Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interview with Hemley Gonzalez

December, 17th 2010 - Kolkata, India
Interview by Hemley Gonzalez, founder of:
STOP The Missionaries of Charity

Sally Warner, a registered nurse with a degree in sociology and a graduate diploma in social work from Western Australia, began working as a volunteer with The Missionaries of Charity in 1997. She quickly realized there was something horribly wrong going on in all of the children homes she had visited and volunteered in and soon after became a dissenting voice and critic of the organization, publishing her first book titled “Mother Teresa” in 2003 about these experiences and now currently working on her second publication “Mother Teresa: Sainthood Delayed” to be released in 2011. Sally had heard about my work and the facebook campaign: STOP The Missionaries of Charity / www.stopthemissionariesofcharity.com and after finding out I too was in Kolkata, a meeting was scheduled. The following is the transcribed audio of my hour long interview with her on this most disheartening subject.  More about Sally’s work: www.sallywarner.blogspot.com

Hemley Gonzalez: When did you come to Kolkata to work with the Missionaries of Charity?

Sally Warner: I’ve spent the last thirteen years volunteering and visiting several houses operated by the Missionaries of Charity, and eventually made my way to Kolkata in late 1999 and began volunteering in some of the houses in early 2000. Here I have visited and volunteered in: Green Park, Shanti Dan, Premdan, Daya Dan and Kalighat which I found quite awful, I lasted only a few day there as I thought it was very dangerous for volunteers with all the highly contagious cases of Tuberculosis, but I had to see it for myself and couldn’t believe it. Speaking of Kalighat, it is now closed for renovations which I’m sure you and your “STOP The Missionaries of Charity” campaign had much to do with.

HG: How many houses would you say you’ve worked in over the last 13 years?

SW: The following is a timeline of the homes I’ve worked in as well as the many others I have visited. I have spent most of my time in the children homes, there were some I could not deal with, some of the ladies homes, and others where patients were just sitting around and doing nothing, often in cement floors and lying in their own excrements, people drugged wrongly by the nuns and of course there is or should I say for now “was” Kalighat, where anyone could just walk in and immediately see an average of 50 men and 50 women laying in cots and basically rotting away.
  • Trivandrum Shishu Bhavan  Sept- Dec 1997
  • Visited Ernakulum MC Shishu Bhavan, and two other of Mother’s  homes for handicapped children
  • Volunteered Royapuram Chennai  June-December 1998
  • Visited and briefly volunteered Mangalore,
  • Visited and briefly volunteered Goa
  •  Visited and briefly volunteered in Vellore TN
  • Visited and briefly volunteered in Mother’s children’s home Pt Blair Andaman Islands
  • Chennai north –home for dying and destitute Women Feb-March 1999
  • Visited home for dying and destitute Men  Jan 1999
  • Visited home for handicapped babies Chennai north  April 1999
  • Volunteered July-late Dec 1999 Civil Lines Shishu Bhavan Delhi
  • Visited and briefly volunteered Home for Dying Delhi 1999
  •  Visited and briefly volunteered Handicapped Children’s Home New Delhi 1999
  • Volunteered Green Park 2001
  • Volunteered Daya Dan
  • Volunteered Shishu Bhavan – upstairs babies 100+ room; downstairs children’s room 100+ and handicapped children 40 plus- 2000-2002
  • Volunteered Gandhi School 2001
  • Volunteered Nirmala Hriday Home of Dying Destitute 2001
  • Visited and briefly volunteered in Mother’s Calcutta’s Leper’s home
  • Visited and volunteered for women in Prem Dan
  • Visited and volunteered Home for Prisoners Asha Dan
  • Visited and briefly volunteered MT Bentley Perth home
  • Visited Mother’s establishments in Brisbane Sydney Melbourne 2006
  •  Volunteered twice total 3 months in Cambodia Phnom Penh 2004, 2008
  • Volunteered in Mother’s Home Bellevue Johannesburg 3 months 2007
  • Volunteered in Mumbai Sept-Nov 2008
  • Visited and briefly volunteered in Mother’s  home in Durban SA 2009
  • Visited and briefly volunteered in Mother’s home in Pretoria SA 2009
  • Returned to Kolkata and visited Daya Dan, Prem Dan and Shanti Dan, Green Pack, Shishu Bavan and Mother House
HG: What are your skills and how were you applying them in the different houses you worked in?

SW: I am a registered nurse and also have a degree in sociology. When I first started volunteering in Trivandrum and noticed some strange things going on with the kids I thought, maybe these children, since they came from a different culture, had more tolerance to some things that western babies do not, maybe they could tolerate hot milk, maybe they can cope with less food because they were stronger, eventually I realized when babies started dying that they in fact couldn’t cope with some of the things the nuns were doing to them. I began to observe that some of the basic educational functions were totally absent from the house, such as daily interaction, development classes, consistent and educational play hours and so on.  I tried to get toys out of the cupboard several times, since I believe stimulation is very important for children which in these orphanages are not being regularly touched or physically interacted with or let alone have anything of their own, so I found myself grabbing even spoon, buckets, glasses, anything for them to learn to use for themselves, but the nuns were very adamant about allowing me to do things of this nature on a regular basis.

HG: What exactly were some of the things you were trying to work on while you were there?

SW: It is extremely difficult to make any progress with the nuns. You can unlock the cupboards, bring a lot of puzzles and books but because the staff isn’t trained or the nuns do not encourage them to use them, they often just sit locked in these cabinets or given away to other people. Once complaints started coming in from parents in Europe who were adopting some of the children and had noticed a very low and poor learning ability from their newly adopted son or daughter, that’s when the nuns began to consider having some proper programs instituted. In 1999 in Delhi they reluctantly allowed a group of doctors from St. Steven’s hospital to come in to one of the orphanages with workbooks and materials, they then tested about thirty children for a play-therapy program they had brought with them and tested them again after, the average for this group was 60 DQ (development quotient), the average for a normal child is around 100, after exposing them to toys and educational material and giving them regular attention, 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon, and after 3 months, they saw the development quotient had gone up to 80. Then a year later, the nuns had stop doing the play-therapy and dismantled the programs altogether, and when doctors had returned to the test the children again they found that their DQ had dropped to 55 which is clearly a delayed development issue that could cause permanent damage for the child, so they immediately employed a play-therapist in Delhi to try and get the children back on the morning and afternoon programs.

In 2002 I returned with a play-therapy program to try and have the nuns implement it only to discover they had canceled the therapist in Delhi because they didn’t see a need for it. Some of the top therapists in the country are being turned down for their services, and this is simply unacceptable.

Another case of distressful neglect of course is Kalighat which is especially disturbing to me because as a registered nurse in Australia I often work with geriatric cases and others with severe handicaps that aren’t exactly dying but are going to be staying in the nursing home for the rest of their lives. In Kalighat patients have little or no dignity, for starters they don’t have names they are only identified by numbers, and all the women’s heads are shaved because of the scabies and lice which are far too common in many of the houses. What hospital do you know is infected with lice? These facilities are substandard at best, they rarely use warm water and with so many fragile individuals being bathed on cement floors, their ailments and deaths are instead accelerated.

HG: It seems you have been met with some indifference and resistance?

SW: When I started in Trivandrum trying to explain to the nuns and the staff about the right measurements and amounts of milk babies of different ages should have, and being basically ignored, (One of the superior nuns said to me: “I don’t read that stuff”) and this was the first of many instances where I would bring up medical and professional information appropriate to India to try and help them do the correct thing but after 13 years of being ignored this is where I draw the line.

HG: What would you say is the common theme of negligence in all the houses operated by the Missionaries of Charity in which you worked in?

SW: Anne Sebba, a British academic, who wrote a book about mother Teresa highlighted what I think IS the central problem with the organization, in one of the many incendiary statements Mother Teresa made over the years was that “education causes confusion” and so she thought education was unnecessary, and the prime virtue for the nuns within the organization was obedience, and instructed her followers to believe that if they were obedient, anything else they did was OK.

With this in mind, going through some of the physiological and operational aspects I would say these nuns have followed instruction quite well. And here are some of the details that repeated themselves far too often in homes across India and other continents:

  • Donations being locked up, rarely used or plainly given to people who they were not intended for.
  • Local staffed being overworked and underpaid (In India it is common to employ people to watch over babies and perform a lot of the cleaning and feeding duties for up to 14 hours each time for only $30 rupees a day)
  • Milk products consistently being wrongly administered to babies and toddlers and in some cases causing death
  • Insufficient and untrained staff looking over babies and children (Over 100 in a single room at times, with babies under 12 months of age who require a lot of attention)
  • Questionable food, or brown food as you will see in the pictures below
  • Malnutrition cases in children where the stomach blows up and the limbs get very thin and the hair falls out AKA Marasmus.
  • Children who are handicapped, particularly blind children, even to this day in Varkala and Mumbai, they are not given any proper education or assigned any person who could teach them any language and as they grow older they become more and more isolated and after certain years of age, they will not learn to speak at all.
  • The nuns in all houses begin their day with prayers and interrupt what would be a normal schedule in any medical facility in the middle of the day, diapering for hours for more prayers and other religious functions, leaving untrained and insufficient staff to cover them in them in their absence.
  • Dangerous environments, with dangerous playground equipment and dangerous stairs where children could easily fall through and kill themselves.
  • No one ever sees what happens after “volunteer” hours as volunteers must leave all the premises. I was able to stay longer periods of time and see what happens when the nuns go away and the people who are managing the place are certainly not the nuns. If you happen to cruise by at lunch time you will find only the staff. I stopped by one of the houses in Christmas day 1999 at about lunch time, and in this particular house there were about 120 babies upstairs and I was the only person in the whole building, so you had babies crying, stuck in cots and in south Africa you often had babies falling out of their cots and onto a cement floor and in Chennai they often fell out too, damaging their heads.
  • People doing burn dresses when they didn’t know how, not using proper medication to stop pain, etc.
  • Paralyzed patients dying of suffocation after being improperly fed by volunteers.
  • Volunteers who complain being kicked out.
  • Medical professionals being turned away or even being kicked out of some of the homes when they spoke up about the medical negligence or tried to institute proper and ongoing medical care.
  • Malaria a case in point where the nuns in the house in Chennai patently refused to use fans or mosquito nets, by the time they were forced to use them by some of the local donors, it was too late for several babies.
  • Typhoid fever, when I was in Mumbai was a problem in 2008 and 2010.
  • Children not drinking enough water, as it isn’t consistently distributed and since many of them aren’t able to communicate I often saw children drinking water from toilets resulting in more diseases.

HG: So, you work primarily with children? It seems to be your central focus.

SW: Yes, initially I was interested in adopting a child, but the Missionaries of Charity do not adopt children to Australia because of Mother Teresa’s views on contraceptive use, and I’ve had nuns beg me to try and stop abortions in Australia, something I found rather strange considering they don’t respect me or my opinion in any other areas, and for them to come up to me and ask me to try and change the abortion laws in Australia is rather bizarre.

HG: I’m curious, how would they expect you to change the abortion laws for an entire country?

SW: If people are so silly as to believe asking away to random citizens can accomplish this, I would say this is indicative of the kind of relationship they keep with the real world. I know they have homes in Australia, maybe that’s the prime purpose of the homes there.

HG: What brought you to work with the missionaries of charity, starting back in 1997 and after seeing everything you’ve described thus far, why have you remained a volunteer with them?

SW: I came to adopt a child in Trivandrum, and I couldn’t do it because of the organization’s view on abortion, and they shy away from countries in which such is legal as a way of punishing their laws if you will which is insane to say the least. So I spent time with babies whom I really enjoy and I found it really distressing because so many of them were dying of preventable causes. I actually and stupidly thought they would surely change but of course they didn’t and when I reached Kolkata also found more volunteers who too had tried to change things but were ignored and even kicked out of the organization. For example, I met a Russian girl in 2000 who said I should protest, and so I said, yes, let’s do that and she backed out fearing of not being allowed to volunteer in the future. So there are a lot of volunteers who do not agree with these practices but don’t want to lose the opportunity to continue to return to these homes.

HG: So, knowing that this negligence was not an act of ignorance but rather an orchestrated and consistent behavior of these nuns, why then do you keep retuning to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity?

SW: Perhaps because of my background, as I am adopted myself, I didn’t know my age, who my biological parents were, I was legally blind up to the age of 14 when I was able to get glasses, I have more empathy for these children than most people and I felt really guilty about it, so now that I’ve come forward, I am trying to raise consciousness, and back in 2000 there weren’t many dissenting voices. Others like Aroup Chatterjee, and Christopher Hitchens were the lone rangers and I eventually got some volunteers to write some letters to nun Nirmala, the then head of the organization about the usual complaints but that was pretty much it and of course nothing came of it. And now people like you who in recent years have been able to restart the dialogue and conversation about the ongoing negligence, perhaps there is some hope that things will improve or change.

HG: Do you have any knowledge of the financial structure of the MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY?

SW: This is perhaps one of the most secretive areas of the organization. I know that Nirmala, the former head nun has been reported in the paper saying that since Mother Teresa died the donations have actually gone up and at that time Reuters and Anne Sebba had also placed the figures at about 50 million USD coming in each year. I also met an ex-missionaries of charity and wrote down what she had to say, “laks of rupees in donations come in through Mumbai every day”, she had also said containers filled with supplies, clothes and equipment are often arriving in Kolkata from several countries including Singapore and never seeing the equipment being used or delivered at the homes but instead she had seen trucks taking away the donated clothes and various other products to local markets where these items were sold as “second-hand mother Teresa clothes, good quality” and so on, as well as second hand toys being sold on the sidewalks of Chorengee road.

I can’t imagine what the donors would feel if they knew this is how their donations are ending up. Also, Catholic Aid sends bulgur wheat and the Missionaries of Charity uses it frequently, which is not a popular grain here, one of the workers was able to take some away with him, and I was able to personally examine it and it was just awful. On Shishu Bhavan there actually is a store where they sell donated milk and I was able to buy some myself outside the facility.

HG: Why would an organization which receives millions of dollars in donations have to sell items donated to help people actually held in these houses?

Well, I don’t really know but when Missionaries of Charity are running homes (and they’ve got about 710 properties) I suppose one of the reasons might be how they choose to cover some of the organization’s internal expenses. For example, a few years back I visited the two homes in Australia and one of the nuns was arranging a flight to Sydney for a retreat, quite an expensive jaunt, another time the pope was going to be in Sydney and they were just pecking to flight there, it was about 5 nuns and when you start to figure the cost it can add up. And people definitely donate, I’ve been at Shishu Bhavan working and seen visitors come in and stare at the metal cots packed with babies, no toys, no books or educational posters, and it creates a very compelling picture.

HG: Shishu Bhavan, this is the same house that receives thousands of toys and boxes and boxes of educational material each year?

SW: Oh sure, even I have personally brought Kilos and Kilos of toys and they are never around when I’ve returned to work in the houses. I don’t know what happens to them, they are there one day and the next day they aren’t there anymore! You have to be there every day and watch the mysterious disappearance of all of these items, in Delhi they had many good toys donated by wealthy Indians and they either kept them locked up or gave them away.

HG: You’ve had sometime to speak to the nuns who are in charge about the negligence that you have witnessed and the way some of the health issues are handled, you’ve obviously tried to improve some of the conditions even. What has been the general reaction of the women who run this organization when you presented them with logical and viable options to change their practices?

SW: I have spoken to Nirmala when she was the general nun in charge 10-12 times, and sadly it is completely futile. When I brought the play-therapy program, the nuns were really offended and refused to do anything, the fact remains that some of them are in a very confused state, for instance, the head of Shishu Bhavan once received a “play-way” booklet I had obtained from the Loreto School which was a simple and effective way to teach children through play, but because of the organization’s stance on education, the nuns were unable to implement and therefore rejected it. I got a hold of an internal publication, a handbook on how to deal with handicapped children, and they do nothing of these rules, I looked through them in detail and it was a rather confusing program; unlike the play-therapy documents I had obtained from the Delhi pediatricians which were all very clearly detailed.

HG: Speaking of the issue of poverty, it seems that basically they have ignored several outcries for change and really have no interest in improving the conditions of their homes and the way the operate, so what is the exactly the purpose of the Missionaries of Charity?

SW: Mother Teresa wanted wholehearted free service to the poorer of the poor because she thought these were people who didn’t know “jesus” so her primary focus was really to get them to know her belief, and in many cases die a “beautiful” death so you have babies who were dying, for example in Chennai and the nuns would say things like, “better they go to god” so you don’t know what to say to that when the cause of death was lack of food or poor hygienic conditions.

HG: Why haven’t donors been made aware of these practices? You would have to think any rational donor, regardless of his or her belief, if they understood what really goes on with their donation that these are absolutely unacceptable practices?

SW: It’s really hard to say because clearly children are not being tended to or educated properly, I took a lot of people to Mumbai when I was there to have a look and people cried, some people were quite disturbed by what they saw and they didn’t know what to think. I have been telling people for years to not give money to Kalighat, it will not help the men and women lying on the floor, but people completely ignored me and when they went there they were so distressed by the conditions that they couldn’t help themselves and gave money anyway, because they really believed that their money is going to improve the conditions.

HG: This seems to be a common practice with the Missionaries of Charity; they have these homes which are just in dismal conditions and almost as a museum to elicit donations from the gullibility or compassion of those who visit the houses. Isn’t it obvious what’s happening here?

SW: It has been written by Indian writers that of course if you got poor conditions then people are more liable to give money, so I was probably silly too, I thought if I brought stuff it would help, one time I had toys for every kid in one home but the nuns did not want to give a toy to everyone, and I couldn’t understand why. Weather is jealousy, or whatever, I don’t know, but they wouldn’t do it. And I suppose it’s hard to imagine people are so evil, and I suppose that’s what others think, you just can’t imagine that people could be this heartless but I’ve personally have seen it.

HG: There is definitely a blatant separation of social classes here in India, the caste being a case in point. Would you say a lot of these same issues exist in some of the other countries you’ve visited and worked in?

SW: Is generally poverty elsewhere, say in Johannesburg the conditions are slightly better because the laws are different, and I remember a local NGO which was trying to organize programs to help them function more as an educational center, confided in me that children looked after by the Missionaries of Charity were by far the most deprived children in Johannesburg and I would have to say after visiting several different homes in different continents, that this is true. I have visited homes in India, and the ones that are adopting children away are perhaps a bit higher in quality since parents from develop nations would seriously question issues of malnutrition and other diseases that are easily treatable.

HG: I think is fair to say that it is pretty costly and difficult for the average person who wants to be a volunteer to get to some of these remote and faraway places to actually help and see for themselves what goes on. You are one among many dissenting voices that have actually taken the leap of cost if you will, what will it take for voices like yours, voices like mine to be heard, taken seriously and used to hold these people accountable?

SW: I guess it has to be a numbers game. People here in Kolkata have said it has to do with the government, and when it changes some changes may come as the current one is holding it back. A good example is the dilemma of washing machines in South Africa, people donating washing machines and the nuns rejecting them, in India it might be a bit different as it is still common practice to wash by hands but in South Africa development has reached farther. People try, but how much can you do? Here in West Bengal government officials flat out told me: “what can we do to stop the Missionaries of Charity from torturing a few babies?” In 1965 the organization’s financial operation was taken over by the Vatican directly and not the local bishops or archediosis, so talking to the local “superiors” has absolutely no effect whatsoever.

HG: So even within the exclusive channels of the religious structure which this organization is governed by you really don’t get anywhere do you?

SW: No. I took the issues to father Huart and Father Abello both Jesuits who had been involved with Mother Teresa and the Missionary of Charity for a long time, as well as others Jesuits who are now dead. Sometimes I don’t think they knew what was going on.  Father Le Joly quite a nice guy who has written several books as well, when I met him he was half deaf and legally blind, he couldn’t really see what was going on, can’t blame him, he was in his 90’s. Father Huart who released mother Teresa’s private letters for the book “Come Be My Light” from the archbishop when he died, (letters which mother Teresa expressively wanted destroyed, obviously they were not) had spoken to me several times after I gave him a copy of my first book and refused to do anything about it, and said to me: “what do you expect me to do, take six months off and take a look at the missionaries of charity?” and I said, well, YES! But the answer was obviously no. Also father Abello, who I too gave a copy of my first book said he wouldn’t read it until I would republish it using his views on contraception. I also met the curator of the mother Teresa letters’ book and tried to get him to go and have a look at what was happening at Shishu Bhavan which is literally a two minute walk from the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity and he was not interested. And last but not least I too met the bishop of Kolkata when Mother Teresa was alive who had also read my book and practically slammed the door on me but not before saying “It doesn’t matter, as long as the donations don’t stop coming in”

HG: I’ve actually read “Come Be My Light” and I must say it reads like the work of a deeply and mentally disturbed individual, and it was quite shocking that the book was released by the Missionaries of Charity themselves, but after further inspection it was evident that the move to publish it from inside the organization was nothing less than an attempt to soften the blow and the severity of the content.

SW: That’s correct. Father Huart who had written several articles for theological publications had pretty much admitted there was a strategy to make mother Teresa seem as charismatic as St. Teresa de Avila who had the same kind of mental problems, not being able to find the particular god of her particular religion and the torment and agony people suffer from these episodes of what many doctors may consider to be mild to severe cases of schizophrenia.

HG: Would you say it is time for the world to revise and review the image that has been created about Mother Teresa and the actual work that her organization does?

SW: People like Christopher Hitchens who once said she was a saint for sinners, in this case sinners being some of the rich folks in our world who find it convenient to feel good about their deeds through these channels. And it is convenient for the catholic church, who came forward many years ago and expressed it needed an American saint, a figure that could escalate donations worldwide, and mother Teresa, although Albanian and an Indian citizen, in 1996 was granted honorary U.S citizenship, so they are trying to do all they can to continue to have donations flow through which incidentally have dropped off with the pedophile and child rape crisis of recent years.

HG: The Vatican is in fact the parent company of the Missionaries of Charity which is also the same religious organization that has paid $2.9+ billion dollars since the 1950’s in court settlements for the child rape and abuse epidemic it is facing, so how do we know that many of the donations sent to the Missionaries of Charity have not been used for this purpose?

SW: Almost all the money the Missionaries of Charity receive goes to Rome, but it is next to impossible to track it because they have refused to publish how much money they’ve collected since starting operations in 1952. The Catholic Church is trying to increase attendance and collections at all their churches. So the money for the thousands of settlements and court cases certainly had to come from somewhere.

HG: Given everything we know about the missionaries of charity and their operation, it begs the question, where is all the money they have taken and continue to take in each year going to?

SW: My toys went unaccounted for, the moment I left them at their doors, and these are just toys, so imagine what happens with money. I witnessed so many volunteers and visitors coming into the homes through the years and just handing over money, and these are the ones who can physically get to some of these place, so try to imagine what the mail room might look like.

HG: What is next for Sally Warner?

SW: While I’m in Kolkata for the next two weeks, I am looking forward to printing enough copies of my new book and hope it will raise some awareness and achieve some changes. Without the necessary changes, people will continue to suffer conditions which amount to a human rights violation.

HG: Is change actually possible, after everything we know about the Missionaries of Charity?

SW: I suppose there are some changes but not necessarily taking place at the Missionaries of Charity. It appears that people are being able to adopt children much easier and from many more channels without having to go through the missionaries of charity, so they could stop the whole program altogether, but you never know with these people. Today, they continue to misdiagnose and mistreat people with diseases that otherwise could be cured and preventable, so if they keep kicking people out on the streets only to have them return a month later, this endless cycle of senseless “help” will continue. It is very scary to think they are anything but responsible, I’ve seen their so called medical books and rarely do patients have names, often they are just numbers, so it is very difficult to understand who comes, who goes, there are no medical histories. And in places like Kalighat, as you know, the death certificates are all made up and the people who sign them aren’t doctors, and of course some of the burial methods which are directly against the cultural traditions of the deceased, and so on. So no, change is a very scary proposition for them and therefore I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

HG: Would it be fair to say that the world would be better off without the Missionaries of Charity? Surely there many many other organizations doing great work while conducting themselves with accountability and in search of solutions to the question of poverty.

SW: I actually believe the Missionaries of Charity are detrimental to progress, because people come here, volunteer and return home with a picture of substandard conditions for those the Missionaries of Charity claim to help which don’t have to be, this is 2010, it was probably the reality of the 1950’s when India had gained its independence and it was struggling in all fronts but for me the people living on the streets, the children anyhow, have a real chance at learning to read, write and learn new skills which they certainly don’t at the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa believed poverty was good for poor people and the world, she once said poverty is my mother and suffering is joy but one has to wonder how much of this she actually believed. She once also said she wanted to die in Kalighat, but she didn’t. She died surrounded by machinery and some of the best care money can provide, unlike the thousands of women and men who died at the hands of her nuns without painkillers or any of the other comforts she herself enjoyed.

HG: I want to thank you for your time and strength to continue to speak up about this. You have certainly echoed some of what I have been saying for the last two years and have shed new light on many more cases of abuse in many of the different homes operated by the Missionaries of Charity. And you have clearly confirmed what I have been alluding to in my work, which is that this was not isolated to one particular house but rather, it seems to be a rampant and inherent negligence throughout the organization, once again, THANK YOU and it has been a pleasure meeting you.

Sally Warner, Author / www.sallywarner.blogspot.com Interviewed by:

Hemley Gonzalez

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Over a decade of witnessing abuse and neglect at the Missionaries of Charity

MOTHER TERESA and the poverty of charity:

Since 1997 I have been ‘volunteering’ in Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity’s homes. I have been unable to encourage the Sisters to allow any reasonable improvements in conditions which I photographed in Mumbai in late 2009 where I was to witness over sixty abandoned children enduring poverty conditions that are no longer prevalent in other Indian institutions.

The face says it all- this child is hungry, thirsty, despondent and tied into this chair by a sash round her waist

These photos were taken in the Byculla home housed in a donated ex factory, just a few kilometers away from tourist draw Gateway to India and Taj Hotel.
How could this happen? Daily I watched rich or even simply generous locals donate food, clothing, toys and undeniably money, yet in 3 months the thin bodies stayed thin. More than one observer has noted that in order to safeguard the donations the inmates must continue to look poor. So what happened to the donations stored in the huge set of rooms in the ex-factory next door? Where could they end up? In Kolcata/Calcutta a local told me how certain market vendors would call out ‘good clothes from Mother Teresa’s’ but could the Sisters really sell donations?   

My biggest worry was that the children were not only starving but thirsty as well. In addition no matter what physiotherapists advised the Sisters for many years –I observed from 1997 on, they would not stop their policy of feeding such children flat on their backs. The daily food for these children in late 2008  Mumbai/ Bombay consisted of Marie type biscuits dissolved in either milk or water for the very thin ones or a watery dahl rice mix. Tasting either of these ‘foods’ caused me to retch. As these children receive water only from a prone position as via teaspoon is the preferred method, maybe there’s not enough time to feed the amount required for the hot clime- then everyday a humid 37C Whenever I’ve asked Sisters to taste this food they provide, they have always utterly refused. The reason I knew they ate well was having an occasion to see if a sister was free to speak to a visitor who’d been waiting nearly an hour. The sisters had disconnected their doorbell so when I slipped up I was treated to a vision of nuns hoeing into very nice loaded plates of food of fried fish, veggies. Curtains blowing up have revealed sisters eating eggs


This chair would have been supplied by physiotherapists anxious for the children to be fed upright but instead these chairs served as their activity though an emaciated child may have felt discomfort from the wooden pole.

There was not much in way of toys or any objects though I did manage to retrieve some from the huge storeroom when it was unlocked. It was larger than a modern Oz house right next to the children’s room. However, invariably overnight the toys would disappear. Given my transport situation being public, which often requires jumping on and off very crowded vehicles I couldn’t take the toys back and forth each day.

These children spend their days tied into these chairs despite being able to walk. They are spoon-fed despite being able to feed themselves if assisted/encouraged

This boy also usually spends his day tied in a chair. While he’s unable to verbalise he often makes a ‘whup de ooo’ sound- rather like a bird or a bored orangutan might utter. He’s able to use his legs and hands but is not permitted, despite his desire, to feed himself. Nature or nurture?

This child almost always spends the whole day in the cot. However he will radiate with apparent pleasure when smiled at.

This is two and half year old Shevani. She was born with only one eye and perhaps can see light with her other partial eye. Her hands are bandaged to prevent her from sucking on them

This is Soprana- a sweet girl who loved having a small plastic ball given to her for her to throw for me to catch. Only problem was that though dozens of suitable balls had been and were continually being donated, on most days these were not made available. Soprana had problems with her feet and her right arm and hand. Though she appears able to walk in this photo the reality is that her feet are twisted and somewhat misshapen but surely not so severe that an operation could not have corrected. Maybe if it is talapes vagus  a series of plaster casts applied to her inverted feet while she was young may have reshaped her feet to make them easier to balance on., as has happened in successful cases. But as anyone who’s ever availed themselves of the Indian or any public health system would know, it requires patience and time. Mother I believe rarely used this system for herself and her sisters. The sisters themselves were not often able to take the children to a hospital as it could not be achieved within the confines of their prayer timetable. So by the time suitable professionals are allowed access to children like her, the damage is close on irreversible.
Progress on this walker was painfully slow and I believe painful. When I was able to organize a donated wheelchair for her, the sister in charge insisted it was not necessary, because of as she said, a belief of ‘no pain, no gain’. This girl is unable to attend school – as she is not toilet- trained. Why? Because she is unable to lift herself from the floor to this walker but I’m sure that using a wheelchair she would learn to transfer herself to a western style toilet. At that time she was banned from using the only western style one in the room because it was reserved for visitors only. But though several wheelchairs were available I was not permitted to try her in one.

Although this boy appears to be completely relaxed he isn’t. I was unable to photo his attempts to escape this cot from which a  tie is attached to his ankle. This boy is one of the unfortunate ones that has not learned to adapt to the no toys, no stimulation environment and he spends his free time, to the sisters’ serious angst, trying to play with the only stimulation available - the switches of the fans, lights and electric supply which he loves to amuse himself by pushing up and down . For this crime he is tied up in his bed or attached to the outside of another cot Anne Sebba noted in 1996 an equivalent environment that was drab and completely devoid of any stimulation in a Mother Teresa home in Romania. Again in Mumbai in 2008 there are no names on cots, nothing to look at during the enforced daily rest from 11.30am to around 2.30pm

The three above are among those who don’t complain and sadly receive little reward for this. Mother said as an ex Missionary of Charity wrote ‘so much more significant is to suffer for Christ if you’re innocent’ which I believe these children are.

This is Poovna. Born blind with no eyes she spends most of her day in this position. She does it quietly and nicely. She is unable to talk or even verbalise though a conservative estimate of her age might be three and a half. It took me months to even recognize her existence and then upon taking her out of the cot for a walk I became aware that she couldn’t walk. Though she had the muscles and was born with the capacity. She couldn’t crawl either. I finally realized that maybe if I let her cling to my skirt and trail behind me she might feel more confident and capable. I just hope enough staff noticed and have enough time to make sure she learns to walk. Though a Blind School is located nearby none of the 4 blind girls and one legally blind albino five year old attend.
Neither of the other older blind girls have language so unless a miracle occurs or the superior allows more Indian local volunteers the two younger ones will remain without a voice.

This is Anjuli. Pictured here in October 2008 she was just 4 years old probably still recovering from the typhoid fever she had endured for the previous two weeks. The sisters have yet to have her hearing assessed! The sisters admitted to there being no medical records for her excepting her birth date. She is sitting in the outside play area. There are no play items- it’s simply a space between the children’s room and the main godown [storage area for donated items] of Ashadaan. It is also the place where the larger items for washing are, like all washing, performed by hand on the ground. From talking with the Sisters they apparently consider Anjuli to be deaf. Although she has been with them since birth her entire medical history As I had only ever heard her utter noises I arranged for her to visit a local centre for children with developmental differences. An expert in this field, the Indian doctor waived her 1,200R fee and assessed her and offered her a free place in the daily developmental play group. All she would require was transport and to be accompanied by a carer for the first few sessions. Despite having a vehicle and driver at their disposal and many sisters and volunteers this could not be arranged. I had asked the doctor if she was familiar with Ashadaan, less than 2 Km distant. She replied that a friend of hers had visited with her daughter who had arranged for ten of her friends – local psychology students like herself - to volunteer on a regular basis. However the superior refused their help. The sisters refused my offers to take Anjuli.

Baby – tiny sucking an orange bottle- Reality: Caril is a free donated product made from carrots and rice and the Sister tells that  this 3 month old baby Darlia dies a month after this photo taken. What the sister said:  her bottle consists of one scoop of Lactogen, one of Monidyne, and one of Caril MT: Charity to be fruitful must cost us

Vishnu crying at 7-8 months of age
[I believe he’s  around 7 months of age- but as there are no records and each sister supplies a different age which can vary on each different day I only can confirm from talking to a volunteer returning after 4 or so months who remembered him as a much younger baby  ADD VISHNU 2
Could he be crying for the Normal [Heinz recommended] baby menu? For those more fortunate 7-9 months old who are supplied with:
Morning –formula milk; Breakfast 2-4Tablespoons of baby cereal with milk, mid-morning- soft cooked mashed fruit, Lunch- meat and two veggies, custard, milk, Mid-afternoon- fruit gel or yoghurt, Dinner- meat and two veggies, fruit and yoghurt dessert,  before sleep- formula milk
Could the MC approach reflects Mother’s words:
MT: love to be true has to hurt.
MT: you are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.
ME: aren’t babies a bit too young to be involved in this theological stuff?

A small bowl with gruel in it. Presence of teaspoon indicates maybe edible food in it
The reality:
Dubbed ‘bobo’ by the sisters one of these bowls twice daily are supplied to fulfill Vishnu’s daily needs].
My taste test –appears to consist solely of gluey salty rice. Vishnu’s Taste test – refuses to eat. 
Sister number one says ‘he must learn to eat because he only wants milk’
Sister number two, when I asked if he could try some banana or something, she laughs and says, ‘apple might be good too.’ But nothing except the above photographed food was ever presented.
Were MCs following Mother’s adage:
MT God thirsts to be thirsted for.  

A computer enhanced body resembling some images of JC on His cross
The reality:
An 8-10 year old CP boy who can scream bloodcurdlingly 24/7 unless patted- [as MT says we rely on volunteers – I say it is a pity that the volunteers are usually only permitted to work between 9.00 and11.30am, and 3.00 and 5.00pm.  This boy is fed a larger version of the above pictured food while he is lying flat on his back and is probably thirsty a lot of the time as he often has no fluid in 35C plus heat. He has lice and nits in his hair.
Did MC take these words of Mother’s to heart:
MT-God has not called me to be successful but to be faithful.

                                                                 The home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta 2004

Sister Nirmala sits with the Bushs junior- does that mean she agrees with his policies? did -superior general Nirmala accept money from George W. and more importantly did he insist it be used appropriately
But MT said  ‘Everyone should be given the chance to show his compassion

This is the usual dinner at 15.30 for the babies between 6 and 16 months in Jo’burg in South Africa inlate 2007