Student Storyteller: Life lessons from the City of Joy

Danielle Gallant, a senior sociology major, traveled to India during the winter break to lead a group of 10 students volunteering in the University’s City of Joy program. Below, Gallant shares her reasons for returning to India for a second time and what she learned from working with the late Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (also known as Calcutta):

Words often fail me when I try to tell others about my experiences in Kolkata because the City of Joy is about love – a love that is too challenging and too deep to adequately articulate. I was initially drawn to the program for two main reasons. I have always been fascinated by Indian culture – the colors, the tastes, the smells, the sounds, the dances, the history, the beautiful way that chaos and peace harmonize in everyday life. Secondly, my mother’s deep compassion has inspired me to be a service-oriented person.

Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity consist of a series of homes throughout Kolkata. Linking them all is Mother’s Hour, where the sisters live and work just as Mother Teresa did. Volunteers are invited to Mass with the sisters every morning at 6 a.m Then,the sisters welcome everyone into Mother’s House volunteer room for morning announcements, prayer and breakfast. Each home houses residents of varying ages and physical abilities. Volunteering is split into morning and afternoon shifts where you work alongside sisters, local workers and volunteers from around the world. At each home the work consists of a combination of general housekeeping, resident care and resident stimulation.

In 2012, I worked in Prem Dan, meaning “a gift of love,” the home for sick and disabled adults and Kalighat, the home for the sick and dying. On this trip I found myself thoroughly overwhelmed by the entire experience. The grinding poverty throughout the city coupled with the most challenging service I had ever done were more than I thought I could handle. For the first few days I was miserable, but one morning at Prem Dan changed my whole experience. Beyond the language barrier, I saw the unmistakable look of humiliation on the face of a woman I had become quite fond of. She was very sick and had lost control of her bowels. Through this moment of realization when I clearly understood how she was feeling, I lost my fear of the unknown and fell in love with the people of the missionaries and all of Kolkata. I was finally able to see past the barriers of culture, ability, and illness to understand the devotion of Mother Teresa and her sisters. I learned that even in the midst of chaos some things are universal like kindness, that laughter bonds people, and the power of human touch.

Back at Wake Forest I felt called return to Kolkata, and was fortunately granted that opportunity.

As a student leader for the 2013 group, I worked in the morning in Shanti Dan, meaning “gift of peace,” a home for disabled women and girls. In the afternoon I worked in Daya Dan, meaning “gift of mercy,” a home for disabled children. This year, I traveled to India full of love rather than fear, ready to serve in the motto of Pro Humanitate. The City of Joy program showed me the beauty in uncertainty. I may not know where life will take me, but wherever I go, I will go with passion and whatever I do, I will do with love.

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