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Monday, 11 July 2011 20:58

Leaving With a Heavy Heart

Written by Blas Descallar
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Blas Descallar with TeachersFor several days, Sr. Joan Cordis Westhues, M.M., was confined at the hospital just two weeks after I arrived in Bangladesh on January 28, 2011. Though she was still weak after few days from being discharged, Sr. Joan immediately went back to work as principal of BACHA (Bangladesh Alternative Course for Human Advancement) English Medium School. In just a short span of time teaching at BACHA, I was right away impressed of Sr. Joan’s dedication and hard-work in offering quality education among the Bengali children coming from low and middle income families. Considering that she is almost 90, Sr. Joan is incredibly always enthusiastic in her dealings with students, teachers and school staff, and the parents.  Hearing the day-to-day happenings in school at meal time with the sisters, I would always be in awe on how she could deal with the nitty-gritty and serious problems at school taking into consideration her physical condition and age.

Since its inception in 2001, BACHA was administered by Sr. Joan and Sr. Miriam Francis Perlewitz, M.M. Just like Sr. Joan, Sr. Miriam is also a wonder woman. When my schedule and the list of subject to teach were handed to me, I was totally amazed to discover that Sr. Miriam had a full plate. Her schedule is from the first period to the last, five days a week. She teaches English, Reading, and Biology in four year-levels plus assisting Sr. Joan in administering the school. What is more surprising is that she was also actually teaching during the previous semester the subjects that I am teaching now, these are history, geography, reading comprehension, classical reading, and biblical knowledge. Both sisters are tremendously committed and dedicated in the field of education.  

Blas Descallar with TeachersOn the third week of June, Sr. Joan was again admitted at the hospital. At a wee-hour three days after she was admitted, Sr. Miriam had to go to the hospital when informed that Sr. Joan has to be taken in the ICU. As per diagnosis and advised of the doctors, Sr. Miriam from then on has to stay all the time at the side of Sr. Joan. The timing was unfortunate because it was the end of the school-year on June 30 when both of them could not manage the school. I went to visit the sisters and was requested that I will release the salaries of the faculty and staff during the last day of school and to sign the report cards of the upper level classes. Before it was to be given to the parents at 9:00 am on July 1, I had to go to the hospital and check with Sr. Miriam regarding the condition of some students before I could sign and release them.

Obviously, I am now acting as the principal and also responsible for Sr. Miriam’s task. I have to attend to parents who were coming to ask that their children who failed will be promoted to the next year-level. This is quite a tough one since I am new to the school and could not speak Bangla which is needed to make some parents understand the situation. It’s been over three weeks now that Sr. Joan and Sr. Miriam is the hospital. I regularly go both to visit and to report what is going on at school and to take instructions. The sisters and I am thankful that throughout these days, Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill is staying in Dhaka to be with the sisters and offer daily mass. He had also given Sr. Joan the sacrament of anointing. 

Blas Descallar with TeachersThe school-year started right away last Tuesday, July 5, since there will be no classes the whole of August until September 6 for the Ramadan. During the in-service of more than 60 teachers, I have to explain that we have to bear with the inconvenience during this unfortunate situation. But I did my best to make them feel that I am doing the best I could to keep the school going. I met with the teachers to fix their schedules and assist them in their needs particularly the new comers.

Today, as I was going back to school from the hospital, I was quite dumfounded to realize that I am going home next week. I have to exit the country since my visa will expire soon. Last March, the sisters asked me to stay longer so I could continue to assist them. Originally, I committed myself for only one semester, however, I said yes to their request because I am enjoying my ministry here. Someone from the archdiocese is processing my missionary visa and I will wait at home for its approval. Please include this intention in your prayers so I could come back to Bangladesh very soon.

I am already feeling gloomy with the thoughts of going home soon. I never felt this way when I am about to go home last December from the US. My plate is full now of invitations from co-workers and friends here. Everybody wants me in their home before I leave. It is also suffices to know that my students are hoping that I could come back even if they felt that I am strict. They said they learned not only about information, events, and facts but most of all practical things that could make them better person and citizens of Bangladesh. My worry now is who is going to take my place as liaison while the sisters are still in the hospital. I would humbly request that you and all the Maryknoll Affiliates would pray for Sr. Joan’s fast recovery and Sr. Miriam’s continues good health. 

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