“ The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it”

– Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was a beacon of hope for the needy and continues to be an inspiration for many who want to do service for the helpless in their lifetime. While I do not believe that something as universal as volunteering can be limited by gender, International Women’s Day got me thinking about the history of women volunteers and a particularly celebrated one as well. The role of women as a voluntary force to be reckoned with can be traced back to World War 1 in 1914, when patriarchy was the norm and women did not work. During the war, almost 80,000 volunteers were mobilized in various support roles such as auxiliary nurses, ambulance drivers, teachers, cooks and workers in traditionally male jobs in factories. I am sure it was due to their indomitable spirit that some also went on to serve in combatant roles in Russia. They served in their home countries and sometimes even across borders. Several organizations such as QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service), VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), FANY(First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) were instituted for enterprising women volunteers who went beyond the call of duty and braved the conditions to help and serve. A similar trend can be seen in Indian history where women bravely led the way to serve selflessly, on and off the battlefields. We have all grown up reading stories of women working for those in need. In Modern History, we also hear of women like Mridula Sarabhai, a nationalist who was in charge of recruiting and training women volunteers for the Indian National Congress. Even after India became independent and moved away from the cries of war and freedom struggles; unfettered by political restraints, one person stands tall as a universal force in the world of service with a smile – Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997) also known as Blessed Teresa was an Albanian Roman Catholic religious sister and missionary. She was born in Skopje(Macedonia) from where she moved to Ireland at the age of 18 years and then to India, where she lived for most of her life. A true humanitarian, she spent many years working among those who were dying or sick. Mother Teresa chose to “serve the poorest of the poor and to live among them and like them.” She saw beauty in every human being. Along with others of the Missionaries of Charity, she strove to make the lives and deaths of those around them more peaceful and full of love. She fed, washed, and cared for anyone who needed the assistance. In 1950, Mother Teresa officially established the Missionaries of Charity with 12 members. Today, there are thousands of members (both men and women) of the Missionaries of Charity all around the world. Realizing the need for a home to care for those who were dying alone in the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa set up “Nirmal Hriday” which means the “Pure Heart.” Nirmal Hriday was a home where homeless, dying individuals were washed, given food, and allowed to die with dignity. As one of the most decorated nuns in the world, she wore her laurels with humility, only seeking how she could serve the helpless, the poor and needy. Though controversy stalked her a couple of times, she brushed it off with even more good work.

Mother Teresa is a huge inspiration for social workers and volunteers alike. She has left behind a rich legacy and her life demonstrates how good intent can be translated into selfless service by taking small steps in the right direction.

Even recently, she was in the news posthumously, for her canonization by the Vatican before the end of this year. On Women’s Day, we salute her and all women who epitomize the spirit of service and volunteering. At Chennai Volunteers, we see them everyday in our field of work and life and acknowledge the compassion and commitment they bring with them.