Friday, January 15, 2010

Islands of West Bengal on Thursday

Often called the Forgotten Islands, the islands of West Bengal are in southeast India. Hundreds of tiny islands are clustered together and are accessible only by boat.
Our team left Kolkata early Thursday morning to take a 3 hour van drive to the coast. Our gracious hosts packed us breakfast and fed us when we stopped alongside the road for a break.
Along the way we passed through a village that was incredibly busy. We were told an annual festival was held in the town and would be starting that evening. Thankfully we were permitted to pass and arrived at the dock to take a boat to the island we were to visit.We were warmly greeted as we stepped onto the boat. While everyone sang, we were given flowers and had a ceremonial welcome (including the chalk dot to our forehead). Once on the island, we were again greeted and welcomed--this time by many BOH children. We watched their program, shared our dances and songs, and learned a little about life on the island.
They made us a bathroom! There are none. But, we were coming. So, they made us one. How amazing is that?!
We rode a motorbed thing (not a rickshaw, but sort of like a 4-wheeler with a flatbed back) to another part of the island. We met a pastor and saw a Jesus Well. We got to pump water. It was awesome!
The islands are a sad place if you look only at circumstances. From the moment you step on the island you see little ponds here and there. You see people washing clothes in them, washing dishes, and fetching water. Pretty quickly you realize this is their main water source. With no bathrooms, you can imagine what's mixed in with the water. When rain falls, everything goes into one place together.
I was told many of the children have intestinal problems due to the lack of clean water. They have stomach worms and other ailments. Jesus Wells are incredibly important on the islands. The opportunities to tell the people of Jesus abound as they come to get clean, fresh water.
Our BOH center is the only school some attend at times. We were told the government schools are not always open or sometimes have teachers that don't show up. Through the BOH the kids get a hot meal each day, hygiene items, and learn of Jesus.

On our journey back by boat we were privileged to hear the testimony of the two pastors who accompanied us. One of them ministers on an island with mostly women and children; many of the men have been killed by alligators and tigers.
Our long van drive was even more interesting as we headed back late in the day. After wading through a sea of people in the town where the annual festival was being held, we were met by the area leaders bearing KFC for our dinner! It was especially meaningful to Emily, who is from Kentucky!
That evening we had to say goodbye to our gracious hosts. We were leaving early in the morning for a flight to south India. Our time in West Bengal would not soon be forgotten. Here it is a year later and it feels like yesterday.

The islands of West Bengal were hit by cyclone Alia in May 2009, causing even more destruction to this fragile area. Ponds filled with salt water killing any fish living in them. People have died from a lack of food and no way to earn a living. The cyclone hit just as the rice paddies were ready to be harvested--eliminating an income for a large number of people. Read more about the problems and relief work in this GFA article.

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