Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia on 26th August, 1910. It is said that the family is the first school where a child receives education. Mother Teresa’s family was a close-knit, loving and devout Catholic family. Most of the distinctive traits she heroically exhibited in later life can be traced back to her early years. Her parents probably led virtuous lives and encouraged their children to do the same. The atmosphere at home must have been one in which the love of God was nurtured in addition with a sincere concern for fellow human beings. Her mother, Drana, often took food, clothes and other items to distribute to the less fortunate people of her neighbourhood. Thus Agnes (Mother Teresa’s baptismal name) saw and learnt care for the poor. Her family was active in the local Church and the children were encouraged to learn about their faith and culture.
Through her childhood and teenage years, she paid keen attention to stories of missionaries. She was especially inspired by the reports of missionary work in India done by the Yugoslav Jesuits in Bengal. At the age of 18, she left home for the convent in Dublin, Ireland. Her intention was to learn English and subsequently leave for the missions. She began her religious training in Dublin and later came to India to continue her formation. After making her vows as a religious sister, she was assigned to teach at a girl’s high school in Bengal. She later went on to become the principal. She was a loved teacher and skillfully combined spiritual growth with intellectual development.
Glancing at her life one can surmise that despite being enclosed within a safe and secure academic environment in the convent-school, she was open and attentive to the happenings outside the walls. This is perhaps one of the important lessons she teaches us. Teachers and students can grow accustomed to thinking that a major part of education happens within the walls of the classroom. It is when textbooks take precedence over life that education ceases and brainwashing begins. I think it is very important for teachers and students alike to always remain open and sensitive to the happenings in reality. Education happens to a fuller extent when what is learnt in the classroom is applied to regular life. In the textbook it may be written that littering and mismanagement of waste leads to ill-health. Out on the street, the very same teacher who taught and the students who learned may continue to throw their wrappers and waste on to the street or into some open space. Such a situation clearly depicts the failure of education. An important question to ask here is ‘whether education is opening up the mind to face the challenges of reality or is it simply a collection of information that must be memorized and reproduced in order to score the highest mark?’
Mother Teresa had a profound respect for human life, even of unborn babies, and bequeathed that respect to her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. In the 1971 war between East and West Pakistan an estimated 200,000 women were raped. Some women committed suicide. Many wanted to abort their babies. Mother Teresa begged them to have their babies and give them to her, assuring them with these words, “The Sisters will take care of you, and we will find a good home for the babies”. She is a shining example of a pro-lifer. Value for life is not expressed merely in a classroom situation; it is rather realized in a concrete circumstance. Mother Teresa could have continued to carry on her work for the destitute and sick and still expressed a pro-life opinion but no, she went a step ahead and expressed it when faced by a concrete, urgent demand. The war had laid waste to plenty of human life already and she would not have to feel responsible for the potential victims of abortion. Her respect and love for life did not permit her to turn a blind eye to the impending genocide. Too often we see educated people displaying an indifferent attitude to life. It is sad that educated people sometimes develop opinions contrary to the benefit of humanity. Respect for life is not only seen when one chooses to save another’s life. That is an extreme situation. In a regular way, one can display a pro-life attitude by for example, showing care and concern for the sick and aged.
There is plenty that remains to be said but I will conclude with a final point. Mother Teresa is a shining example of vision, persistence and commitment. Despite having her life set before her, she was willing to respond to a need that she felt was not receiving sufficient attention, even though it meant losing her security. She dared to choose what is right over what is comfortable. Once she had established herself and her followers, she pictured projects that could foster a better outreach to those in need. Things never came easy for her. She had little wealth. Doubts, opposition and depression stalked her every step of the way. Yet, she never gave up. She was convinced that God had called her to fulfill a specific mission and she trusted that if it was His desire, it would somehow be fulfilled. She worked hard to gather the funds required to start new projects and to run existing ones. Her life is characterized by this continuous struggle to take the mission forward. Discouragements, oppositions, trials and failure are part and parcel of life. There is no point brooding over them. Once a goal has been set one requires to put everything one has into achieving it. Sacrifices will have to be made but faith and vision must never be lost. Persistence and commitment are bound to bring good results provided they are backed by a positive and hopeful attitude.
Mother Teresa is a wonderful teacher as her life has a lot to offer us. Mother Teresa stands as a witness to the values that education ought to bring us. Her life is an inspiration to teachers and students alike. Mother Teresa was a Missionary of Charity and love was a vital force for her. Her actions were guided by love. Education ultimately aims at making good and honest citizens. One of the fundamental characteristics of a good and honest citizen is Love. Mother Teresa describes the vocation of a good human being, “Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”