Homeless children of Calcutta absorb the love of strangers
Special to The Union
Editor’s note: Laura Sartori is a senior at Ghidotti Early College High School, in Grass Valley. She recently spent two weeks in India, working with the Missionaries of Charity, the organization founded by Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She learned of the homeless children living at the city’s Sealdah train depot through a colleague who is a volunteer with the missionaries, though the sisters are not involved in the children’s care.
The Sealdah train station in Calcutta is both a depot for travelers and a home for the most vulnerable of the city’s homeless.
The end of the tracks leads to an encampment of tarps and campfires, where people sleep among the trains.
When I was at the station at the end of December, the homeless were the most outstanding feature in my eyes. But local travelers walked by seemingly without seeing the homeless; for them, the tattered campers were nothing out of the ordinary.
I walked to the end of platform 10 and saw a group of about 20 children, ages 2 to 14, ducking in and out of trains that had stopped at the station and among passengers loading and unloading. They are orphans from the slums, the children of thieves and the like, abandoned to their fate, making their home at the end of the platform.
Without parental figures, they do the best they can to raise one another. Known throughout the station as thieves, they survive by stealing and drug trafficking. Their life is one of brutality and suffering.
Most of the older children (10 and older) are severe drug addicts, identifiable by the cuts they slash into their arms to insert cocaine.
But it is not their lack of material goods or their intense poverty that sets them apart. It is their deprivation of love and human affection that truly makes them the poorest of India’s poor.
During our week in Calcutta, Dr. Neva Lake, her daughter Camille Lake and I had the opportunity to take the children out to eat. The experience changed my life.
Showing the children that we cared about them transformed them. They smiled and laughed for the camera as we walked to lunch, dodging traffic and pedestrians.
As we walked, one of the children saw a mother, father and a small child selling their few belongings to survive. The young girl ran over and picked up the baby. With the baby in her arms, the girl she ran to catch up with us, and the baby’s father came after her.
When he took the baby back, the girl pointed to Dr. Lake and said, in English for our benefit, “No, Aunty take us to eat.”
The man looked from Dr. Lake to his child, and passed the baby over to the girl, so that she could take his daughter to eat. He did not know this girl, or any of us, for that matter, but trusted the girl to feed his child and then return her.
This is the way of the street children: They look out for one another, because that is all they have.
The poverty of love and affection felt by these children was greater than their poverty of food and material goods. To see them transformed through love has changed my life.
I write this as a small tribute to them and their lives. Although they may never know it, someone in this world does love and miss them.
Laura Sartori lives just west of Grass Valley.
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