Kanturk kids bring new Hope to Kolkata
It's a long way from Kanturk to Calcutta and the difference between life in both places was brought sharply into focus for a group of teenagers from the north Cork town who recently visited the bustling Indian city.
Colaiste Treasa students Julie O'Keeffe, Elaine Daly, Niamh Browne, Anna Buckley, Zara Murphy and Emma Norton travelled with a teacher, Sheila Vaughan, to Calcutta to see the incredible work being done by the Hope Foundation to shine some light into the lives of poverty stricken people in the city.
Nicknamed 'The City of Joy', Calcutta (or Kolkata, reflecting its original Bengali pronunciation) is a pulsating and colourful city with a population roughly equivalent to that of Ireland. Arriving there, westerners are often shell-shocked by its vibrant sights and sounds.
Despite the appalling poverty that also exists throughout the city, visitors are often stuck by the fact that its people live up to Calcutta's nickname - with their boundless happiness belying the fact that they are among the poorest people in the world.
Emma succinctly summed up the city in a single sentence when she told Niamh agreed, saying the trip offered the group to witness with their own eyes a level of poverty that has to be seen to be realised.
"Prior to fundraising, we had the mindset that we were raising money for the Hope Foundation," she said. "But, after seeing the work they have been doing, we now feel we were fundraising for the people whose lives have been completely changed by our efforts."
Before heading out to India the girls raised a staggering €20,000 between them. To put this in perspective, it costs just €250 to put a child in Calcutta through school for a year.
This is further underscored by the fact that the 'Protection Home' they visited during the trip, a place where street-children are housed by the Foundation, costs just €9,000 to run annually.
In total, the Hope Foundation funds and operates more than 60 projects in the city dealing with a variety of issues including child protection, education, healthcare and nutrition.
The group visited some of these projects during their visit and even took part in nightly ambulance runs.
"The work that Hope does (in Calcutta) has really opened my eyes and left me with memories that I will cherish forever" says Julie.
Sheila Vaughan said each member of the group was inspired by the people they met during the trip.
"We now value everything we have in life as it has put things into perspective for all of us and we are forever grateful to have received this life-changing opportunity of traveling to India," she said.
During the trip the group also got to explore Indian culture through a city tour which included a visit to Mother Theresa's home and tomb and a tour of the Ganges River.
"I was really honoured to have experienced and witnessed the Indian culture and their ways of living," said Anna.
Despite the poverty they encountered, Zara said it was "almost impossible to be sad in a city that has so much happiness and purity at its heart".
"The children are so grateful for anything they receive even if it's only a single balloon. The smallest of things create the biggest smiles," she said.
On behalf of the group Zara thanked everyone who donated money and made the trip possible.
"Because of you children in Kolkata are being rescued from harsh living conditions and are given a second shot at life. We are all so grateful to have been a part of something so life-changing, heart-warming and pure," she said.