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Bringing only a travel backpack, Saint Mary’s student assists women in India during summer trip 

| Monday, September 2, 2019

Saint Mary’s senior Grace Erving traveled to Kolkata, India, this summer to participate in a missionary program with the Missionaries of Charity. The social work major made the trek to India with only a travel backpack, spending one month serving the dying and destitute at Prem Dan, one of the Missionaries of Charity’s six facilities in Kolkata. 

Prem Dan, meaning ‘Gift of Love,’ specifically caters to the needs of the elderly and dying in the poorer areas of the city. 

“These women come to Prem Dan because they have been abandoned by their families and have nowhere else to go. Most people come to Prem Dan in a really bad state, and it’s incredible to see how they progress to become so happy,” Erving said in an email. 

The daily routine allowed Erving to connect with both her fellow volunteers, as well as the wider community. 

“Every day we would go to Mass with the sisters. Mass felt homey and reverent since they always took their shoes off before entering the sacred space,” she said. “After, all the volunteers would eat together and head to our assignments. Every day I walked through the slums. People on the streets recognized who we were and where we were going, so they would greet us every morning and try to speak English to us.” 

It was in the tiny acts of service, she said, that allowed her to connect with the women at Prem Dan.

“Every morning we would go make beds and wipe everything down. Since some people can’t get out of bed, we would go back and make sure we fed them,” Erving said. “I think this was the most rewarding thing we did. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to feed them and just sit and be with them.” 

For Erving, being able to help provide both material and emotional support for these women was one of the greatest lessons. 

“It’s one thing to feed someone’s material needs and give them a bed, food and water. But people thirst for that intimacy and proximity to people,” she said. “As Christians, we are called to see Christ in everyone, and by sitting and feeding people you don’t even know, you start to see Christ in them.”

While the trip wasn’t without its challenges, Evring said it ended up being one of the most transformative experiences. 

“While there was a language barrier at first since I didn’t speak Bengali, I ended up learning to communicate in ways I didn’t think I could before,” she said. “The women there were awesome. It was such a gift to just be able to go and spend time with them.”

Erving said the greatest lesson she learned was how much your heart can open up to a new experience. 

“After doing something like this, your heart grows in its capacity to love,” she said. “The world is not scary at all. People are people. There are good people wherever you go. You will find so many people along the way when you just open yourself up to the possibility of going and seeing how it goes.” 

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