A month ago Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a Saint. The news took me straight back to one of my visits to Kolkata, India.
At the time I was working for ORBIS, an international, non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to saving sight worldwide. Its mission: the prevention of blindness and the treatment of blinding eye diseases in developing countries through hands-on training, public health education, advocacy and local partnerships.
For two years I worked on board the ‘flying’ eye hospital as part of a crew of 25, which included doctors, nurses, biomedical engineers, AV experts, mechanics pilots and administrators, representing 14 nationalities. During the two years we travelled to countries across the globe including Myanmar, China, Albania, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Peru, El Salvador, Romania, Lithuania, Sudan and India. We spent a lot of time in India and worked in many cities with the eye institutes and hospitals, including Kolkata. It was memorable for the success of the programme; the difference we could make; the friendship of our colleagues in all the cities; the colour, the noise, culture and most especially for the occasion we were invited to meet Mother Teresa.
There was no pomp and ceremony. We arrived and were greeted by her in a small courtyard. A tiny figure and yet her presence was huge; with the Sisters, serene and smiling, her message was clear. She had little time but had wanted to thank us for the work we were doing in India and the importance of helping those less advantaged. We were all a little in awe of her.
She had asked Sister Monica, of the Missionaries of Charity, to show us some of their work – the nursery orphanage with washing lines full of coloured cloth nappies, a room of tiny babies and toddlers sitting in row being fed by the staff and sisters; the leprosy colony where they wove the cloth to make the white and blue saris for the sisters’ habits, whilst their children attended a small school; the home for the dying, a place of sanctuary from the streets for the disadvantaged, alone and unloved.
This was a time of unforgettable experiences, most memorably meeting Mother Teresa.