For years, duo follows silently in Teresa’s footsteps

TNN | Sep 5, 2016, 11.25 AM IST

KOLKATA: Michelle Harrison and Jenny Browne have been in Kolkata for more than a decade. They never had a chance to meet Mother Teresa, but she is always in their thoughts. Inspired by Mother, they have followed in her footsteps to make the lives of underprivileged children a little better.

Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao‘ may be a popular scheme of the Narendra Modi government, but Michelle hasn’t heard of it. The former global director of an MNC and a one-time teacher at Harvard, however, has been taking care of neglected girls for the last 15 years through a shelter she set up at Behala that houses 15 orphans.

Such was zeal of Michelle that she sold off her family home at New Jersey to start working for Kolkata’s orphan girls in 2006.

Michelle, a psychiatrist and gynaecologist, and author of three books, is also a mother of two daughters. Though the 43-year-old Heather is her biological daughter, she adopted Cici from Kolkata in 1984.

Her NGO, Sishur Sevay, aims to protect orphan girls. To do that, she took 15 girls from government homes, so that they could be properly groomed and educated. She hired four teachers, as most of her girls are slow learners, some autistic and several are psychologically traumatised, having been abused at some point.

Michelle, now an Indian citizen, says she has seen a lot of Indian girls being adopted by foreigners and, thus, deprived of their culture and heritage, like it happened with Cici. “I do not know why the Indian government is not doing anything to protect the girl child at home, instead of encouraging overseas adoption,” she adds.

Michelle, now 73, is worried with the future of her NGO as her funds are fast drying up. She pools in the pension she gets, but rues that corporate bodies have not extended any help.

In 1999, Jenny Browne was a schoolteacher in Ireland when her sister Maureen Forrest planned to start the Hope Kolkata Foundation, an NGO. “I came to Kolkata in 2001 as the overseas director, and the initial period was very difficult. But now I spend nine months every year here,” she said.

Jenny – who stays with girls of the Punditia Girls Home, run by Hope Kolkata Foundation – runs a number of boys’ homes at Tollygunge. “Kokata has a large number of children who are drug addicts, for whom we provide shelter and run a de-addiction programme. Another girls’ home has been started near Bypass, as we need more space to accommodate girls. We want children to be with the family, and until there is a major problem in the family, we don’t accept them. Now, we give shelter to 100 boys, including some in hostels, and provide education sponsorship to 500 boys. We also run a hospital in Behala to serve the community.”