One of the things my family will miss most about our time in India are the opportunities we have had for volunteer service as a family for causes that really matter to us. We spent time Saturday afternoon at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity where we volunteer on a regular basis and as ever, we were warmed and humbled by the terrific work being done there and the joy of all of the children. The sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are doing unbelievable work, not just in Delhi, but throughout the world and making proud the legacy of Mother Teresa. We just finished sponsoring a clothes drive in the United States and had the pleasure today of delivering four boxes of summer clothes from America for the children with four additional boxes on their way.
Archive for the ‘Service’ Category
Being good neighbors is an important value that we share with India. It is always an enjoyable day when I visit and interact with our “neighbors” down the street from our Embassy at the Sanjay Gandhi settlement. Our collaboration in the settlement with the residents, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, NGO partners, and others represents another way the U.S.-India strategic partnership is benefitting all levels of society, including the local level. I read to Grade 1 and 2 students who are learning English through an innovative program that uses technology to provide fun ways to learn in a classroom. I also met with a women’s health group in the settlement who are improving health care for families in their community. And I even got to do some cooking on a new technology cookstove that will reduce indoor pollution for families. All these programs are improving the social infrastructure at the Sanjay Gandhi Settlement and will be used throughout India to benefit similar communities.
I made another visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home in New Delhi this weekend to bring Holi gifts to the kids there. I timed it well as there was a classical music teacher originally from Orissa who was teaching dance to the kids. It was a pleasure to see how much fun these kids were having and was inspiring to see the selfless devotion that the Sisters and the teacher invest in these kids. Community service and helping others is a major part of American culture. With Indian examples like Gandhiji, Dr. Ambedkar, and Mother Teresa, India has a rich tradition of community service that helps make towns, villages, and communities a better place to live.
Seeing the great big smiles of the newly arrived refugees and hearing the thunderous round of applause when we “raised the curtain” made the grand opening of the new Tibetan Reception Center (TRC) February 23 a special day. As the temporary curtain was withdrawn revealing the plaque and American flag, you could imagine the practical use of this facility. The United States Government invested almost $1 million dollars to build this new reception center that can accommodate up to 500 people, and includes new dorm rooms, a big kitchen and dining hall, and medical facilities. With intimidating snow-capped mountains as the backdrop, the TRC will help new arrivals with open arms and assist them with their new surroundings and new life. It was a day to recognize and reward India, who has hosted Tibetan refugees for the past 50 years. It is not surprising that India and the United States played a role in the TRC as both countries share values such as respect for human rights, religious freedom, and democracy.
I was especially impressed by two vital organizations of public service on my recent trip to Leh. Both are reflective of the vibrant institutions of military and religious life in India that remind me of common values shared with America. One is the Indian Army and the critical role they played in rebuilding the roads and infrastructure after the devastating floods in August. Led by the talented Lieutenant General Singh, AVSM, General Officer Commanding, 14 Corps, they linked the community back together by connecting to the hearts and minds of the citizens and constructing new bridges in record time. The second group is the Missionaries of Charity, started by Mother Teresa and now led by the wonderful Sister Prema in Kolkata. We were not surprised to see these Sisters in Leh assisting the families and devoting their skills in a time of great need. Military, civil, and religious organizations complement the dynamic private sector in both the United States and in India.
We are quickly approaching Gandhiji’s birthday on October 2nd. Last year I participated in the very moving and spiritually uplifting event sponsored by the Government of India at Raj Ghat. This year we honor Gandhiji and America’s tradition of service by organizing volunteers to help paint a school in a very poor neighborhood in Delhi called the Sanjay Gandhi settlement. Joined by several members of my family and students from the American Embassy School, we worked to freshen up the walls of this small school house. We splashed bright yellow paint on the plaster walls and some occasionally ended up on our fellow artists! You always feel like you can make a small difference when you dedicate some time and energy to a worthy cause like children. Give me some more ideas for volunteer service and put me to work!
The early morning light captures the majesty and clean lines of these spectacular mountains around Leh. As you can see from the picture, the shadows are pronounced and the bright white snow caps highlight the view.
We had a similar perspective as we met with about 40 families in Shey Village who had virtually lost everything in the unusual “cloudburst” in August, resulting in massive flooding and huge waves of mud sweeping down these valleys. These families told us about climbing trees in the middle of the night and holding on for dear life as their homes were crushed and swept away. We listened to one woman tell us (Sally is seen hugging some of the residents) that she had lost all her possessions and her husband could no longer perform his farming, due to 3-4 feet of mud covering their once-fertile field. After handing out blankets and meeting with the superintendent of police, we went to Leh for lunch. Near the middle of the market area, we walked up a flight of stairs to a restaurant called “Chop Sticks” where we had a delicious mix of Chinese chicken momos, fresh vegetable hot and sour soup, and spicy honey+chili fries!
The monsoon rain pelted down on the five and six year old children, but still the smiles and excitement could not be washed off their exuberant faces. They were lining up outside the gates of the American Embassy School to get fitted for their school uniforms. As we volunteered for the American inspired “Reach Out” program to help provide education opportunities for children who live in a near-by slum, we greeted both boys and girls into the gym to meet the tailors. It is especially encouraging to see the increase in the number of girls who are being instructed by their parents to attend school. This is a great way to begin a Sunday morning!
Today is Mother Teresa’s birth centenary and an opportunity to reflect and celebrate her lifetime achievements such as the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1979. I have visited her mission in Kolkata and participated in serving food to the poor.
People lined up outside waiting for bowls of rice with an egg on top. Her work also lives on in the three orphanages she started in New Delhi where the Missionaries of Charity devote their lives to helping the homeless and feeding the hungry. Mother Teresa continues to inspire in India and all around the world with her life of service.