii. They were in the early stages of adoption. She followed through with their plans, and so Regis' new life began.

A strong desire to return to the place of his birth has always stirred within him. For whatever reason, he had never made the journey. Upon graduation from Washington State University, Regis was accepted into graduate programs at both George Fox and Northwest University. He vacillated for months but ultimately chose to attend Northwest. Three weeks into the program, the trip to Kolkata was presented to our class. He was astonished, to say the least. Today we found ourselves walking into the orphanage where Regis spent the first three years of his life.

What we witnessed was love. The most incredible staff takes care of these beautiful children-the majority of whom are severely physically and mentally disabled. It was a very emotional experience.

We walked into a room where we were greeted by a man with a smile that could light up the world. He was Regis' physical therapist. 26 years later, he is still loving and helping the forgotten children of Kolkata. He remembered Regis instantly, and could recall specific details about his time there. It was a remarkable reunion.

Another woman remembered Regis the moment she saw him. She said he still has the same face. She hugged him and cried as she thanked him repeatedly for coming. After playing with the kids for a long time, we went to the office where Regis was able to go through his file that contains all his adoption papers, letters from his mom regarding his progress, countless photos, and more. We all feel blessed and honored to have shared this experience with him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

the least of these.

I will never forget driving through the red light district. We left before dawn because it's the safest time. The women were sleeping after a long night of work. I felt unsettled. A distinct darkness permeates the streets--one that can only be comprehended if experienced firsthand. Despite the horrific things that take place there, I am hopeful for the change and restoration that will replace pain and exploitation in the lives of these beautiful girls. I can't wait to see the day when the dreaming and planning comes to fruition. The need is immense.

Today we had another early morning. We left the hospital at 5:30am to participate in the daily feeding program that takes place just a few miles from the heart of the city. Mercy Ministries feeds 25,000 people daily through this program. What we witnessed was shocking. The city continues to push the most impoverished of its members farther away from the rest of society as if to hide the utterly destitute. Women and children walk for miles and line up to receive what will be their one and only meal of the day.

Where are the men? Sitting at home nursing their hangovers after a long night of drinking. Meanwhile, a garbage heap the size of 10 football fields haunts you in the distance. To make matters worse, the main road is lined with countless leather tanneries. Toxic chemical waste runs from these tanneries down into the water supply. This polluted, pernicious water is used for the agriculture that feeds the unsuspecting city. Not a single thing is done to change this. Despite the chaos around me, I found peace in the beautiful faces of hunger. I'm proud to share these faces with you. These are the faces of inspiration.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

turning scars into stars...

...that is the theme of Stars Welfare Society, a school for children in the slums. We visited Stars today for the second time this week. The first visit was an opportunity to meet the children, play with them, take pictures, and so on. Today our goal was to observe with the least amount of distraction and interruption possible. Yasmin, the "mother" of the school, pointed out a few students in particular that she has some concerns about. The language barrier makes things difficult, but we did our best. These are brilliant children. I can't help but think about how different their behavioral, academic, social, and psychological development would look if placed in a different environment. There is virtually no structure. To make matters worse, the building is not conducive to learning in the slightest bit. Essentially, it is a dark, abysmal basement. Yasmin loves these kids, but they need so much more than that in order to thrive. As a team, we are developing ideas and suggestions for the school. I didn't take many photos today, but I got one shot I'm happy about...

Tomorrow at 6am, we will drive through the red light district. Appropriate adjectives for my feelings are escaping me right now. The atrocity of the brothels in Kolkata is the primary reason I am here right now. The future existence of Hope House, a home for women and children escaping the sex trade occupies my thoughts and dreams. In conjunction with Hope House, the 5-year plan also includes a school of psychology headed up by Dr. Herkelrath--my hero, my professor, and the dean of the school of social and behavioral sciences at Northwest. His relationship and involvement with Mercy Ministries has led him to a groundbreaking place. I'm thrilled to be a part of the early stages of this brilliant and monumental vision. The possibilities are astounding.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

i wish i was blind.

I don't have much to say because words are inadequate to describe what I experienced today. We spent the day at a school for blind children, and my life will never be the same. If I didn't know better, from a distance I would have assumed that these children had perfect eyesight. I've never experienced so much love and joy in one place. I fell in love with one girl in particular. She took my hand without hesitation, and gave me a personal tour of the property. She walked me into each and every classroom, and though I couldn't understand her, I knew she was introducing me each time. All the students would stand. She would walk me around to say hello to each of them. They would hold my hands, feel my wrists, and touch my face. It was beautiful. She walked me up and down stairs with an unmistakable confidence. She couldn't see me, and we couldn't communicate through words, but our emotional connection ran deep. I have never felt love like I did in those moments, and I am convinced I may never again. She clung to me from the moment we arrived, and she did not leave my side until I was forced to get back on the bus.

I reluctantly said my goodbyes, and she planted the biggest kiss on my cheek. I will adopt a blind baby from India one day...mark my words.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a love story.

The days just keep getting better. We had the absolute privilege of visiting a school in Serampore, an hour and a half outside Kolkata. Once again, I fell madly in love with the most adorable kids my eyes have ever beheld. Bonnie and Robin, the dynamic duo that founded the school, impressed me beyond belief. They fell in love at a young age, but after Bonnie's mother died, she was responsible for taking care of her eight younger siblings. Robin proposed, but Bonnie was forced to decline because she couldn't abandon her family. They both went on with their lives, married and started families. 50 years later after both had been widowed, their paths intersected once again. Robin proposed for the second time. Bonnie's response was different this time. A doctor by profession, Bonnie runs a free clinic for women and children while Robin is in charge of the school. What they do for these children is nothing short of remarkable. I sat across the table from Bonnie listening to her heart for these darling kids. I was speechless. The fire and passion in her voice and in her eyes impacted me on a deep level. It was a profound moment for me. Bonnie and Robin are both in their 70's now...and they both work six days a week. Oh to love like that.

While sitting in the clinic watching Bonnie in action, many captivating people passed by. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

After visiting the clinic, we walked down the street to the school. I need to preface my experience at the school by saying we have been warned against hugging the the children close to our heads because of lice. Needless to say, all of those instructions went to hell the moment I stepped into their world. I just couldn't help myself. Let me show you why....

Too beautiful for words! Orjit, one of the volunteer coordinators at the hospital accompanied us to the school. He told me not to sit on the floor with them if I didn't want to get attacked. So, what did I do? Once again, I couldn't help myself. One-by-one they would pile on top of me until I couldn't move...or breathe for that matter. And then they would all fall over, giggle hysterically, and start all over again. I don't know if I've ever felt more alive.

I told just keeps getting better.

Monday, January 18, 2010

what a day.

I don't know where to begin. We started off our day at the hospital where I witnessed my first ever live surgeries. First, we observed a gall bladder removal. Next, we watched a C-section birth which was the most graphic, disgusting, beautiful, emotional thing I have ever experienced. This barely 5-pound precious baby boy made me cry. His momma was under anesthesia during the procedure, but the doctor told us she had already lost one child to a miscarriage, and two others hadn't survived birth. He was her first little miracle. I was moved.

After the hospital, we took a little drive to the slums. During the bus ride there, we happened to stop at an intersection. I looked out the window to find a half-dressed little girl defecating on the sidewalk. My heart hurt.

Soon after, we arrived at Stars Welfare Society, a school for children in the area. These little ones stole my heart.

At one point, I stopped and looked around at the cutest little kids in the world, and my eyes filled with tears. Nothing profound was happening. We were simply coloring, but I was brought to tears. I knew in that moment that I have too much love to give. I wanted to rescue them all. I wanted to take them home with me and love on them forever. Leaving was difficult.

The afternoon was full of joy. The photos speak for themselves. It's hard to only select a few, but I'll try.......

Sunday, January 17, 2010

thoughts from today...

With today being Sunday, the large majority of shops were closed, and the streets were slightly more tranquil than normal. There were significantly less people walking around, and significantly more kids on the street begging. It's impossible to pass on by without feeling a deep sense of sadness. They yell, "auntie, please, please help" and your heart shatters into a million tiny pieces. Unfortunately, for many of them this is simply a task they've been manipulated into completing. If you've seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, the depiction of the children is not far from reality. I was fortunate enough to capture this little guy in all his glory.

I also got lucky when I spotted the most precious little girl on the street. I frantically reached for my camera and turned it on hoping I would be able to catch her in time. So not to offend her mother and the other women with her, I remained inconspicuous and just barely lifted my camera high enough as I passed by which explains the slight blur. Why was I so anxious to get the shot?

If you look closely, she is wearing a tattered Santa Claus hat. She and her hat made my day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Yesterday was full of adventures. We took an official tour of the hospital, and spent a good deal of time on the children's floor where we got to love on little ones recovering from cleft palate surgery, waiting for cleft palate surgery, or those suffering from thalassemia or leukemia. This was the most emotional thing I've experienced so far. Moms, aunts, sisters, and cousins-most too poor to afford even a fraction of treatment-sat on these hospital beds holding their little loved ones.

This precious one put on quite the show for us. It may not look like it in these photos, but she is very, very sick with leukemia. A woman from our team ended up sitting on a bed with another sick child and her mother. After talking for a long time, tears began to well up in the mother's eyes as she talked about her child. We are planning to go back to see the children today even though that wasn't on our agenda.

After we left the hospital we wandered around the streets for hours. This was quite the experience. Drivers honk their horns incessantly, and the streets are utterly chaotic. At one point, we had stopped at an ATM to take out cash. Suddenly the streets were quiet. There were no cars on the road, and guards kept everyone on the sidewalks. We went to see what was going on, and one-by-one a slew of government cars began to fly by. Come to find out, the Prime Minister was driving through. We ended up stopping in at a lovely dessert shop/cafe where we intended to grab a quick treat. After devouring our delicious pastries, we decided to stay for dinner. Three hours later, we headed back to our home. Today is our last semi-calm day, and tomorrow we hit the ground running. We will be working at Stars which is a slum school in the area. Our team will be evaluating the children which I'm thrilled about. Ultimately, we will be presenting our thoughts/recommendations for bettering the conditions at the school. Can't wait!

I took the following photos yesterday as we walked around the streets. A little piece of the history of the city helps explain some of the architecture. Kolkata is the capital city of West Begal. It is a colonial city developed by the East India Company and then the British Empire. It was the capital city of the British Indian Empire until 1911. The city was infiltrated by a European philosophy. There was a time when the streets of the city were washed EVERY single day. Over time, urbanization began to devour the very heart of this once immaculate city. The most beautiful buildings have deteriorated over time, and nothing has been done to restore them. It's incredibly sad; however, the contrast of formerly spectacular architecture blended with decay makes for interesting photos. Enjoy.