Last month I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Kolkata, India working on a journalism project which was focused on the Asha Orphanage Organization.

Kolkata is the former capitol of British India, and the British influences architecturally and culturally are quite obvious. Now known as India’s cultural and intellectual capitol, the Lonely Planet regarded Kolkata as “…a daily festival of human existence, simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate.” The contrasts and contradictions in Kolkata are jarringly obvious, with the vibrant vitality and energy of the city penetrating its poorest areas, as the area Kolkata is located in is suffering from insurmountable economic, social, and political problems.

Katharine McCallum at the Asha orphanage

The Asha orphanage homes, in particular, were introduced into the Kolkata community some fifteen years ago by an Indian Pastor named Babu. His mission was to bestow to the children of Kolkata access to education as well as other opportunities that would help fashion a successful future for each child that passed through the care of the Asha orphanage organization.

Foresting the potential of these hopeful orphans is of the upmost importance to the Asha organization, as the children found in the Asha homes were formerly residing in situations of extreme poverty from slums to Leper colonies and brothels of the city where some of their mothers lived and worked. The boys and girls receiving aid and support from the Asha orphanage organization are separated into gender-assigned homes but both attend the same private school.

The aspect of mixing both the boys and girls involved in the organization when it came to school is something that I found to be important. After speaking to the children, it came to my attention that siblings of different genders are separated in their home environments, which I’m sure is an emotional and vulnerable experience. Maintaining the familial bonds through their educational environment, these children are able to uphold the relationships with the brothers and sisters that no longer call the same place “home.”

Katharine with the children at Asha house

Another focus of the Asha orphanage organization is to not only educate the children intellectually, but spiritually as well. It was blatantly clear how gratuitous these children were towards the organization, and how deeply they grasped the idea of responsibility. Each child found in the orphanage cared for the next as their own family, whether that meant assisting them in menial tasks around their homes or helping them with their schoolwork.

While the Asha orphanage organization has made amazing strides in its nearly fifteen years of existence, there is still more work to be done for the incredible children it’s assisting. I witnessed firsthand the living conditions of the girls house, and while they are all unequivocally thankful for the home and stable life Asha has provided for them, there are a few basic amenities that are still lacking.

While I absolutely have an outsiders perspective, and an extreme one at that coming from an American upbringing, seeing five girls share a concrete-lined room with no beds to be found was heartbreaking.

Katharine at the Asha homeIt’s up to me and you to help raise awareness for the children living in the Asha homes and provide for them the basic needs that we take for granted each day. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced a slice of their world, to be welcomed so warmly, and to bring more attention to the children of Kolkata and the needs of the Asha orphanage organization.