Moti Jheel School

Back in Calcutta, Mother Teresa want to meet Father Henry at her old Convent.
She needed his help. She spoke, “Father, I want to start my work by opening a school for slum kids. Moti Jheel area slums are said be where the poorest of the poor live. So, that is where I want to be. But I don’t know the way to that place. Can you please tell me the location to help me out?”
Father Henry laughed. Then, he revealed, “Sister, Moti Jheel is just behind the boundary wall of the St. Mary High School where you taught for 30 years. Of course, you used to go by Convent car as the Principal. So, you can’t have any idea. Strange, isn’t it how two different worlds exist back to back without having any recognition of each other?”
Mother Teresa turned red and stared at Father.
To cut short her embarrassment, Father Henry called out to a woman called ‘Charu’s Mother’. When she came Father asked her to guide Mother Teresa to Moti Jheel.
At Moti Jheel, the first hurdle was where to put up. She had made no advance arrangement. An organisation named ‘Sisters of the Poor’ was already active there with its own make-shift premises. The Sisters offered Mother Teresa a living space till she was not able to arrange home for herself.
The next day was 21st of December, 1948, the day she began her real mission work that was to go on snowballing for the next five decades to cover the globe with two blue bands of mercy and compassion.
Mother Teresa went around the slums, met the half naked poverty stricken people. She expressed her wish to start a school for the slum kids. The kids had nothing to do. So, they loitered around adding more dirt on them, mouthing foul words and vying in smoking biri stubs.
The parents saw no harm in it. On the other hand it might do some good. Many parents promised to send their kids to her school.
The next day, five dirty kids reported to Mother Teresa. With running noses they looked suspiciously at the white lady in cheap saree. All of the kids were very dirty.
So, the first thing that Mother Teresa did was to wash their faces and hands. She wished to give them proper bath. But water was scarce and she had no big soap cake.
After the wash, Mother Teresa taught them to say ‘Namaste’ with folded hands.
But how to start teaching? Mother Teresa had no school or any furniture. She surveyed around and saw small huts liked rabbit holes. A house or a building was an alien thing there.
In the middle of the slums there stood a Neem tree. And around the tree was uneven belt of land where the children used to play. Mother Teresa chose that tree and area around for her open air school. The tree would provide the natural cover to shelter them from sun and rain.
The land was uneven, covered with dry grass and stones.
Mother Teresa and the children got busy in cleaning the ground. The grass was uprooted, the ground was swept, levelled and sprinkled with water. As the water droplets hit the heated ground a musky smell of soil filled the air. It declared the Mother Teresa school open making up for the ceremonial scent of joss sticks.
She invited the kids to sit down in semi-circle.
But it was not the end of the problem. There were no books, exercise books, table, chair, black board, pencils, chalk or slates. How could teaching begin?
Inspired Mother hit upon an idea.
She snapped off a branch of the tree. The leaves and the upper end were plucked off. She now had something to write with.
At Mother’s signal, the kids were on their knees to pray to God with her.
The prayer over, class started off. Mother drew figures on the ground with the tree branch. The written figures were Bangla alphabet. Then, she pronounced the letters and the kids echoed her voice. The counting lesson began with the help of the leaves that were plucked off the branch.
It presented a novel sight.
The slum dwellers watched the scene from their slums. A new hope was surging in their frail bodies. They gratefully looked at Mother. Some people thought that it could be some temporary show for their votes or something.
But Mother continued her work. She also visited the slums and helped the sick. It won her the confidence of the people.
Some people came forward to help Mother in whatever little way they could. One of them provided a broken chair for Mother to sit on and a three legged table. Those items were prized possessions for a slum dweller, so poor were they. Hence it meant a great contribution relatively.
The poor slum dwellers had only hoped of their children going to school somehow. Now Mother was doing something in that direction without taxing their meagre resources. Some one came up with black board, chalk, some old books and second hand note-books or pads.
Mother’s school gained more students. Two teachers offered to teach the children for free. It was a welcome additional help.
Those slum kids very dirty and unkempt. They badly needed proper wash. On Sundays, Mother began to take her pupil to a nearby pond and give them soap bath. She would rub their bodies with her own hands. Later, she began to give cakes of soap as prizes to kids for good behaviour to encourage them in cleanliness.
The slums kids were used to speak very foul language which was naturally disliked by Mother Teresa. In fact it was her major problem to wean them away from abusive tongue. The kids were little to be blamed. The were offsprings of quarrelsome mothers and drunkard or junky fathers, neighbourhoods of the people of low morals where gutter language was the means of communication.
Mother threatened such foul speaking kids to disallow from her classes if they continued with their foul language. It was merely a warning. She never carried out her threat. And the kids too showed improvement in all respects.
Sometimes big boys intruded her classes and sat with her pupil out of curiosity. Mother Teresa never showed any sign of disapproval to such acts. She would let them sit and learn.
The Priest of Park Circus was very impressed by the spirit and the dedication of Mother Teresa.
He donated a hundred rupees to the school for its development.
With that capital Mother rented two rooms at Rs. 5/- each per month. One room served as her school and the other as medical clinic or sick care centre.
Mother Teresa was making some progress.
Most of the people were having second thoughts who initially thought that the lonely, poor and resourceles saree clad nun would wind up her activities as fast as she had begun.
Mother Teresa was proving everyone wrong. She was not poor as everyone had guessed. She had the greatest treasure of the spirit of service, love and compassion.

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