Life in Kolkata: coping with coronavirus

Jennie Gill, a teacher from South Darley VC Primary School, reflects on a group of teachers and students in Derbyshire Church Schools with a shared concern for a community of Kolkata slum schools.

If you saw the recent film ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’, a biopic with Tom Hanks playing America’s much-loved children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers, then you may recognise this quote:

"When I was a boy and I would see something scary in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

Our communities have come together in the last few weeks in ways that we have never seen before, with people running errands, making deliveries, chatting by telephone or even just smiling as we pass in the street so that no-one has to be alone in their isolation.

There are all those who are working in shops and factories to make sure that the rest of us have everything we need and the weekly applause for our healthcare workers to let them know that we see them and how much we appreciate them.

There is a particular group of teachers and students in Derbyshire Church Schools with a shared concern for a community of Kolkata slum schools.

As part of the Diocese of Derby’s long-term link with the Church of North India, a growing number of Derbyshire schools have been partnered with a Kolkata school, one of approximately 20 that are run and resourced by the Kolkata Cathedral Relief Service (CRS).  

kolkata covid rice

For the last five years we have visited them, worked with them, come to know and love their teachers and children.

Now in the midst of the pandemic we worry for them, especially because we know that so many of the measures we have put into place to keep ourselves safer will be impossible for them.

You may have seen a social media post from an Indian doctor who points out that to practise social distancing or to wash your hands more often, with soap in clean water, means that you have privileges not enjoyed by a large proportion of the world’s population.

It is those who were the poorest to begin with who are most at risk from this illness.

But here too, there are helpers. The CRS staff, led by Rig David, are always inspiringly creative and completely relentless in their mission to support the communities around them.

Gradually news is filtering through to the Derbyshire teachers about deliveries of food parcels, even to the most remote of the CRS projects, supported by the local police who have given permission for the CRS staff to make those journeys during the lockdown.

Some messages have arrived from individual Kolkata teachers to let us know that they are safe.

Many of us, and our schools, have donated to the emergency appeal set up by the Friends of CRS and sent our own messages of encouragement.

And each time a little snippet of news arrives it is shared excitedly around the network of Derbyshire teachers.

As we cheer on Rig and his team and continue to pray for them, we could not be more proud to be part of this global community and the work that God is doing here with the people we love.

The scary things in the news are going to carry on for a while but we are thankful for so many opportunities, even in lockdown, to be part of the much more powerful story of hope being written by all of God’s helpers around the world.

rice and potatoes bagged for delivery

The Diocese of Derby

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