Justin Cohenour's Kolkata experience

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June 11th 2012
Published: June 11th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Reflecting back on my time spent in Kolkata I can say it was a time of both highs and lows. At first I can honestly say I hated it. The city seemed run down and the people looked depressed as they walked through filthy streets in the humid and exhaustive sun. After we changed hotels though and immersed ourselves in the city, I began to see the culture and spirit that now makes Kolkata my favorite city thus far. The city is surrounded with bits of its jungle past and looks as though the buildings fell in and amongst the jungle trees that sprout around them. The people also have so much pride in their city, the former capital during the British colonization, and they are constantly working to improve their situation. You can really see the influence the British must have had there and the profound effect it had on Kolkata and its people, both good and bad. It s a city that rallied around its unofficial saint, Mother Teresa. Our time at the Mother Teresa House and charitable site, Prem Dan ("Gift of Love" in Bengali), had a profound impact on me as a truly humbling experience. I realized that as future medical professionals, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that the only meaningful way for us to give back is to give back medically. As we hung laundry to dry, tossed water on the dirty walkways, and served chai tea and lunch, I realized that even though this wasn't medical, it was still important. I was still serving an important role in helping these people, even if only freeing up time for the sisters to treat the people more adequately. In this way, my small part was helping to serve a larger whole. Perhaps that is what Mother Teresa's greatest legacy is, that she continues to inspire and teach people to this day. I now see the truth in what Gandhi preached, "the greatest way to find oneself is to lose oneself in service to others." Prem Dan and the men and women who live their taught me what it means to give back. That all it really takes is being there to talk to them and listen to them tell their story. This wisdom I learned in Kolkata is the main reason I can say it is my favorite place we have experienced and offered me the greatest opportunity to learn.


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