Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sister Jean: Bangalore’s very own ‘Mother Teresa’

For someone who has spent the last three decades of her life taking care of thousands of leprosy-affected patients, Bangalore’s 63-yr-old Sister Jean got a rude awakening when she was almost deported earlier this year. A last minute u-turn by the government has ensured that she continues with her indefatigable social work.

Nicknamed ‘Mother Teresa’, Sister Jacqueline Jean McEwan came to India in 1982 as a part of the Montfort Missionaries which comprised nurses and medics. She began working with Leprosy patients and has now become an indispensable member of Sumanahalli Society in Bangalore. Her untiring dedication towards the cause has fetched her accolades from colleagues and the people she has helped. “I have come to think of Bangalore as more of a home than England. I adjusted perfectly here. The people are as warm and loving as the people back home,” she says. Born in Newcastle, England; she studied midwifery and trained as a nurse. When a mission was being sent to India to work with leprosy patients, she signed on immediately and made Bangalore her home.

In fact, Sister Jean is quite the Bangalore expert. She can find her way through the twisting and narrow by lanes of the city and has been spotted riding fearlessly on a moped amidst heavy traffic. She has a fantastic memory that helps her accurately recall the names of almost all the 5000 patients she has dealt with in the last 29 years despite the language barrier. “I don’t think of it as much of an accomplishment. When you interact with patients, you meet their families and a bond is formed. You simply cannot forget the associations that you make,” says Sr Jean. She goes the extra mile to visit her patients in the various slums of the city after they have received treatment to enquire about their well-being. 

However, Sr Jean recently faced problems when the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) asked her to return to native Britain earlier this year. The problem occurred when her application for a resident permit was denied on grounds of lack of documents. “I was stunned initially. But I did not panic and realised that I may have to pack my bags and leave,” she says.

A hue and cry by colleagues and activists coupled with national media interest ensured that the government stepped in at the last minute to stop the deportation. “I was 20 minutes away from stepping into the jeep that would whisk me away to the airport when I was told that I was being given a 14-day extension. The next day I got the news that my resident permit was being authorised,” she says while thanking the media for taking up the cudgels on her behalf.  Home Minister P Chidambaram himself intervened to state that her visa had been restored “without limit of time”.

Greeted by the patients of Sumanahalli with garlands and flowers when the news broke out, Sr Jean says, “I am very happy with the news. I never realised how much these people love me. When the deportation order came, so many people came up to me and asked me not to leave. It was wonderful to see their love and support.” The humble soft-spoken lady intends to continue resolutely with her work, happy to be allowed to live in a city she cannot think of ever leaving.

-Raintree Media Features

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