God in Kolkata

Akash is a passionate 17-year old with a heart for the poor in his home city of Calcutta. He grew up working in the slums with his family – his sister, mom and dad – a family I have had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside over the years. The following video is an example of the unique way that Akash Daniel Mondal has found of expressing what he sees daily in his Kolkata.

God in Kolkata

Slum school

outside the school room in Calcutta slum

This is an alleyway that leads through the everyday lives of families who call the slums of Calcutta, home. Mothers washing clothes right outside their doors and hanging up their colourful fabrics to flutter at you as you walk past their huts. Girls helping to prepare the ingredients for the next meal – chopping up onions, or sifting through rice to make sure there are no bugs or anything else that shouldn’t be eaten. Children scooting past, drumming on anything worthy of noise-making with the army of sticks that they carry, chasing after flea-bitten animals. Young mothers going about their business, young babies strapped to their backs.

Slum school alley way Slum school washing day

And everywhere the smell that – once experienced – never lets you go. Nothing compares to open sewage, stenching relentlessly in the unbearable heat of the day, in competition with those food-cooking fragrances, laundry-day dampness, bodies and animals vying for space…

It was just another day, heading to school in the slum. Knowing that a dozen or more eager faces awaited us in the little 10’x10’ school room. In this environment it’s hard to imagine smiling faces, but I see them – every time. This is where they live and where they survive, and seeing the smiles in the eyes and across the mouths of those children each time I step into the classroom, that’s they joy of learning for me.

my best times...on the floor.

Praying for a change of heart

When I am in Calcutta, I like to visit my dear friend, Ritika, who always welcomes me like a sister. I love to spend time with Ritika because in her home I feel like just one of the family. It’s a comfortable and easy transition into familiarity as we share a cup of tea and talk under the whirring fan.

One day Ritika told me the story of two girls, Jumpa and Piya, sisters aged 19 and 20.

The girls had lost their mother when they were young and their father remarried. They lived with their father, stepmother and a stepbrother in one of the slums of the city. Their new mother had no place in her heart for the sisters, favouring her son instead. Many times she would prepare food for her boy and nothing for the girls. Daily she would deprive them of food, so Jumpa and Piya regularly went to school hungry, had nothing packed for lunch, and came home not knowing if there would be something to eat that evening.

Girls have all kinds of needs, not just those that nourish the body. These girls did not have adequate clothes, there were no blankets for the cold winter nights, never mind a pillow. They suffered verbal and emotional abuse and their daily survival was becoming more and more difficult. They didn’t know where to turn but to each other. Yet they made it to school every day. School was their hope and the sisters were determined to continue their education, somehow.

Jumpa and Piya prayed and prayed that somehow God would provide and take care of their needs. Surely, God would hear their prayers? The church family helped as much as they could, and in Ritika they found a mentor. To God they made a promise that they would pray for their stepmother’s heart to change.

I was so moved by this story that I asked Ritika if I could meet the sisters and before the week was out I had the opportunity. Two such thin and extremely timid girls, they were hardly there. I attempted to communicate in my broken Bengali and was met with shy giggles – what a break through! I promised them that I would find a way to support them until they had completed their education and to provide for their daily living needs. At that moment I’m not sure who was more excited, the girls or me! We celebrated together the start of a new way forward.

Jumpa and Pyia today
Today Jumpa and Piya are in their third year at university. They are eating balanced meals, gaining weight. With their peers they are gaining confidence, laughing… But most of all, they have an outstanding testimony about how their needs were met, how their prayers were answered. A true message of hope!

In all of this the girls are giving back as they can through the church and praying for their stepmother. Last I heard it even seemed that her mother’s heart was changing towards her daughters. For that I say, thank you Lord!