Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 23, 2009

Bed Number 30

Kolkata, India

Today we closed any remaining distance that separated us from the poorest of the poor. Assigned to work at Prem Dan in the mornings and Nirmal Hriday (Kalighat) in the afternoons, Jon, Holloway, and I connected with the very ill and the dying. So that you will have an idea of what our days are like, I have summarized what we experienced on our first day.

Devotions | We joined the Missionaries of Charity nuns for morning devotions at 6:00 AM at Mother’s House. When we arrived, the nuns were kneeling and quietly praying. Mother Teresa continually stressed the importance of prayer. “My secret is a simple one,” she said. “I pray. To pray to Christ is to love Him.” I especially loved the songs of praise the nuns sang. The words of the song “O, bless the Lord, the God of our salvation … O bless the Lord, the God of every nation” were especially meaningful because of the number of nations represented in the chapel.

Following devotions we joined the nuns for a breakfast of tea, bread, and bananas. We enjoyed the opportunity to meet new friends from around the world. We concluded our time by reciting the following prayer: “Dear Lord, the great healer, I kneel before you, since every good and perfect gift must come from you. I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up a part of the burden of my suffering fellow men and a true realization of the privilege that is mine. Take from my heart all guile and worldliness, that with the simple faith of a child I may rely on you. Amen.” We then concluded by singing: “We have our hope in Jesus that all things will be well in the Lord.”

The volunteers then made their way outside to take public transportation to their respective work assignments around the city. We took public bus 202 to Prem Dan and then walked the final distance through the adjacent slum. When we walked into Prem Dan I noticed a man whose leg was covered with gauze. He explained in broken English that he had a serious infection that continued to ooze out of his leg. Then he shook my hand! “That’s what closing the distance is about,” I thought to myself.

Detergent| Our first assignment at Prem Dan was to assist with the laundry. Jon, Holloway, and I joined a team of twenty-five and spent the next hour washing and rinsing a mountain of laundry by hand. We did the same thing at Nirmal Hriday in the afternoon. This is an important part of caring for the poor. We then used the wash water to clean and scrub the sidewalks. Nothing wasted.

Diarrhea | After doing laundry, we helped men to shave, massaged twisted limbs, and consoled the downcast. One man motioned to me to bring him a wheelchair. When I helped him onto the chair I noticed that he had already soiled his pants with an unbelievably bad case of diarrhea. One of the nuns instructed me to bathe and help the man into a change of clothes. I had no idea that one frail man could produce so much waste. It took me ten minutes to clean the floor and another ten minutes to clean the man. “Distance officially closed,” I said to myself.

Dishes| We assisted with feeding the men at both Prem Dan and Nirmal Hriday. Afterwards we washed dishes by hand. The poor have to eat and someone has to feed them. Mother Teresa’s operation is impressive. Things run quite smoothly and on schedule. The men had more than enough to eat — certainly a feast compared to what they ate while living on the streets.

Disease | Amputated limbs, oozing sores, coughs, colds, and more are a part of everyday life at Mother Teresa’s centers. The nuns distributed medications and with the help of volunteers cleaned wounds and changed dressings. This is a normal part of the daily routine. We assisted wherever needed. Jon and I commented on how much we appreciated Holloway as we watched him put ointment on a man with a serious skin disease. Holloway was Jesus with skin on to that man.

Death| The atmosphere at Nirmal Hriday (Kalighat) is somber at best. Concerned that people have the opportunity to die with dignity, Mother Teresa opened this free hospice for the poor in 1952. She wanted for “people who lived like animals to die like angels -– loved and wanted.”

When we arrived at Nirmal Hriday, we noticed that the man in Bed Number 30 was very ill. One of the nuns told me that someone found him in a hole and had brought him to Kalighat. He had suffered some kind of trauma and was unable to speak. While we were there, three women sat at his bedside. One gently stroked his hair while the other two held his hands. As they softly sang “Amazing Grace” to this poor man, he died. The nuns never knew his name or where he was from or if he had any family. “But,” said one of the nuns, “he did not die alone. He died surrounded by love and with dignity.” Tomorrow, another will occupy Bed Number 30 and, because of Mother Teresa’s legacy, that man will not have to die alone.


  1. Sitting here in tears “O” as I read this post. I’m humbled and amazed by all of you. Very few people would travel all that way to be right where you are doing all those things for the people in that place. God’s continued blessings on you all.

  2. You are doing a lots of things in this trip in Calcutta.

    Are you still in calcutta until now? have a great joy with all the works. and safety trips….


  3. Jon and I commented on how much we appreciated Holloway as we watched him put ointment on a man with a serious skin disease. Holloway was Jesus with skin on to that man.

    These sentences moved me deeply.

    Dad (Holloway), you have set a great spiritual example for all of your children and grandchildren. I am so proud of your service to the Lord.

  4. Omar,
    I “caught up” with you in Dubai, but not since then in reading the blog. You are an amazing man. Not allowing people to die alone is very important to me as a civilian nurse. As a military nurse, I am further trained that we never leave our dead behind in the field. They come home to native soil, if at all possible.

    Yes, you closed the distance cleaning up the man with dysentery. Undoubtedly it was a job done without surgical gloves, and just a good hand washing afterward. Yours is a life well-invested in humanity, Omar. I honor you for the compassion and kindness exhibited.


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