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Kolkatta visit – January 2012

In January 2012, Rod Pereira (CSM founder) and Rick Ferdinands (Director) travelled to Kolkatta to assess the various programs being run by CSM and to look at new opportunities.
Rod and Rick found that not only were the programs running effectively, but that new opportunities were available for CSM to pursue.
The objective of the mission, to provide dignity within adversity, is putting into action our Christian outreach obligations. These spiritual obligations are also being met to a high standard.
CSM Programs update

FOOD PROGRAM: SEALDAH STATION
This program currently supports the daily feeding and washing of 17 physically and mentally challenged individuals in and around Calcutta’s second largest train station. This was the first CSM program, inspired by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. This program now in its 8th year, continues with an unblemished record of operating 365 days of the year.
The team of local social workers who pick up and deliver the meals each day are themselves from very poor backgrounds. The CSM stipend paid to these workers help each person’s family, preventing them from exploitation and falling into worse poverty.
Rod and Rick visited the canteen that prepares the food. While very basic and simple, it is clean and provides meals which are nutritious and good value for money.

FOOD PROGRAM: TOPSIA
The Topsia Food Program currently supports the daily provision of one meal to 23 widows and elderly people in one of Kolkata’s poorest areas. These people were found malnourished and starving in some cases being thrown out by their poverty stricken families.
A local Topsia family, themselves part of this very poor community, prepare and deliver the meals each day. This family is a prime example of a widow, who with the help of her loyal and loving adult children, are serving their community in an admirable fashion. Their CSM stipend allows them to support their growing family with the widow’s grandchildren now attending school. This is something that she could not afford for her own children. Their home consists of an area that measures about 3m X 4m and often floods when the rains are heavy. The flooding is compounded by the dangers of open sewers and risk of electrocution.

TEACHER TRAINING PROGRAM: LORETO COLLEGE
CSM has been providing scholarships to young women from underprivileged backgrounds to complete their tertiary studies in Primary Teaching.
The alternative for these girls is a life on the streets where they will be open to exploitation. Often they live with their widowed mothers.
With an average of five scholarships provided annually, this program gives hope to poor families where a graduate teacher can turn the tide on poverty and exploitation.
With the program now running for several years, we invited some of the graduates who are working as teachers to speak about their experiences to the current scholarship holders. This exercise was extremely beneficial and gave us an insight to the success of the program.
Two graduates are now self-funding their further education by completing a Bachelor of Education via correspondence whilst working.
Another graduate who passed with distinctions attained a position at a Loreto school. She is now able to bring herself and her elderly parents from the single basement room with no sunlight into a home with windows for the first time.

JOIHORIPOR SCHOOL
CSM has been supporting the building of a school and the provision of educational aids to an area, Joihoripor, about 2 hours North of Calcutta.
This area supports many small villages where indigenous peoples are marginalised from the government education system because of cultural and language barriers.
The Loreto Sisters support the teachers in this Pre-government school environment.

NEW PROJECT FOR 2012: ST PETER’S SCHOOL FOR BOYS
CSM is delighted to announce the commencement of a new project – the provision of food to boys who live on the street and attend St Peter’s school in one of the poorest districts of Kolkatta. Originating in 1932 with Mother Teresa, the school was built in 1958 and now educates approximately 500 boys.

These boys are from the poorest families in Kolkatta. Some of them are lucky, and live in officially recognised slums. Others aren’t so lucky – they live on the side of the road, often having only a cloth to shelter them at night.

St Peter’s School provides the boys with a uniform and basic school supplies. In addition, the boys receive an education in a wide range of areas, as well as being given self respect, self confidence and the hope of a brighter future.

The school does everything they can to provide for the boys. However, most still come to classes hungry as there is little money for a meal. CSM has committed to feeding ten of the boys a nutritious meal each morning so that they are able to concentrate on their studies and thrive in the education environment.

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NADIM: OUR LOCAL HERO

Nadim is one of CSM’s local heros who is dedicated to caring for the underprivileged in his own community.

Nadim lives with his mother in a tiny three meter square room in a very poor suburb of Kolkata. Despite being the youngest of his siblings, Nadim supports not only his mother but also his older siblings with his CSM salary.

I first met Nadim in 2005 when we ran one of our Mobile Medical Clinics in that area. I first remember him peering shyly through the window of the Clinic. He seemed to be wondering who these foreigners were and what they were doing.

Whenever something was required or we needed something done Nadim was always ready to assist. He spoke very little English at that time but he very quickly became able to communicate with us in broken English. Through his eagerness and willingness to help in his own community, Nadim became our translator and source of information about the community in which he lived.

Nadim would identify the sick that needed help, and those who were abandoned and malnourished. It was this experience that led us to start a food programme in Topsia.

In Nadim we had found a person who wanted to make a difference in his own community. He became part of the our local team working in Kolkata. Nadim’s Mother and two sisters are also employed by CSM for the cooking and distribution of food.

Over the last five years the Topsia Food Programme has fed and clothed twenty five people every day. Many of them are old and frail people who have been abandoned by their families, and some are widows with children.

Because of the dedication of people such as Nadim and the other members of the team, there has not been a day that the people have not received their food parcels. There have been riots, floods, and strikes but nothing has stopped the food deliveries.
I remember once going to Topsia to find the whole area was flooded. Nadim had just returned from distributing food in the slum areas. In some parts of Topsia the water was waist deep. Entering their house I was greeted with smiles even though the back wall of their house had fallen in because of the floods. Nadim was getting ready to repair it after making sure that the needs of those we help had been met first. Similarly, Nadim’s Mother and sisters had made sure that the food was ready to go before they attended to their own needs and worries.

It is because of the dedication of people such as these that our food programmes have been so successful. Nadim is now the Co-ordinator of the Topsia Food Programme and also the Sealdah Station Food Programme. At Sealdah we feed another 17 people who are destitute and dying.

Nadim and his colleagues are truly grateful for the support they get from people as far away as Australia, and we are the richer for having them as the CSM Local Team of Kolkata.

TEACHER TRAINING COURSE STUDENTS: CLASS OF 2009
CSM sponsors six girls so they can attend a teacher training course at Loreto College. This is one of the most sought after colleges in India and once they graduate most girls are assured of a teaching position.

All the girls that CSM sponsor come from poor or deprived backgrounds. They are very grateful to be given this chance of a sponsorship and extend their gratitude to the people of Australia for their generosity.

JOIHORIPUR SCHOOL
CSM contributes to the funding of a small village school at Joihoripur. This is about three hours from Kolkata by train.
The school continues to be successful, with consistent school activity and high student attendance. The school received nearly 30 students each day. The two teaching staff, Monika and Raju, are supported by a fellow teacher, Chompa, who visits regularly. A dozen older, high school aged children attend Monika’s tuition class in the evenings.

The school room is now weather proof, if not very beautiful. It is hoped that a decision will soon be reached about improving the existing room at very modest cost, or to build a new school room nearby. A new school room would cost between three and four thousand Australian dollars.

The small strip of earth in front of the school room has a border of flowers tended by the children. Shortly the potato crop in all the adjacent fields will be harvested and the land will be quickly ploughed and replanted with rice seedlings which will become a waist high crop within three months.

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Program Update

Due to an unforeseen event in 2008 the Board of CSM was required to look closely at the direction it was to take and to consider what programmes it could properly support.
In August 2008, our Operations Director and Founder, Rod Pereira returned to Perth for his usual break and to be with his family. The visit was also to meet with our sponsors and update the CSM Board with the progress of the projects being run in Kolkata.

Unfortunately Rod met with an accident. While riding his motorcycle an on-coming car turned into him. He was hospitalised with a fractured pelvis and spent three weeks in hospital, four weeks in a wheelchair and then six weeks on crutches.

During this period and for the next six months of his rehabilitation the projects continued to operate under the supervision of the local Indian team and Operations Manager Lloyd D’Souza Rod had placed in his absence.

This accident fast tracked the plan of Rod eventually returning home and seeing how the projects would operate without him in Kolkata.

A few teething problems did arise. The major problem was the continued safe running of the Mobile Medical Clinics. Not being able to provide the supervision of a fulltime Nurse (which was one of Rod’s roles), was now a concern for the CSM Board. We were fortunate to have volunteers with medical backgrounds at the time but the Board felt it was unsafe practice to run the clinics without a fulltime medical person to oversee the treatment activities. So with great regret it was decided to close both clinics, but at the same time not forgetting our care of duty to any remaining patients. CSM saw to it that their treatment would continue either at other NGO’s or hospitals and covered any costs of the treatment.

In March of 2009 after the approval by the specialist treating Rod returned to Kolkata. His objective was to ensure the safe closing of the clinics and to check on the remaining projects. This included recruiting and supporting local personnel for each project. It was also necessary to identify a local manager now that Rod would be operating from Australia. The medical advice given to the board was that for a full recovery Rod should return home. Staying on in Kolkata was not a suitable option.

The two Food Programmes have been maintained. One is at Sealdah Train Station and the other in Topsia which is a poor area in the city. Thirty six destitute people are fed a cooked warm meal each day. This meal is prepared and distributed by our local team members. The team has eight members with four for each food programme. These members themselves come from very poor backgrounds. They say they are privileged to be given the opportunity by CSM to earn a living as well as have the opportunity to give back to their community.

The second of our projects is the school we have sponsored in Joihoripur village. This is three hours travel from Kolkata. The school supports about 50 disadvantaged tribal children. It gives them a better preparation for the government run schools they attend and makes learning a fun activity. Since its inception we have seen a remarkable reduction in the number of children dropping out of the public system.

Our third project is the Teachers Training Course (TTC). CSM has sponsored five young women from poor backgrounds to train as teachers at the Loreto College in Middleton Row, Kolkata. Rod had the privilege of meeting four of the students after their graduation in February 2009. They are Rosemary Spence, Ruhi Bham, Teesha Gupta and Shazia Begum. A fifth student will graduate in March 2010.

What these girls have achieved has been nothing short of remarkable especially when you consider their backgrounds. CSM is proud to have had the opportunity to support these inspiring young ladies.

Rod has written:

“When I went back to Kolkata in March 2009, I had the privilege to meet with Sr. Molly the principal of Loreto College and to discuss the Teachers Training Course with her. Sr. Molly was full of admiration for these girls. Four of them who have since graduated and all four have found placements at Loreto Schools.

I would like to share one of their stories with you.

Shazia Begum and her sister Farha are two of the girls we sponsor for the TTC. Shazia is one of the girls who graduated this year and Farha is due to graduate next year.

I have known these girls for the past few years and was invited to their house to share a meal with their family.

When I arrived I was greeted with the utmost warmth and courtesy and was made to feel welcome and at home straight away.

In their home I met their father, mother, younger brother and Shazia’s young son.
In total, six people living in a house no more than 3 metres x 3 metres. Most of the room was taken up with a large bed which most of us sat on as they kept me enthralled with their day to day activities and stories of life from the poor side of town, but not once did they ever complain. Theirs were faces of smiles and warmth.

I noticed that the bed was set on blocks. This was to utilize as much room as their modest home could give. While the mother was cooking the meal outside the door on a little clay oven the girls were making the preparations under the bed.

After all was ready we sat down to one of the most delicious meals, a Mutton Birynani.
The family could not do enough for me and made sure I was completely satisfied.

What I experienced and I shall always keep in my heart was the warmth and generosity of this family not only to me but to one another.

After being asked about my life in Australia which for them was sometimes quite hard to fathom and for me a bit embarrassing as we seem to forget the excess and luxury we live in, it became my turn to ask a few poignant questions to them.

I asked them how and where, did they all sleep. The mother, daughters and Shazia’s young son slept on the bed, while the father and the brother slept on a mat on the floor.
There was a little out house which was used as the bathroom and toilet.

Last year CSM helped with donations in renovating the roof otherwise it was prone to leaking during the monsoons.

During my time there, the electricity went out twice for about twenty minutes at a time.
In summer they said it goes out for hours at a time due to the immense population and demand. The people have to cope without light or fans. Unless you can afford a generator to kick in you just have to cope. This led me to my next question.

How did you girls study when the electricity failed? They simply said by candle light or a small battery operated lamp.

Where could you study with all of you here? Right here on the floor. When everyone was asleep we would study, sometimes to early parts in the morning.

I would like to point out that a Loreto education is indeed sought after and many of the students that attend come from middle class to quite wealthy families. These students had access to all the modern technology and that is why it is such an amazing accomplishment which these young women have achieved. To graduate and rise from their humble circumstances.

There is a proverb that comes to mind. “Misfortune is great but the human spirit is greater than misfortune.”

That night I left their home with a great sense of love for these people and an even greater sense of humility.

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New Developments & CSM Projects Update

By Operations Director Rod Pereira

A recent extension of CSM’s activities in Kolkata is the exciting addition of the Health and Medical Screening Project which is being run in conjunction with the Ear Science Institute of Australia (ESIA). This project primarily involves identifying, within a defined population, those with ear or hearing problems, in order to identify the possibility of premature hearing loss.

CSM believes this project to be extremely worthwhile as even the smallest level of hearing disability has proven to impede upon an individuals potential to achieve at their optimal level. At this stage we are mainly concentrating on children as we wish to maximise the functioning of the children, particularly within the school environment as we believe education is a fundamental stepping stone towards breaking down the cycle of poverty.

CSM is lucky to have the services of Niamh, an experienced administrator from Ireland who coordinates the Medical and Health Screening Project in Kolkata and will step into my shoes whilst I am on break in Australia. In early May Rick Ferdinands, CSM Chairperson and Rob Eikelboom one of the very clever scientists from ESIA visited Kolkata to set up the Medical Screening Project and train the CSM team on how to use the ear testing equipment.
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To date we have been able to test some street children who attend the schools of Don Bosco Ashalayam, Loreto Day School Sealdah and Loreto Entally. These wonderful organisations provide education facilities, amongst other things, for the underprivileged of Kolkata. Our preliminary findings were not too surprising and confirmed that living on the streets with inadequate hygiene and nutrition can result in ear problems ranging from minor treatable conditions to severe damage of the ear drum.

This project is quite labour intensive as it takes time to firstly (with the help of teachers) record a brief health history of each child, next we conduct a hearing test then we photograph each child’s ear drum and lastly compile the findings into a report. The results for each child are given to the school’s administration so these children can then be specifically treated. A big part of this project is to demonstrate that prevention is better than cure and from our results we found many of these problems once treated at an early stage could prevent more serious problems in the future.

During the set up of this new project, Rick was able to take the opportunity to visit CSM’s Mobile Medical Clinics that CSM operated at the time, the Food Programme projects and also to meet with the people CSM are sponsoring. Rick was able to experience first hand the wonderful work being carried out by our dedicated Kolkata team and to see how your generosity is benefiting the needy of Kolkata.

On our Food Program project in the Topsia area, I am proud to say we have increased the number of people we feed. This in turn provides work for the local people who help in the preparation and distribution of the food parcels.
This achievement is mainly due to the effort of the Kolkata CSM team namely Paul, Nadim as well as a very valuable member of our volunteer team Sam. Due to the massive numbers of the needy and our small available budget, the team must interview and prepare case histories of those people to be added to our food programme. Our selection criteria is of course for the most needy but determining just who is the neediest is heart wrenching.

This year we have seen many regular patients on our Mobile Medical Clinics who once suffered with severe wounds but have now started to show vast improvement and healing. This is so encouraging for me and the volunteer medical team as all the effort we put into maintaining regular treatment and hygiene education has paid off for these particular cases.

At Dhapa Durgapur Village where we run one of our clinics, unbelievable amounts of the city’s refuse has just been dumped into their fields just when it is time for the fields to be prepared for the coming monsoons.
It is an over whelming sight to see men, women and children carrying this refuse in order to mix it into the earth. This compelling scene before my eyes lead to the realisation that it won’t be long into the monsoon season before we will again, be inundated with people coming into our clinic’s suffering from infected wounds and their resulting illnesses.

The month of June brought with it a late summer heat that even left the hardened locals complaining. Spare a thought for those in the slums who line up for water from a common point and must carry their daily supply back to their home; those living on the streets where water isn’t accessible by the turn of a tap who must wait at certain points around the city for the water to be turned on by the authorities.

I am however fortunate to be returning home to Australia for my rest and to do a series of school presentations so I look forward to maybe meeting with some of you and to share some of my experiences first hand.

Whether you have journeyed from all points across the globe to volunteer your time to help administer to the needy in Kolkata or you made a donation to our charity or have supported our fundraisers, THANK YOU for your support.

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Refreshed and inspired

I have now returned to Kolkata revived and keener than ever after a much needed rest at home in Perth after 12 months in India.

My time at home gave me the opportunity to witness the fantastic support that the local community is providing. We were warmly received at many schools and churches where we were invited to give presentations on our work with the needy in Kolkata, and the fundraising functions demonstrated the spirit of generosity and compassion that is alive and well in the local community.

But it is not only the local community that is demonstrating such support. We have received assistance from all over the world – from Spain, Ireland, New Zealand, America – through both financial assistance as well as hands-on volunteer work.

I am truly grateful for the support that we are continuing to receive in our efforts to make a difference in Kolkata.

And we are making a difference. Since returning to India, I have extended our food program in both numbers and in location. Last year we were feeding 10 people per day in one location – now we are feeding 20 people in 2 locations! The food program is making a huge difference to their lives. The 10 people who originally started on our program are looking healthier by the day – the difference that I saw on returning from my Perth holiday was remarkable! Now there are 20 more people who will benefit.

It is not only the lives of the destitute that we are affecting with our increase of the Food Program but the lives of a few locals, who by are no means destitute but still very poor by our standards. By increasing the food program an extra 10 parcels of food must be prepared. The difference this could mean for the local family who carefully prepares the CSM food parcels could be something so many of us would take for granted like the ability to now afford a secondary education for their child.

CSM’s small team of locals who help organise and distribute the food parcels are amazing. Their dedication to helping their own people by distributing the parcels every day of the year is inspiring.

By involving the locals in our projects we can provide a way of becoming self sufficient and restoring family pride and independence is a goal that we constantly look to achieve

Our connection with Loreto Day School has given us the opportunity to provide the students of an associated village school with a fresh water supply. This is in the planning stage at the moment, but already the funds have been made available through donations from across Australia. Again, we are grateful to those who have captured the vision – what a privilege to make such a difference to the lives of children who won’t have to drink dirty water! We look forward to receiving so many donations that we need to find another community who need clean water.

NEWSFLASH!

CSM is surging ahead with a new project confirmed to commence at the end of this year.

CSM has been given the opportunity of supporting a school in a small village outside Kolkata. The children in this area attend a local government school that caters primarily for the Bengali middle class.

As the majority of these children are of a different cultural and socio-economic background, they find themselves unable to relate to what the government school can offer in terms of an education.

If these children are to progress through the school system they require extra tuition in order to ‘bridge’ the gap so they can then learn from the general curriculum offered by the government school. As most students in this region are unable to pay for the private tuition this new school will provide tuition in a classroom situation to those who are unable to afford private tuition. Please refer to the “Projects” page for more information.

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Together we are making a difference – Rod Pereira

The past twelve months proved both challenging and rewarding.

I no longer worked as a nurse with the Red Cross Blood Service, taking holidays every few years to volunteer on a casual basis in India. I was now CSM’s fulltime Program Director, with the responsibility of setting up the operating structure of the organisation in Kolkata. I was in a foreign country, experiencing a foreign culture and facing a way of life that was so different to what I was used to (not to mention the extreme weather conditions I was to yet endure).

However it was re-assuring to know that I had a very committed CSM Board back at our administration base in Perth, who used their talents to guide and support me whilst in Kolkata.

From my prior experiences in Kolkata, I knew that CSM could not achieve our intended goals without help. The best way would be to link in with an already established organisation.

I knew of the Loreto Day School situated in Sealdah, in a poor suburb in Kolkata. Loreto were first established in Kolkata in 1857 and now has over 1500 female students of which half are so poor that their every need has to be taken care of – food, medicines, rations, shoes, books, and uniforms.
Loreto provided me with tremendous support, guidance and advice and I was thankful to be able to make a base there for CSM.
Through Loreto I was shown the needs of the community and thus CSM’s mission in Kolkata started.

With Loreto’s guidance it was ascertained that CSM could provide beneficial basic medical care and health education to the needy. I started out by myself working two mobile clinics, one at a village in Dhapa and the other at Topsia, an area of Kolkata.
It was tiring work but extremely rewarding.

Whilst in Kolkata I lived in an area known as Sudder Street which is well known in travel books for its budget accommodation and is popular with travellers from all over the world. It was there that I met many other volunteers who were working with different organisations. People started taking an interest in CSM and wanted to come out and see the work that I was doing.

Over the span of a few months interest grew and through word of mouth many volunteers visiting Kolkata chose to spend their time with CSM.

Volunteers from Spain, Sweden, Australia, America, Poland, Germany and Ireland all with different backgrounds, religions and beliefs have volunteered for CSM. Many with vastly different vocations, Doctors, Pharmacists, Lawyers and Nurses to those who were just carefree backpackers passing through Kolkata, were happy to offer CSM some much appreciated help.
CSM was also lucky to have the assistance of several Australian schools, whose students were on pilgrimages to experience different organisations that help the poor of Kolkata.

With a growing volunteer base to cover the increasing workload, I was able to spend time implementing a Food Programme to administer food parcels to the homeless who live at one of the train stations. This is a wonderful project that involves the local community.

Currently I am home in Perth for some R & R. In my absence from Kolkata, Kavita Gandhi, one of CSM’s long term volunteers, has taken over the position as CSM’s Operations Manager and will oversee the Medical Clinics and Food Programme. Kavita is a dedicated Registered Nurse from New Zealand and like me is of Indian descent.

Since my time home I have visited a few schools to give presentations about the work CSM is doing in Kolkata. It is heartening not only to see the children’s interest in learning about the poor in Kolkata, but also their willingness to actually try to do something practical to help.

It was always CSM’s vision to involve the community when the charity was established. However it takes more than just a board or volunteers to bring a vision to reality. It takes the good hearts of those who generously give to help us to ease the burden of those less fortunate in the world.

Without the support and belief of many of you, CSM may not have achieved so much in such a short period of time.

Together we are making a difference.