Tales From India: Mission Chai

Bangalore, INDIA – Several of the global brands Registria serves recently invited us to India to visit with their local teams about how our services could meet their customer on-boarding needs there. Prerna Nayyar, one of my Registria teammates who is from India originally, and I met with a half-dozen companies — remarkable meetings.

What stands out most from the trip, however, were some of the unique opportunities between meetings to experience the wonders of India, and the amazing hospitality and compassion of its people. One experience is especially memorable: Mission Chai.

Founded by Prerna and her father three years ago, Mission Chai is an organization of volunteers that wake each morning to bring a little sunshine into the lives of impoverished cancer patients in Bangalore. We had the opportunity to join them one day. Walking from bed-to-bed, we served chai tea and biscuits to each patient. The gratitude and hope a simple paper cup of tea  brings to the face of people fighting desperate odds, is humbling, inspiring, and brings into sharp focus the basic bonds of humanity we all share. We were also able to serve breakfast to children and their families in the pediatric ward. Watching my kids engage with these children in need from all over India is a gift for which we will forever be grateful.

As my daughter, Hannah, shared in a Facebook post, it was a “meaningful and eye-opening experience.”

Here’s a bit more from her post.

“Take a minute to imagine something: a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, it is remarkably hard to get into a good hospital, the good hospital is really far from your home, you do not have the money to buy both food and treatments, and there is corruption surrounding the hospital. This is what it is like for many people at Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bangalore, India.

“Walking into the patient in-take room, hands filled with chai and biscuits, a father comes running up to Rakesh, Prerna’s father, with his son. His face showed nothing but concern and hope. Although I do not know what was being said, I do know that he was desperate. Holding his son’s arm, he showed and explained to Rakesh the situation. The glimmer of hope he had upon seeing Rakesh could be seen in his eye, but it did not wipe the concern or desperate look off of his face. Later, Prerna translated for us: the man did not know how to fill out the paperwork to get his son the help he needed.

“Now moving into the hospital wards, where patients are kept, it was nothing like you would imagine. There are no white tiled floors, sterile equipment, vital monitors, or even curtains between the beds. Rather, the floor has dirt accumulated, and the ward is simply a large room with beds lined up. A few patients had basic equipment, such as a device to breathe into, but other than that, patients just rested in their beds. Loved ones would sit and stand in a backless chair by their loved one, but that was all they had. There were no guest beds that could be rolled in next to your loved one’s hospital bed to relatively comfortably stay the night with them.

“Entering the ward, biscuit packets were unwrapped from plastic and chai was poured into small cups and placed on a tray. Then, patient by patient, we walked around the room, serving chai and distributing biscuits. For some patients, a small smile appeared on their sad and tired face, and for others, deep signs of gratitude showed as they did everything they could to express how thankful they were. Simply giving the person a tiny cup of chai and a small packet of biscuits makes a huge difference in their world. Like I said, many cannot pay for both food and treatment, so this small amount of food may have given them the opportunity for more treatment….

“Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bangalore, India is the second best cancer hospital in the country, leaving it in high demand. Mission Chai is a group of volunteers, founded by Rakesh and Prerna, that works to help these patients, from distributing chai and biscuits to helping raise money for patients’ needs. Rakesh serves chai and biscuits about twice a week, but the group has enough regular volunteers now that the chai and biscuits are distributed daily. Many patients come to Mission Chai to ask for help, and then, Mission Chai works to get them that help. Rather than being an organization that collects donations, holds the money in an account, and then distributes it, Mission Chai is a ‘people helping people’ group. If a patient needs help, such as with paying for a surgery, Mission Chai will post on their Facebook page. People can then donate, whether in Bangalore or in another country, to help the patient.”

It was inspiring and humbling to witness the work of Mission Chai, and one of the many highlights of a successful trip to this remarkable country. I look forward to returning.