Dr Deirdre Gleeson, Medical Director of Medwise first travelled to Calcutta in January 2009 to volunteer in a health camp run by the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod. With the help of the Irish charity Almas the sisters purchased a small building from which they operate a health clinic, a school, counselling centre and a training centre to help women and children from the slums. The building is called Pratyasha meaning hope.
There is a small flat for volunteers and many Irish doctors, nurses, teachers and helpers have travelled to stay with the sisters and help them with their work.The sisters run a shelter for women escaping poverty and domestic violence called Asha Dham. Their parents visit and encourage them to persist in their studies; sadly some of the parents withdraw their children to go and beg.
The sisters also run a home for girls born on the streets. The home is called Nav Jeevan meaning new life and offers these girls, shelter, food, accommodation, education and hope for a better future. Women and girls living on the streets have a precarious existence surviving by begging, stealing, drug use and prostitution. They live short lives and suffer all kinds of abuse. It is not safe for a young girl growing up on the roadside in Calcutta. Yet the girls love the freedom of the streets and it is difficult for them to settle down in Nav Jeevan and go to school.