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.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE:
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
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
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?
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
A small bowl with gruel in it. Presence of teaspoon indicates maybe edible food in it
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.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE:
A computer enhanced body resembling some images of JC on His cross
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
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE:
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
PHOTO OF BROWN FOOD
This is the usual dinner at 15.30 for the babies between 6 and 16 months in Jo’burg in South Africa inlate 2007