A Story from Calcutta

I recently received this email which sadly, yet exquisitely illustrates why HHI’s education is in such dire need.

Dear Hands to Hearts,

I am so impressed with your work. HOW important and wonderfully successful! Whoever thought this up is a genius and a saint. Several years ago, I visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Calcutta. (She had passed away before I was there.) I was astonished at the total lack of eye contact, nurturing, and almost deliberate focus to avoid touch or interaction of any kind. I was in the toddler room and it was here
that I observed this. The toddlers were either craving attention as if their life depended on it or they would have nothing to do with us. Turned their faces away with total indifference. I was so shocked but now am starting to understand that the “natural” nurturing of infants is either not always natural and/or is impaired by no nurturing of the mother by her parents, tremendous fatigue from far too much work and malnutrition, as well, and who knows what other factors.

Unfortunately this story does not come as a great surprise to me. I have heard the same story from orphanages around the world. Working as an orphanage caregiver is very challenging, exhausting and under-valued job. It is emotionally overwhelming, and when caregivers do form bonds to the children in their care, it is heartbreaking for them when a child dies or is adopted and leaves. Often, caregivers are told to not form emotional attachments with the children and the consequences are tragic for the caregivers, and even more so for the children clinging to life and desperate to be loved.

I do not choose to believe that these caregivers are heartless, but rather that they shut-down a part of their own humanity to be able to function in a orphanage situation. They work in institutions where they are bombarded with dozens or even hundreds of babies/children who are thrown away, who are often ill or dying, and whose needs they feel incompetent to meet. They have mouths to feed and diapers to clean; water to carry and food to prepare (often after they go to market to buy it); hospital visits to make and medicines to give; noses to wipe, baths to give; toileting to teach and floors to mop; laundry to wash and bugs to shoe away… and the list goes on and on. Over and over and over again!

HHI has a piece of the solution. By empowering women with knowledge, acknowledging the value of their caregiving, teaching how their everyday actions build brain development for a lifetime… these women can and do rise to their best, and the children rise with them.

I look forward to the day when we reach Calcutta, and more to the day when we are not needed at all.