An exciting opportunity arose in 2010 for my husband Simon and me to visit Kolkata (Calcutta before the 2001 name change.) In only four days the city burrowed its way into my heart and I could not stop thinking about it. I found it enchanting and unnerving in equal measure. It is a swirling, churning city, densely populated, noisy, crazy, and endearing. We didn’t have time to visit all of the city’s attractions but we made an effort to visit beautiful St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, an oasis of calm in a city of over 15 million people, a city that ebbed and flowed around me until my head spun. One of the elements that endeared the Cathedral to me was a signpost at the entrance to the grounds. It read simply “Peace On Earth”.
A puzzling component was a a row of offices and a print shop on the periphery of the Cathedral’s grounds. We discovered that these are the offices of the Cathedral Relief Service (CRS), a non-profit entity that delivers development services to children, women, and whole families in many slums within the city limits, and in impoverished rural villages that lie outside the city. While purchasing a few bangles from a young woman who works for CRS she informed me that women who live in the slums made the bangles. I couldn’t get that image out of my mind: a beautiful, sparkly, colourful bangle for my wrist made by women who live in homes so different from the one I have in Canada. Although we hadn’t been to the slums of Kolkata during our stay, we had walked on sidewalks that teemed with many people – people working, sleeping, living, eating. And not all of these people had homes to go to. Some of these people on the sidewalk lived right there, on a patch of pavement.
Back in Canada I researched the work done by CRS and discovered the wide variety of services provided to families living in poverty. I learned that a Canadian dollar can go a long way when converted into an Indian Rupee (INR). In fact, at present $5 Cdn. converts into 287 INR. More research turned up the existence of a non-profit group called UK Friends of CRS, a charity based in Dorset, England, and one that raises and sends tens of thousands of British Pounds to CRS each year. I wondered if anyone in Canada had started a “Canadian Friends” affiliate to support CRS? I assumed that someone had been doing so, but I still wanted to know, so….
I sent an email to CRS, Executive Director, CRS in Kolkata, and to Adrian Whalley, Honourary Secretary and Trustee of the UK Friends of CRS in England, asking if they knew of a Canadian who was raising funds for CRS. Both gentlemen responded and both told me that no, there was no “Canadian Friends” affiliate, as there was a UK affiliate. After further thought, more research, and many conversations with family members and friends during which I sought input and advice, by the end of 2011 I was ready to start a charitable organization that would raise and send hundreds of Canadian dollars to CRS in Kolkata on an annual basis, to aid in the education, women empowerment program and delivery of health services to at least some of the millions of people in Kolkata who live in poverty. The “Cdn Friends/CCRS” existed in 2012 but it wasn’t until January of 2013 that all the paperwork that was sent to BC Registry Services in Victoria resulted in the newly-minted Society being officially registered.
Why not one of the many other organizations that deliver development services to the poverty-stricken in Kolkata? Here are just a few reasons:
To read information about CRS go to:
To read the UK Friends of Calcutta Relief Service’s website go to:
IN THE BEGINNING
The Cathedral Relief Service (CRS) was born out of efforts to rehabilitate refugees who were the victims of the huge immigration from Bangladesh to West Bengal during the Bangladesh War in 1971. There are many layers of complex problems for refugees who flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs, and those who try to assist those refugees, to address their problems and walk with them as they create a new future for themselves. Over the years CRS has moved from its first role as a relief agency, to that of a development agency aiming at sustainable change, and is now focusing on rights-based development.
Topsia’s education program has been up and running since 2004. 40 students a year attend the CRS school with the ultimate aim of ensuring that these children get a chance to go to government schools.
CRS implemenets women’s empowerment programmes which include training in tailoring, stitching embroidery work and other craft work. This is an initiative that gives slum women a means of livelihood through: IGP, or, Income Generation Programme, and SHG, or Self Help Groups. To complement these initiatives, CRS gives opportunities to the women to sell their products locally and internationally, with CRS’s assistance. In this way they can become financially independent.