We the second year SCN novices had the privilege of having two months of ‘live-in- experience’ with the primitive tribes in the villages of Chatra and Huntergunj. This was part of our novitiate curriculum. We were prepared and guided by the Chetna Bharati staff and especially by Sister Joel Urumpil. We were given preparatory input by Father Tony Herbert, S.J. who ably covered topics like village living systems, culture, problems, gender, caste systems, etc..
We were sent like Jesus sent his disciples in twos and ones. Most of us were alone and foreign to that culture and language. Initially adjustment was an insurmountable hurdle which was quickly overcome with love and determination. Most of the families were Hindus, some Muslims and they had many queries about our life and purpose of the experiment. Once they knew that we were there to experience their life they were open and very welcoming. This simple attitude of the poor helped us to give ourselves completely to them.
Most of us taught children as part of the ‘mass literacy program’. We participated in Chetna Bharati programs of empowering women and girl children. The ‘mahila sammelan’ was a big success witnessing the efforts of Chetna Bharati. Some of us worked in the fields among the people. One of us cut stones for a couple of days just to earn the most ‘unjust’ wage of twenty rupees in our developed times. Some of us even ventured into ‘dangerous’ zones of the Maoists and escaped harmless but as changed persons. We were part of many other programs as ‘camps for children, kishori (Teenage girls) programs’, etc..
We experienced people’s acute hunger, helplessness, poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, primitiveness and many other social evils and inequalities. We too were victims of some of problems which helped us to empathize with people standing with them in solidarity. This has had a deep impact on the outlook and perspectives of our lives. We feel deeply challenged to have less and to be more appreciative. We feel more determined and committed to dedicate our lives to a God who loves the ‘anawim’ for we encountered Him in the people who suffer. What we were able to do with people was far less compared with what we received from them. They received our “mite” gave us all that they had.
Our aspirations to be Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are further deepened by the lessons taught to us by the simple people. They helped us understand what it means to share their burdens, identify with them in their struggles and to stand with them in solidarity in the face of oppressive systems. We were educated by them to ‘read the signs of our times’ which spells out our Charism for us. Accordingly we felt the alarming signs of homelessness, hunger, child labour, water scarcity, poverty, illiteracy, media influence, caste wars, sickness, and violence. These signs left a transforming effect on us. There were many questions and challenges, but it doesn’t deter or discourage us from committing our lives for the sake of the poor.
Some of us had the rare opportunity to visit the holy ground of the martyr – Sister Valsa for the first death anniversary celebrations. This experience further cemented our convictions. We are indebted to all involved in providing us with this life transforming exposure.