Three years later, I was responsible for the administration of Oxfam’s Bangladesh Refugee Relief Programme and was based in Kolkata with the responsibilities for arranging the supplementary needs of about 600,000 people living in the many refugee camps in the border areas between India and Bangladesh. In the early days of the relief work, before Oxfam had set up its own operational programme, we supported some of the work of Mother Teresa’s Sisters. Nearly every morning at 6.45 a.m., Mother Teresa would phone me and begin the conversation not with “Good Morning” or “Hello”, but with “God Bless you Julian”, and then proceed to give me a shopping list of supplies her Sisters needed which consisted mostly of medicines but also things like bleaching powder and high protein food for children. Oxfam’s jeeps or even hired taxis would transport the Sisters with the supplies to the Camps near Kolkata.
One day, at Kolkata’s Dum Dum airport, I was having great trouble clearing relief supplies through the Customs, when a soft voice from behind me said, “Julian, come and pray with me. It is better than losing your temper which I fear you are about to do.” Of course, Mother Teresa was correct, because after she had led me through some prayers and I had sung for her the Latin versions of The Lord’s Prayer and Cantate Domino (both learnt at school), Mother Teresa quickly sliced through the red tape – for both of us.
It was very difficult for Mother Teresa to speak ill of anyone, even in those dark days of 1971 when there was so much death and suffering in Bangladesh and the refugee camps. In a message for Oxfam’s ‘Testimony of Sixty’ publication, she said, “This problem is not only India’s problem, it is the world’s problem. The burden must be carried by the world, the answer must be given by the world. For us in India, good has come from the problem because our people have made considerable sacrifices and will continue to make them. I have been working among the refugees for five or six months. I have seen these children, and the adults, dying. That is why I can assure the world how grave the situation is and how urgently it must help. The appeal is to the world – the world must answer.”
Years later, in 1988, having just arrived from Delhi, I was waiting, deep in thought, for my luggage to arrive on the conveyor belt at Kolkata Airport, when a hand touched me and a voice said, “God Bless you, my son, is it Julian?” What an amazing memory! Our ensuing chat led to tea with her the next day when I explained the campaigning and other work I was trying to do to support people with disabilities. She warned me that I would face many setbacks along the way but that these would make me stronger in the long run. She was absolutely correct, as always.
Knowing Mother Teresa, however tenuously, has enriched my life considerably, and helped me, and many others, I am sure, in our attitude to people and to work. Source : bdnews24
Julian Francis has had a close association with Bangladesh since the War of Liberation in 1971 when he coordinated Oxfam’s refugee relief operations in India covering over 50 refugee camps and 600,000 men, women and children. For over more than 20 years, he has worked in many poverty alleviation projects in Bangladesh where he continues to live and work as an independent consultant.