I often use bus journeys as a time to think and process things and on a good day I can reach my destination feeling I have really worked through something and changed an attitude or thought process for the better. However, I have never experienced a bus journey quite like the journeys to and from where we visited in Kolkata today.
Travelling on the Khushi Feet funded school bus, the first place we visited was the Baby Care Centre in Daspara. A day centre for babies from 10 days old. We washed, dried and changed the babies and helped to feed them their breakfast of cornflakes in warm milk. Once the children were settled to play we made our way to the school in Daspara. This school is in a big building which has many classroom. As we approached we could hear very loud, joyful and enthusiastic singing and we entered an assembly for the 400 students who attend the school. We were welcomed in and received garlands made from fresh flowers. We shared stories and songs with them. At the end of the assembly we went into one of the offices and were given drinks and amazing fresh buns. Daspara School now has its own bakery where each day they bake over 800 fresh buns, enough for all of the children at the different projects. They were sweet, light and fluffy and absolutely delicious.
A tour round the school was up next and we visited each class and heard a bit about what they were learning. Many classes sang us a song or poem. We saw the library and also went out onto the roof of the school to see the amazing view across the lake. It was raining heavily (it’s monsoon seasons!) which was actually very refreshing. After this we split into pairs and went to teach English to different classes. Daryl and I were teaching a class of the older girls who were 14 and 15. Their English was really good! It’s amazing how easily the language and culture barriers can be overcome with a smile and a few silly jokes.
We then got a tour of the new hospital being built on the site. It is 6 months into construction and I actually felt overwhelmed by a feeling of hope as we were shown around. The hospital is being built and opened on the back of an experience that staff from the school had when they took a young girl with blood cancer for treatment at the government hospital and said she was treated like an animal simply because she was poor. The hospital will save lives but also show love and humanity to people who need it most.
After lunch at the school it was back on the bus to pick up the babies from the Baby Care Centre and get back to the Guest House where we are staying. The 11 beautiful babies and other school children that we journeyed with today gave us all so much joy. Their individual personalities, smiles, laughs and quirks couldn’t help but make you smile and laugh back and join in with their games. These perfect, innocent and adorable babies have nothing by any material standards yet they have everything to offer in terms of overflowing joy.
Sitting inside that bus with the school children and babies driving through Kolkata is like being in some kind of weird paradoxical vortex. The bus is full of laughter, smiles, games, compliments, shrieks of joy and cuddles. Yet you look out of the windows and see so much suffering. Rundown buildings, stray emaciated animals, people sleeping on the side of the road. It’s impossible to explain. I looked down at the toddler asleep in my lap and imagined everything a person has the potential to become, yet had to watch him climb down the stairs of the bus onto the streets he calls home. The journey back after all the children had left was difficult. It was hard to process seeing where those children would be spending the night. Getting on the bus in the morning it was hard not to be too outraged at the scene, comparing it to standards we have in England. One-year-old children on a bus with no shoes, seat belt or parents. Yet the time they spend with the Baby Care Centre is giving them the best care they can hope to receive at the moment.
The bus journey today definitely changed things for me. It’s painful to see poverty. It’s painful to see how far there is to go in beating it. Yet there is hope. In the work being done here and in each of these precious children.
I believe these children do have the potential to achieve amazing things. The Baby Care Centre and the different schools for street children are offering them this chance. These projects have to keep being supported. By us, by you and by all those who care.