The God in Me Greets The God in You
Srs Jwan Kada ibvm and Aithien Nguyen ibvm have spent the last two months missioned to the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre (KMWSC) in the West Bengal region of India. According to the Indian government agency NITI Aayog, approximately 15% (approx. 14,654,244) of West Bengal’s population is living below the national poverty line. KMWSC, through their unwavering commitment to those most in need, works both to empower and address the educational needs of women and children pushed to the margins.
Below Srs Jwan and Aithien reflect on their time with KMWSC and the transformative nature of their experiences and the challenges they’ve faced.
Sr Jwan Kada ibvm
Immediately upon arriving I found myself immersed in the beautiful colours, sounds and large crowds of Kolkata; all beautiful features of this joyous city that reminds me of my childhood in Baghdad, Iraq. The corner shops, the fruit and vegetable markets sprawled across the pavement, the chaos of traffic, and the constant sound of people interacting with one another are all wonderful memories that made me feel at home.
My time at KMWSC plunged me into the world of some of the most vulnerable communities in India. I visited remote villages where tribal families live well below the poverty line and went to the slums where children attend open-air schools under bridges. However, I was mostly touched by encountering the women of the Red-Light District in Sonagachi, the largest sex trade in Asia, where women are seen as commodities, trafficked and violated. It was there I truly felt that the work of promoting human dignity and human rights is the most important. I came to a deep knowing that my own dignity cannot be realised without also realising and promoting the dignity and worth of others.
When welcomed by villagers from Gangasagar, I was deeply moved by their expressions of love and hospitality. In particular, I was humbled by their ritual of washing their guests’ feet. Each time we entered a village, the children would greet us by touching our feet. When I asked what this gesture conveyed, I was told, “we do that to say that the God in me greets the God in you.”
My time in West Bengal has transformed every part of my being. It is where I got to see and touch the sacredness of humanity, came to know myself, the God who called me here and the people who have taught me what it means to be human. After being engrossed in this life-giving mission, I have entered deeply into the lives of the poor, listening and learning so that together with our Mary Ward values we can move into action, creating a better present and future for all.
Sr Aithien Nguyen ibvm
My time with the KMWSC was spent visiting many of the impoverished communities of Kolkata, mainly the Brickfields, where teaching children happens under the shade of a tree or in the blistering hot confines of small brick structures found throughout the dusty open-air factories. Despite their struggles, these communities welcomed us with their heartfelt and colourful holy rituals and blessed us with many encounters of kindness and compassion.
Despite the language barriers limiting our conversations, I was captivated by curious eyes and kind smiles. I felt an understanding of their dreams and hopes and saw the joy across their faces as they told stories of the transformative education and empowerment they have received, thanks to KMWSC.
I am inspired by the compassion and desire to serve the marginalized people showcased by KMWSC, particularly by Sr Monica Suchiang ibvm, with the support from her staff and the widespread global Mary Ward family, sponsors, and donors. My experiences in India have underpinned my courage. During this time of Lent, I reflect on my experiences with KMWSC as I consider the inspiration and courage I have gained to carry out our global mission of empowering and transforming the lives of women and children through education as I return to Vietnam.
Authors: Srs Jwan Kada ibvm and Aithien Nguyen ibvm