Embracing orphans in Kolkata

When one first sets foot in Calcutta, one seems to have been transported to another planet, to a parallel universe. It is not just the appalling poverty that is present all around; it is not the heaps of garbage that are spread everywhere; it is not the crowds of people of all ages that are crammed onto the streets and the sidewalks. In Calcutta, life walks hand-in-hand with death, the living with the dead, hell with meagre paradises.

Here, the spectacle is painful to both eyes and soul: mothers washing their children on the sidewalks after having hung out a wash of rags, stray dogs with open infected wounds running here and there, people lying down without anyone knowing whether they are dead or alive, little kids looking for food in the garbage along with crows… Words are not enough to convey the deep desperation, the intense sadness and the profound reflection that you sink into when you dive with all five senses into this woeful atmosphere of the so called “City of Joy”.

And then… when after these pictures, the dust and the suffocating smells the doors of the «Theotokos» Orphanage are opened, it feels like crossing the threshold of Paradise.

The well looked after garden with the fragrant flowers; the small veggie garden that fills children’s dishes with fresh vegetables; the white church that opens its door to anyone who wishes to find peace in prayer. The smiling faces of the clean children who run carefree on the playground. The big tender embrace of Sister Nektaria, which holds and comforts every child, helping them forget about their pain or worries and making them want to dream again.

Sister Nektaria is not only in charge of all the programs and services provided by the Philanthropic Society of the Orthodox Church, but she is also responsible for approximately 120 orphans, all of whom are children hosted at «St. Ignatius»and «Theotokos», orphanages for boys and girls respectively.

Despite the countless cases that she has to accomplish every day, she works unceasingly, tirelessly and without rest and is always there to listen to any small or older child in order to advise them and with her affectionate love reduce as much as possible the pain caused by the absence of the mother, of the father, or even worse, of both parents, who the children had to be separated from, either due to death, or to certain adverse circumstances.

Besides shelter, food and education, the main concern of the two Orphanages is to provide safety, protection and love for all children. The younger find a family on the faces of the big ones, the big ones find support to keep their hopes alive, pursue their goals until they have achieved them, and set others, higher or long-term ones.

At the Orphanage, the children are instilled moral values and principles and are taught how to behave with respect, gratitude, honesty and humility. They learn not only to write, read, speak, but also to play, dance, sing and paint. In a nutshell, in the orphanage the children receive all the necessary skills and qualifications so as to become whole, integral persons with dreams and hopes.

At this point it is worth saying a few words about the new school, whose construction is funded by the Charitable Organization of the Orthodox Church in order to ensure the integrated schooling of the children coming from the Orphanages as well as the surrounding rural areas. The necessity of this ambitious and costly project stems from the fact that due to a change in Indian law, the existing building housing the «St. Ignatius» school, which the children are now attending, no longer fulfills the necessary criteria and requirements (see www.ekotafilm.com). Thus, “Saint Ignatius” cannot get recognition from the local Ministry of Education so as to give students the opportunity to pass the Pan-Indian Examinations at the end of the Middle School. Consequently, students who finish Middle School (or will graduate in the next few years) , not having the opportunity to pass the examinations at their school, are forced to stop their education, or enroll in other recognized schools, which is either very difficult or impossible since tuition fees are very expensive and could not possibly be covered. This situation is becoming more and more difficult to handle as the number of younger children in orphanages is growing.

The only solution to this matter appeared to be the construction of a new modern school accredited by the Ministry of Education so that children can pass the exams and complete their education smoothly.

His Eminence bishop Constantine of Singapore inaugurating our new school at May 4, 2019

Your support for the completion of this project is vital for the orphans because their future development, independence and quality of life depend largely on that.

Every contribution is welcome as it allows these children to have a beautiful tomorrow, without the fear of being dumped again on the streets of the “City of Joy”.

Leda Kypriotou

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