News Local

Sisters serve together

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today


Irene Clarke, Linda Marshman and Doris Thomas have each undertaken service projects on their own, but the one the three sisters went on together in India was something special.

Clarke and Marshman, both of Castleton, gave a presentation on the experience recently at Castleton United Church, though Thomas (a Kingston resident) could not be present.

In October 2014, the sisters gathered the $2,155 in donations and proceeds from a garden-party fundraiser and headed for Calcutta (population 4.7-million).

Working with Missionary Adventures of Canada, they were committing three weeks to work in the slums of one of the world’s poorest cities, inspired in part by the work of Mother Teresa and the news they’d been hearing of the struggles that faced the women and young girls of that area.

They paid all their own expenses and even purchased the supplies for the Bible school they would teach in the morning, applying the $2,155 to purchasing what they would need for afternoon sewing lessons for local women.

To do this shopping, they negotiated streets teeming with cars, trucks, vans, taxis, bicycle rickshaws, human rickshaws, pedestrians, cows, chickens and pigs. They emerged with six old-fashioned treadle-powered machines and many metres of beautiful colourful fabric to go with the yards of lace they had brought from home.

Their sewing classroom was less than ideal.

The ceiling fan blew their pattern pieces around though, in the 34-degree weather, they could not turn it off. The two tables on which they could lay out and cut the fabric were smaller than standard-size card tables, and the floor was too dirty and too full of the playful children the women brought along to use for work space.

They started out with a class of 15, and a half-dozen others eventually joined in, adding to the challenge.

“They were easy patterns, but difficult for beginning sewers who had never used a machine,” Marshman said.

“Some women cut tight to the pattern, some added a couple of inches here and there.

“The sewing machines were a challenge to keep operating at an even pace, and the fabric moving forward at the same time.

“It was not uncommon for all six women to be threading their machines and demanding assistance at once. We were all called Auntie over and over and over again,” she recalled.

And the language barrier was certainly there, she added.

“We learned on the 12th day that a brief sideways shake of the head meant yes. It sort of looked like no.”

Bobbins jamming, thread breaking, children crying — it all required enormous patience, Marshman admitted.

“Being exhausted at the end of the day was an understatement.”

Even so, they spent many a night sorting out the fabric and trying to fix sewing mistakes. But they found it was well worth the extra effort.

“The joy was evident as they gradually mastered the art of sewing. When the women held up their finished garments, our joy was equal to theirs. The smiles, when they completed their projects, were so rewarding.”

Clarke said that Bible school made a wonderful start to each day. The children loved the actions songs they learned, and especially liked acting out Bible stories. Daniel in the Lions’ Den was popular, she said, but their favourite seemed to be David and Goliath. The simple props they’d brought along added to the fun.

And they always loved craft time.

“Any crafts they could take home were wonderful,” Clarke said.

When the occasional grateful parent would invite them for dinner, she added, it was an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the poverty they struggled with. It was not uncommon for an entire family to be living in a two-room house, relying on a public water tap in the street to bathe, brush their teeth and do their laundry.

The sisters had the relative luxury of being billeted in a bigger home, but a good night’s sleep eluded them for another reason — the almost almost-nightly festivals and parades held for one reason or another, with marching bands, horns and boisterous crowds going strong into the wee hours.

They found a similar contrast in the church services they attended while they were there.

One was an Assembly of God service, an evangelical high-energy service for about 1,000 people. Another was a visit to a small church, where a baptism by immersion was followed by box lunches for all of the dozen or so in attendance.

Church services were almost exclusively attended by women, Marshman said.

“Most men do not make a public display of their Christianity, because they don’t want their neighbours to know.”

The sisters did make time for a few highlights of their own, including a stop in New Delhi to ride a camel and see the Taj Mahal.

A far deeper impression resulted from their visit to Mother House where Mother Teresa is entombed and flowers spell out “Love only Jesus” on the floor.

The sisters ended their presentation with a quote from Mother Teresa.

“What you can do, I cannot. What I can do, you cannot. Together, we can do great things.”