The Calcutta Project: Volunteering in Basel for Calcutta

The Calcutta Project: Volunteering in Basel for Calcutta

Calcutta Project Basel has been helping with its expertise in Calcutta for over 30 years (Image: zvg).

For more than 30 years, Calcutta Project Basel has been supporting the needy people of Kolkata with a low-threshold medical service. Uni Basel students Anna and Daphne are also there. In the interview, they both tell how they got to the project and what experiences they had.

In 1991, students from the University of Basel founded Calcutta The project and since then in collaboration with partner organization SB Devi Charity Home (SBDCH) ensures that the socially weak people of Kolkata get basic medical care. Her work focuses on four projects to improve the local health situation. For 31 years, students have done 3,500 hours of volunteer work every year, and up to 96% of donations go directly to projects. They now have a rate of 4,525 medical treatments at the local clinic. Their projects include:

  • dispensary with homeopathic and western medicine and a mother-child program for basic health, prevention and counseling
  • counseling center for sex workers in Sonagachi district
  • school health service with preventive activities in the field of hygiene and nutrition
  • Konika crèche and kindergarten for children of sex workers

Medical student Anna Csizy and psychology student Daphne Stern have been involved in this project for more than four years alongside their studies. In an interview with the Beast blog, they tell how they got to the Calcutta project, what they have been able to experience in recent years and how students can work in an NGO.

Anna (left) and Daphne visiting the school (Image: zvg).

What made you decide to be a part of Calcutta Project Basel?

Daphne: I learned about the project in 2018 through personal contacts. I really like the family organization of the Calcutta project. The close cooperation with Indian partners and the transparent solution of projects there made me interested in being part of the team.

Anna: I came across the project in 2017 through the information market on the first day of the unit. I had been in India for a few months before and had already learned to love the country, the culture and the people there. So one thing led to another – I wanted to stay in touch with this country. Studying medicine allows me to combine work and private life and contribute with my professional knowledge.

Does commitment also shape you privately?

Daphne: Yes, because it forces you to be actively involved in sex work and education and to think about your own situation. It was not completely eye-opening, because we were aware that the situation in Switzerland is very different. But we were impressed by the delegation’s trip to India and the work, and we value the new friendships that have been made. (Anna nods in agreement.)

How does the cooperation with the Indian partner organization work and what have you experienced so far?

Anna: Here in Basel, we communicate directly with the partner organization SBDCH in Kolkata. The SBDCH consists of Indian staff and local doctors. Many of them have permanent jobs with their work in the SBDCH and receive a permanent salary. In the meantime, SBDCH is well known and people not only come from the immediate area, but also travel further afield. The feeling of success is sure that awareness about health and the importance of preventive work has increased. One of the best experiences is seeing how Konica’s children grow up and how they graduate from school.

Daphne: The aim of the four projects is to improve the current situation of people in prostitution. Through prevention work, workshops on sexually transmitted infections and other health-related topics. In addition, children should also be given the opportunity to pursue a different career path through school education.

A woman looks into a girl's mouth with a flashlight.

Health examination during a school visit within the framework of the HCPSC project (Image: zvg).

What makes the project attractive to you?

Ann: Calcutta Project Basel offers a first-hand look at the work of an NGO and how international cooperation works. Our team attaches great importance to fostering mutual social contact and thereby making new friends for life. Everyone can contribute and the project grows together. In terms of time, it can be managed in addition to full-time studies and a part-time job. Experiences like a trip to India, how we organize our work or many intercultural experiences are something unique.

Daphne: Project Calcutta supports people to do much needed work – funds are redistributed where they can be used more meaningfully. Corona showed me how important our work is. Because we work for free in Switzerland and people continue to contribute, we were able to continue paying the employees in India their salaries. Schools were closed, but education was maintained through online learning, and children in out-of-school care had a safe place even during the pandemic. Such experiences are worth being part of the project. I highly recommend it to everyone.

If Beast readers want to support the project: what can they do?

Anna: All students are welcome, regardless of which university they come from. We have no semester restrictions, NNO is open to all departments and no prior knowledge is required. All that is required is an interest to actively shape the Calcutta project and thus enable important work to be done in India at all. We have two working groups: a public relations and fundraising team and a technical committee that deals with four projects and liaises with contacts in India.

If you would like to get involved with Calcutta Project Basel or have any questions, all information and contact details can be found at their Website or get in touch Direct with Anna and Daphne.

Christine Kunnathuparambil

Christin knew early on that she wanted to do something to help others. While studying law, she realized that although she had to read a lot of literature, it was also often discussed – much to her delight. If she gets tired of those hundreds of pages, she likes to relax with a good movie, with friends, in the world of art or on trips to distant countries or to her native India.

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