COMMUNITY is very important to Kilkee woman, Ann-Marie Murray. In particular, two communities, miles and worlds apart – Kilkee and Kolkata.
Ann-Marie has been an integral part of The Hope Foundation’s work in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in West Bengal, India, for many years. The Hope Foundation (HOPE) was initially established in 1999 by Maureen Forrest, to raise funds to build a home for the girls from the streets and slums of Kolkata, subsequently called Panditya. Fifteen years on, HOPE now provide funding for over 60 projects, including education, primary healthcare, child protection, children’s shelters, vocational training and drugs rehabilitation.
Ann-Marie volunteered with HOPE in 2003 for a six-month programme in the Panditya home. Eleven years on, Ann-Marie is now HOPE’s assistant overseas director and remains surrounded by teenagers in Panditya. They all share rooms and bathroom facilities, with Ann-Marie being on-call for the girls 24 hours a day. Part of the draw for Ann-Marie is living as the rest of the community lives and travelling through the projects as the locals do.
“I arrived in Kolkata in October 2003, to work as a volunteer with the Hope Foundation. Kolkata was flooded as a result of a late monsoon and I was utterly immobilised by the crowds, the noise, the filth and the depth of poverty apparent on the streets. Today, after 11 years in Kolkata, I move with relative ease within the HOPE project areas,” Ann-Marie explained.
HOPE run a number of visits to Kolkata throughout the year, including transition-year programmes, yoga experiences, Himalayan walks and painting initiatives. For these visitors, Ann-Marie is there to help them navigate what can be an overwhelming environment.
“I have seen many changes since I first arrived. The city’s population has grown and Western influences are more apparent, with the increase of private cars and shopping malls. However, despite India’s emergence as a significant world power, the lives of thousands of people living in the streets and slums of Kolkata have not changed. It is in this area that HOPE has provided vital support, where none was previously given,” the Kilkee woman noted.
Ann-Marie is motivated by the progress she witnesses in her work – seeing children growing into educated adults, taking control of their own lives and starting their own families, with their sights set on a better future. HOPE has made a difference to many peoples’ lives.
Over the past 11 years, Ann-Marie has demonstrated a deep commitment to the communities that HOPE supports and spends most of the year in Kolkata. Yet every summer, she is drawn back to Kilkee. While she is in Clare, she helps run the family business, holiday accommodation beside the sea, and fundraises for HOPE. Each year, Ann-Marie and HOPE are genuinely surprised and delighted by the continued generosity and kindness of her family, friends and both the local community and the regular summer visitors to Kilkee.
Maureen Forrest, HOPE founder and CEO, said that the support that HOPE provide in Kolkata would not be possible without the immense generosity and support of HOPE donors such as the people of Kilkee.
“Ann-Marie works tirelessly to make sure the projects in Kolkata reach all those that need them. It is great to see the community of Kilkee get behind Ann-Marie to support what she and HOPE do,” Ms Forrest added.
For more information on the projects that HOPE support and how you can help, please go to our website, www.hopefoundation.ie