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On any given day there were approximately 15 of us volunteers at Kalighat and during my first two weeks, the atmosphere was such that I looked forward to every day of work.My favorite moments involved those that took place once the laundry was hung out to dry on the rooftop, once the dishes were all cleaned and we had time to sit down and chat with the residents.On April 9th, 2009, I leaned against a wall and watched a man die only a few feet in front of me.This man had been lying down in a cheap metal bed, where he had spent the past 15 minutes shaking violently while a nurse tried to feed him some pills.For years I had wanted to spend some time volunteering in Calcutta and when I finally managed to work it into my schedule, I showed up at an orientation for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and immediately signed up for a two-month commitment.Upon signing up, every volunteer is asked to choose which of the nine homes within the organization that they wish to work at and without hesitation I chose the Nirmal Hriday Home for the Destitute and the Dying (aka Kalighat).After carrying on like this for several minutes, one of the long-term volunteers approached me and before I could say a word, he had yanked the pills out of my hand, grabbed this man’s jaw with unnecessary force, pried open his mouth and shoved the pills inside.

And minutes later I took a seat at a rickety wooden table inside of a back alley chai shop, where I spent the following hour staring at the wall, unable to decide whether or not to continue my volunteer work.The very next day, I began spending four hours each morning and three hours every afternoon feeding and bathing the 50 dying men that called Kalighat home.In addition, I cleaned their dishes, did their laundry by hand, brought them their pills and even gave arm and leg massages to those who were in desperate need of some relief from their constant pain.Quite surprisingly, it was these volunteers that repeatedly forced me to question the benefits of my commitment and the benefits of Kalighat as a whole.It seemed that as time dragged on for these long-term volunteers, all of the sloshing around in food scraps, vomit and excrement, while being constantly surrounded by tumors, open wounds and horrendous diseases, led them to forget why they had chosen to volunteer in the first place.

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