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From Germany With Love...

By Leurelle Godinho
(L-R) Lisa Rattei and Nadine Schuttler
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Mumbai, Sep. 1. India and Germany are two nations at different ends of the global economic spectrum. One is a world economic superpower, the other still grappling with efforts to pull millions out of poverty, despite sustained economic growth. This reality is what Lisa Rattei and Nadine Schuttler - two German students - have encountered on their maiden visit to the subcontinent.
The duo are pursuing a Bachelor's in Social Work degree from the Salesian-run University of Katholische Stiftungshochschule Benediktbeuern, located nearly 61.3 kms from Munich. Their curriculum requires them to gain hands-on internship experience in foreign lands. So, when it was time to complete their internship, they were India-bound, and headed to the sprawling Don Bosco Campus in Matunga, Mumbai, their home away from home for six months.

''My desire was to work in the social sector of a poorer country and a different social system as compared to Germany,'' Schuttler, said. ''In my head, I thought of South Africa as I have family there too. But India chose me, as my University offered me the internship over here .''

Rattei would have opted to leave Europe for her internship to witness first-hand the differences in social system. Her dream was realised, as she headed to India. ''I never had India on my mind,'' she said. ''I thought about Africa or Asia more as options, but by accident was offered India.''

For Rattei, her life amongst the poorest of the poor in India's commercial capital is far removed from what she has grown accustomed to in her hometown Pfaffenberg, five hours away from Berlin. At home, she has a horse named 'Ikarus', and she lives a life strikingly different from the youth she works with at Wadala-based Shelter Don Bosco.

''I was really touched by a little boy who didn't celebrate his birthday because his parents were no more with him. There was another boy who was lost at a train station and he knew nothing of where he came from or even where his family was,'' Rattei, said.

Father Gregory D'Almeida, in-charge of the Shelter, described Rattei as a wonderful person. ''From day one, she has spent more than the time that has been given to her. She is so flexible to work with, she sits with the boys, talks to them and is always ready to do any assignment. She is happy to be with the boys and is very much at home with the staff too,'' Father D'Almeida, said.

Schuttler works with the Don Bosco Development Society (DBDS), an NGO that works in the slums of Dharavi, Kurla, Ghatkopar and Antop Hill, seeking to empower the poorest of the poor through self-help courses.    

She recalls visiting the homes in the slums and drinking chai with them, and holding sessions at the summer camp for children. A lady in the slums once told her, ''Tell them in Germany that we are not only poor, we are so much more,'' and that touched Schuttler's heart.

''I also realised that in India being fair is being beautiful, just the opposite of Germany where being dusky is true beauty,'' Schuttler, said.

Father Rolvin D'Mello, Director of DBDS, lauds Schuttler for her professionalism. ''It is a wonderful experience working with her, she adapted very well. It is phenomenal to see how she walked through the slush of water and muck with garbage around, like she was just at home,'' he said, adding, ''Two of her colleagues Kavita and Basanti also commented saying 'she was like one of us, she dressed like us and we will miss her when she leaves'.''

Images of wealth, Bollywood, sprawling luxury, often find their way to the promotional videos of Mumbai selling the city to the world, but the reality - for a majority of poverty-stricken Mumbaikars - is different. It is this reality that has become clearly apparent for Rattei and Schuttler as their internships end, but their time in the city has helped them to make friends and to truly appreciate those working towards empowering the poor.

''It was a very positive experience, we were treated like family and not like guests,'' they said, with Schuttler adding, ''The fathers were always caring, even when I got malaria, Father Anthony Goyal took me to the hospital.''  

The duo lived their 'Indian Journey' through their internship. They visited Nasik, Gujarat, Lonavla, Delhi, Ahmednagar and Agra. Now, as their time in India ends, along with important credits to complete their degree - they will take home vivid images of the good work being done by the Salesians of Don Bosco in empowering the poorest of the poor in a land of over a billion.  



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