The Silver Lining Behind the Clouds

text and photos by Richard C. Walker

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“When a dying man says, ‘Save me!’, you can’t be afraid to give. His need is so great and so immediate. And if he doesn’t give thanks immediately, I don’t feel that this is so important. It might take time. When we were children our parents provided us with everything they could offer, but it was only later that we fully realized their sacrifice and expressed our thanks.

“Helping people can be like that. Only after they get their heads above water will they realize what has been done for them. But right now a man is struggling simply to survive.”

The speaker is Dorothy Baker, Director of the School of Social Work at the Institute of Social Service in Bombay, India. The day is hot and steamy, with early monsoon rains bringing only infrequent relief. Like the rains, Miss Baker’s words come in short, sporadic bursts, but they are nonetheless refreshing. As the monsoon promises renewed life to the people of India, her thoughts and work likewise promise life anew to many.

Miss Baker, a native of Albany, New York, came to Bombay twenty years ago because she “wanted to do what God wanted.” Though commonly called Miss Dorothy Baker, she is a doctor of social work and a sister belonging to the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.

Having sensed my befuddlement with her title and with her secular appearance, Miss Baker told me: “No, we never wore the clothes generally associated with religious societies, and that has been with us from the very beginning. The order was started in France in 1790 by a Jesuit priest named Father De Clorviere. It was the time of the French Revolution and the subsequent religious persecution. As a result, the order began as a way to follow the religious life without fear of immediate reprisal. Today, of course, that does not apply. But I do feel that we are better able to mix in society. Besides, the exterior is not what is necessary.”

I nodded in agreement. We were speaking in Miss Baker’s office in Nirmala Niketan, the building which houses the Institute of Social Service. When translated from their Sanskrit roots, the words mean “House of the Pure.” Miss Baker explained that ‘Nirmala,’ meaning ‘pure,’ was the closest word that could be found to represent ‘Our Lady, Mary.’

The School of Social Work at Nirmala Niketan is affiliated with Bombay University. Miss Baker and her very able staff provide a rigorous and innovative course of professional studies leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. The students include members of Miss Baker’s order as well as lay men and women. Their goal is to foster social and economic well-being through urban, rural and family development. The hallmarks of the graduating students are dedication, hard work, and a thorough understanding of societal problems that enables them to meet every challenge resourcefully.

But directing the School for Social Work is only a part of Miss Baker’s responsibility. She also supervises the effective use of funds provided by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association Sponsorship Program.

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