Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 24, 2009

Family Resemblances

   Kolkata, India

   The residents of Prem Dan and Nirmal Hriday are a family. As with most families, the resemblance is unmistakable. Even the casual observer can easily identify them as the children of hardship and pain, raised in the ample home called the streets of Kolkata. Their family is so large that many of these siblings met for the first time when they arrived at Mother Teresa’s homes, each one bearing similar marks of abuse. Although they may look frightening at first glance, they are wonderful people once you get to know them. Here are a few things I have noticed as I have spent time with them in the compassionate communities they now call home.

   Longing Eyes | When we arrive at Prem Dan and Nirmal Hriday, the first thing I notice is the longing eyes of the residents. They know when the volunteers will arrive each morning and afternoon and eagerly watch for them. Although those of us who have come to Kolkata to volunteer speak many languages, we have somehow learned to understand the universal language of the eyes. A person in need can just look at us and somehow we know what to do next. So, I always look at the faces and into the eyes of the men when we arrive to serve.

   Outstretched Hands | I have been impressed by a certain blind man at Prem Dan. He always sits alone but when he hears approaching footsteps he extends his hands. He’s not begging for money. He’s longing for a connection with another human being. I have tried to stop each day to hold his hands or to put my hand on his shoulder. This small investment always registers in a smile and lights up his dark world.

   Broken Bodies | One of the residents of Prem Dan is grotesquely disfigured by large protruding warts all over his face and body. He never smiles. His expression is vacant and distant, as though his appearance has exiled him to some forgotten and inaccessible place. Others bear distinguishing deformities that I am certain played a part in alienating and consigning them to an existence in the filth and shadows of the streets. Today I watched and assisted as the nurse at Nirmal Hriday treated oozing sores, burns, and removed stitches from a leg that was ripped apart by some terrible blow.

   Faltering Steps | Part of our work is to come alongside and to assist those who walk with faltering steps. Many of the residents have limbs that were twisted at birth or that were broken and damaged by hard years on the streets. One man has feet that appear to have been eroded by leprosy. Others have suffered the loss of toes, feet, and legs to accidents or amputation. We have carried and assisted the lame to their beds and to the bathroom, massaged twisted limbs, and carried food to those whose broken bodies have conscripted them into the ranks of the immobile.

   Unexpected Smiles | One of the most amazing things I have found in Prem Dan and Nirmal Hriday is unexpected smiles. There is nothing more amazing in these places than to see a smile on the face of a man who owns nothing, not even the clothes he is wearing. Somehow these men who belong to the brotherhood of the broken have learned to appreciate even the smallest kindness extended to them. Their smiles are their Hallmark Card expressions of gratitude delivered directly to the hearts of those who have come to serve them.

   Final Breaths | A man was brought to Prem Dan yesterday at about 11:30 AM while we were serving lunch. This morning I watched him die. He took his final breaths in the comfort of a simple bed with a two-inch foam mattress. He wasn’t that old. He was just tired. I stood with a nun who turned to me and said, “He had no one, so he came here to die.” The nuns wrapped his body in a white sheet and placed a single flower atop his lifeless shell. The nun told me that one of Mother Teresa’s ambulances would later transport his body to Nirmal Hriday to be prepared for burial. I was doing laundry at Nirmal Hriday when his body arrived later in the afternoon. Death is always waiting at the gates at Prem Dan and Nirmal Hriday for those who have come to take their final breaths there.


  1. Omar,

    I am keep reading your post, now I am reading ‘Family Resemblances’ I have visited here in Bangladesh two places of Mother Teresa’s charity homes. It was 1996-1999. During those years I have visits those homes every month more than 2 times with some volunteers, I was worked for YWAM those times. So that it was an opportunity for me to serve with the team. All those years I have seen their activities & I was appreciate to serve a little bit. Here is charity’s of Mother Teresa as knew. Could more now!

    One of that charity for the single mother’s. Many pregnancy women come, stay for timings, baby born, mother can go if wants. Most women leave after the baby born. This charity is in old Dhaka, I have been there many times to shows my loves for those new born innocent kids.

    Another one is middle of Dhaka; mostly this one for olds, very close to death, & many others helps needed people. I went there many times by my self. I could not do anything but I can talk & listen to them. I have realized these people looks for someone’els to hearing & talking! I have found some people are felt very lonely in the old homes. So that it was good times to me, to talked and listens!


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