On August 26, 1910 a baby girl was born in the city of Skopje (SKOP-eeh-eh), Macedonia. Her parents named her Agnes. They were the Bojaxhiu (boy-a-GEE-you) family and they were Albanian. Agne’s father, Nikola, owned a construction company and was on the town council. Many people knew her father and he did his best to earn money for his family and make his city a better place. Drana was Agne’s mother and she loved to take care of the poor and the needy. Often when Agne’s and her siblings came to dinner, Drana had invited strangers to eat with them. Agnes later found out these people were poor, and even though her mother didn’t know them, she fed them and often let them spend the night if they didn’t needed a place to stay. During the day, Drana went out into the city to share food and water with the needy. She often took Agnes along to help.
Agnes and her family were Catholic, which is a religion that believes in and follows the teachings of Jesus. Many people in their city were Muslim or Jewish, which had different beliefs, but Drana taught her family that they should love and serve people of all races and religions. Religion was an important part of their family tradition. Agnes sang in the choir, the prayed daily and went to church weekly. Agnes liked to read about Catholic missionaries who travelled the world. A missionary is someone who moves far away to teach others about their religion and serve them.
When Agnes was 12 years old she had a deeply spiritual experience and decided her life’s mission would be to help others. When she was 14 she started teaching Sunday School at church and joined a group called the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which met together to pray and serve the poor. By 18 she decided to become a missionary nun. In the Catholic Church a nun dedicates her life to her faith and to teaching and serving others. Agne’s mother was proud of her daughter, but knew if she became a nun she would move far away and may never see her again. But finally after much prayer, Drana gave Agnes her support. It was very hard to leave her family, but Agnes was determined and strongly believed this was her life’s mission.
So Agne packed her bags and said goodbye to her family from the train station. It was one of the hardest moments of her life, because she knew she may never see them again. First, she travelled to Ireland, where she lived with other nuns and learned English. Agnes worked hard and picked up on the new language fast. Next, she took a train to Italy and then a boat to Calculutta, India and finally to Darjeeling, India. On the way, she saw crowds of people in the street who were poor, sick, and hungry. Her heart ached and she wanted more than anything to help the suffering.
In Darjeeling, Agnes continued to learn English, and two more languages, Hindi and Begali. She also started teaching children who attended their school. She loved teaching and soon became very good at managing the school and helping the children. During this time Agnes took her vows as a nun and took on a new name, Sister Teresa, after one of her favorite saints of the same name.
Before long, Agnes, now Sister Teresa, was running most of the school and when the Mother Superior became ill, Sister Teresa took her place and from then on was known as Mother Teresa. She continued to teach and loved what she was doing, but often she’d look out the windows of the convent and see people who suffered and needed help. She believed serving them was her true calling, but sadly because she was a nun she wasn’t able to leave the school.
Mother Teresa prayed for the people, but she also believed in taking action, so she received permission to gather a group of nuns and weekly leave the school to take food and medicine to those in need. But for Mother Teresa, this wasn’t enough! She wanted to spend all of her time serving these people — but to do it she’d need permission from the Pope, who was the head of the Catholic Church. So Mother Teresa wrote a letter and continued writing and asking until she was given permission to remain a nun, but also live outside the school and help the people of Calcutta.
Imagine how nervous Mother Teresa felt when she left the safety of her school and ventured into the big city for the first time. In many ways it was a dangerous place, so it required great bravery and faith to venture out in this new, unknown world. Mother Teresa wanted to blend in with the women of India, s0 she changed her black nun’s clothes out for a white traditional robe, called a sari.
After finding a place to live and a little money, Mother Teresa walked the streets of the city looking for people she could help. She wasn’t sure what to do, so she started doing what she did best, teaching! She drew letters in the dirt and curious kids started gathering around her. Soon a huge crowd of children surrounded Mother Teresa each day, hungry to learn, and feel of her love and attention for them.
When people in the city saw what she was doing they started donating money and items to help. Her former students volunteered their time. Before long Mother Teresa started a new order called the Missionaries of Charity. Every day Mother Teresa and her nuns said prayers, ate breakfast, then went out into the slums of Calcutta to help others. A slum is a place where very poor people live. Often their homes are broken down or they sleep on the streets with very little clothes or shelter. There is usually no clean water and garbage and diseases spread easily.
At first Mother Teresa and the other nuns would carry people to the hospital, but soon the city leaders saw the good they were doing and gave them an old building to use. The nuns cleaned it up and began caring for the sick. Mother Teresa was determined to treat all people equally, regardless of their religion, like her mother taught her. If they were Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu, she still said their prayers with them and did what they asked even though their requests were different than her Catholic faith.
Leprosy was a disease that infected many people in India. It causes sores all over peoples’ bodies and no one wants to be around them, because they are worried the leprosy will spread. But Mother Teresa wasn’t concerned about herself, so every day she and her helpers drove a van around Calcutta and found lepers in the street. They set aside a special village for the lepers, where they could live and be taken care of.
In 1969 a journalist noticed what Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity were doing in Calcutta, and made a film about them. When people around the world saw what they were doing and what a difference they were making in India, they started donating money and other supplies to help her cause. Remember, that in order for Mother Teresa to help the sick and poor, she needed medicine and buildings and food and money. It takes many humans working together to make a difference! And every little donation helped! Soon, the Missionaries of Charity were able to help even more people and began to open new cities around the world. Next was Rome, Italy and then places like Australia, Africa and England, and later New York.
In 1979 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her goal was never to be famous, she just believed she had a mission to fulfill and did what came natural to her, loving others and serving them. Her life wasn’t always easy and many times she was nervous or afraid. Helping others often takes courage. It can be easy to be too shy or nervous to help someone, but I challenge you to take the leap and do it anyway! Most of the time others are happy to receive help and to just know they are loved and someone cares about them. For example, if someone is new to your class at school or in your neighborhood you can say “hi” to them and let them join in your play. Or take them a plate of cookies. People love to be cared about and feel like they belong.
One reason Mother Teresa’s organization was successful was because people in India and all over the world donated to help out. Find a cause that you and your family care about and consider donating. Even small amounts make a difference. Our family has donated to different charities over the years and helped pack food for the hungry. Ask your parents about local charities that do the same thing. It’s always a great experience and feels good to know what you are doing makes the world a better place!