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.