Kolkata’s Home of Hope and the friendship between Jean Vanier and Mother Teresa
by Nirmala Carvalho
The Asha Niketan (Home of Hope) in Kolkata is a L’Arche communities. Founded by Jean Vanier in 1973, the land on which it was built was donated by Mother Teresa, who often visited its residents. "Every time he (Vanier) was in Kolkata, he went to visit Mother Teresa,” said its director. “Jean Vanier discovered the value of love in listening to people with special abilities,” said Mgr Thomas D’Souza.
Kolkata – Jean Vanier, who died on Tuesday, is well remembered in India. Mr Rana, director of Asha Niketan (Home of Hope) in Kolkata (Calcutta), recalls the friendship between the founder of L’Arche communities and Mother Teresa, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity.
"Over the past 49 years, Jean Vanier visited India many times. Every time he was in Kolkata, he went to visit Mother Teresa,” Mr Rana said. In many ways, "Jean Vanier and Mother Teresa were like brother and sister. They shared a love for people, especially those who were different."
Tomorrow at 3pm, a special prayer service will be held at one of the cities Asha Niketan in memory of the founder. L’Arche (The Ark) is a network of communities open to healthy people and people with disabilities.
The Asha Niketan in Kolkata is one such communities, founded by Jean Vanier in 1973. Its history is intertwined with that of Mother Teresa.
"In 1990 we moved to our current location in Tangra,” Rana said. “Jean Vanier himself came for the inauguration. The land was given to us by Mother Teresa. Our home is right next to one of the communities of the Missionaries of Charity, about 4 kilometres from the Mother Home.”
The Asha Niketan includes a two-story building that houses permanent residents and assistants, the director's office, a meeting and work area. with office and two gardens.
"We are in the heart of a very poor neighbourhood, next to the Missionaries of Charity. Many of our residents come to live with us after they are hosted by the nuns,” he explained.
"Here in Kolkata we have two homes: Adi Bari and Thakur Bari. Both welcome adults and children with mental disabilities, together with their assistants. We also have a work area to make candles, batik fabrics, paper compositions, postcards.
"At Adi Bari we also have a daycare centre where children with intellectual disabilities play and learn to do simple things, whilst their parents receive guidance and support. Children who are unable to stay permanently are followed in an outreach programme. Assistants visit their homes once a week; each assistant takes care of one of them.”
Currently, the Asha Niketan has 90 residents, aged 4 to 62 years. Rana has been its director for the past two years, but has worked in the community for 30 years.
"Mother Teresa came to visit us often,” he remembers. So did Jean Vanier, “a simple and spiritual person who found joy in the joy of simple people”.
Another visitor to the Home of Hope is the Archbishop of Kolkata, Mgr Thomas D’Souza. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that "Jean Vanier discovered the value of love in listening to people with special abilities. People living in Asha Niketan transformed him.”
At the same time, Vanier’s “human and spiritual approach transformed the residents of Asha Niketan and those who serve them. Here in Kolkata we heard the news of Jean Vanier’s death with a heart full of gratitude towards his testimony and we pray for him and for his eternal rest."