The Scoop on Volunteering in India: Mother Teresa’s Mission Charities in Kolkata

Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” – Mother Teresa

Volunteering makes the heart grow larger and fonder and enriches a Big Trip travel experience. In my opinion, I think it should be a part of every Big Trip. There’s everything to gain like helping others, learning about another culture, being invited into witness how things are instead from the viewfinder view of the tourist trail. And there’s so much to lose when volunteering as well: stereotypes, hardness in one’s heart, and expectations on how things “should” be.

I’ve volunteered several times on my first India Big Trip and when I look back at the pictures and read the blog entries, I can feel my heart swell and they are my fondest memories. My inspiration to volunteer at the Mother Teresa Mission Charities came in two ways: One from my cousin Wendy, who had volunteered in the home for the dying, and in the book Volunteer Vacations. I’d wanted my first India trip to be about opening my heart and how perfect would the Mother Teresa charities be in doing that.

Before my Big Trip, I went to research on how to actually sign up to volunteer and I only found things like “just show up” and “arrive at the Mother House between 3 and 3:30 on Monday.” Well, the planner in me was not having any of that, but that’s actually was the case. Thankfully, there was something for my brain to grab onto in planning, which I found with a little detective work. The Mother Teresa web site has details on volunteering, but not all the logistics.

How to Volunteer at Mother Teresa Mission Charities

  1. Get to Kolkata. You don’t make any prior arrangements. No one needs to know that you are coming, just show up. I recommend by train, but there are also buses from Darjeeling that can get you there. Loooong bus rides.
  2. Take a taxi to Sudder Street. I highly recommend, that if arriving by train, to take a pre-paid taxi from the station. I believe the ride was about 200 RS. Since Sudder Street is a highly touristy area, the hawking cab drivers will try to get much more money out of you.
  3. Find a place to stay on Sudder Street. I stayed in two hotels during my eight days there. Hotel Maria was awful – it was also only 250 RS a night. The Salvation Army hotel is gone, despite what the Lonely Planet says. Hotel Diplomat was much much better, but unfortunately no longer in business.
  4. Go to the Mother House – everyone on Sudder Street knows where it is – to check out the process.
  5. At the time of my visit, Orientation and Registration at 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
 Address is Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (Home for Children), 
78, A.J.C. Bose Road, Kolkata – 700016
  6. Bring your passport and talk to people from many other places.
  7. You’ll get an overview of the seven or eight different places to volunteer in the Mission Charities and the nuns will give you all the start times. Sundays are off and you can show up as you want. I signed up for Shanti Dan, a home for about 300 developmentally disabled women.
  8. Sign up for a place to volunteer and then begin the next day.

What to expect each day:

Every morning I arrived at the house for breakfast at around 7 or 7:30. The volunteers and sisters served us bananas, tea and bread and then we gathered for a prayer. I’m not religious anymore, so I kind of forgot about the whole Catholic aspect to this. But I prayed nonetheless to bring the good vibes. There’s no organized anything after this part of the volunteering experience. Transportation is as you can get it. I found others who were going to Shanti Dan and we took a public bus and a rickshaw to get there. I highly recommend finding other people who have been there a while and following them. I did it on my own one day with another newbie and we were lost lost lost. She ended up paying an extortion fee of a 100RS to a taxi driver to get us there on time.

Once at the Shanti Dan house, there were no plans, no agenda, just the other volunteers expertise on what to do for the three hours at Shanti Dan. The complex is clean, the women well taken care of, especially give that there’s no other alternative for their lives other than compassionate family members. The more able ones run a laundry on the top floor and the others hang out around the courtyard. I learned over the week that the first order of business is making beds, and the second is entertaining the ladies. Bring nail clippers and nail polish, lotion to apply, and crayons and coloring books. The latter meant that I had a nice little art time going with six or so ladies throughout the week. Another volunteer commented that I looked very happy when I was showing them how to color.

By the end of my week there, I was an old pro and introducing the new volunteers – three Japanese girls – how to manage time and get to know the ladies. I only stayed eight days, but some women stayed three months making Kolkata their home. I loved Kolkata the city and used the day off and the afternoons to walk around it, eating only street food and taking pictures of the daily life. I also finished the book A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and it came alive while there because I could see the city type that he described so beautifully.

The best way to volunteer and get around is talk to other volunteers and be very loose. Have no expectations, but realize you are doing good and by showing up and making the most of your time there, you are helping. The cost is free to volunteer, there is no administration to cover or housing fees. You are free to volunteer at the houses you choose.

Helpful Links

Planning a Trip to India

Recommended G Adventure Tours Before or After Volunteering

  • Discover India Join G Adventures for an 15 days in Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, and more. Enjoy a guided tour of the worlds most magnificent testimonial to love the Taj Mahal. Visit the birthplace of Buddhism and Hinduism, spend a night in a traditional village, witness holy rituals on a sunrise Ganges cruise, and discover the hidden side of Delhi with a former street youth now taking part in a G Adventures-supported project. Don’t just see India; get inside its soul. See more about this trip> 
  • G Adventures Explore India and Nepal This tour is very similar to the one that I did on my first big trip. Take 17 days to discover northern India’s famed Golden Triangle and enjoy priceless time immersed in the heart of Nepalese culture. Explore the Taj Mahal and the iconic colors of Rajasthan. Spend a night at a Buddhist monastery and walk through the streets of Pokhara with one of the women from SASANE, a program that trains former victims of trafficking to become paralegals. From big highlights to intimate moments, this unique itinerary is truly unforgettable. See more about this trip> 

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9 Responses to “The Scoop on Volunteering in India: Mother Teresa’s Mission Charities in Kolkata”

  1. December 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm #


    Thank you for your article.

    I do a world tour with a friend and we like help other people.
    We did it in a very small village in Nepal during 15 days.

    In about 2 months, we will be in Kolkatta and we would like so much live this great human experience during some couple of weeks.

    Do you know if there always are enough job for all the volunteers ?
    Because we would be so sad if we see poor children in the street without have opportunity to help them.
    Is it free to work or if we must pay ?
    Is it necessary to contact the association before to arrive in Kolkata ?

    Can you reply on my personal e-mail ? Thank you and congratulation again for your article.

    PS : My english is no perfect. Is it a problem to be volunteer ?

    • Kristin
      December 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

      When I was at the Mission Charities, there was always enough work for everyone interested. There are about seven “homes” to volunteer. At the orientation, you sign up for which one you’d like to help you. I chose Shanti Dan, the home for mentally disabled women. The volunteering with Mother Teresa is free and you just show up. There is no lodging provided, so you have to find your own hotel. You do not have to contact them before arriving.

      • July 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

        Hi! I am very interested in volunteering myself at this mission charity. However, I am a young lady and I’d like to know is it really that dangerous to go all by myself? How long can I volunteer there?

        • Kristin
          July 23, 2014 at 4:56 am #

          Hi Lala,

          I met volunteers who were there for a few days or for several months.

          Regarding safety, here’s a post I wrote about traveling to India as a woman. Because of recent events, I don’t recommend traveling alone in India if it’s your first time there. The good news about going to Kolkata to volunteer at Mission Charities is that you will be with many other volunteers and most likely staying on Sutter Street with them, so you will not be alone.

  2. August 7, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    Hey, I want to do some charity at India too, but same with lala, that I’m a woman and alone.
    I planned to go there after finishing my study and graduation around early next year (2015).
    Any advise? Where should I stay and how much cost and money I should prepare if I want to stay for 3 months? Where should I work aside from missionary of charity?
    Thank you.

    • Kristin
      August 8, 2014 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Nadia,

      Thank you for writing. I recommend checking out these two posts to answer your questions about planning your trip and traveling as a woman solo:
      1) Planning a trip to India
      2) Traveling as a woman in India

      Then, for costs, I recommend budgeting between $1000 and 1200 USD a month. I can’t advise on working in India while you are there, as I only volunteered. If you’re looking for how to find volunteer organizations, I recommend check out my post on international volunteer resources.

  3. March 4, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    Thank you for this blog. I have always dreamed about going a bike trip from Kerala to Kolkata alone, which i almost never believed will happen. But you inspire a lot of confidence in people like us to chase after our dreams. thank you


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