More than 20 years ago, Ann Pollak traveled to Calcutta, hoping to volunteer alongside Mother Teresa. The experience would spark a years-long process that would eventually lead her to adopt a severely handicapped child from one of the care centers run by the Missionaries of Charity.
“It has not been easy, at all, but the blessings have far, far outweighed the sacrifices,” Pollak told CNA. “Oddly, in adopting a blind child, I began seeing the world through my own eyes from a different perspective.”
Nearly 18 years ago, Pollak adopted a child from one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages. But adoption was not initially her intent.
In 1995, Pollak travelled to India in order to meet Mother Teresa. She spent two weeks doing volunteer work and was impressed with Mother Teresa’s constant smile, and the fact that despite winning a Nobel Prize and being globally famous, the religious sister was very approachable.
Pollak would return to do volunteer work numerous times in the years that followed. In 1997, about a month before Mother Teresa’s death, she was working with handicapped children. She was assigned to feed one little girl, Rekha, who was blind, autistic and mentally delayed.
“She had the sweetest smile on her face,” Pollak recalled of Rekha. “I just fell in love with her.” She also believed that the child had potential to develop and grow, if she was able to get the proper care and attention from a family.
A year later, Pollak returned to India to see if the little girl was still there. She was.
Pollak said that she wanted to find the young girl a family, or at least a school, somewhere that would be able to offer the proper care for someone with her particular needs.
But as time went on, she became frustrated with her inability to find anyone to care for the girl. She began praying every day, asking God for a solution. Although she had not previously considered adoption, she began to feel an inner call to adopt Rekha.
“I couldn’t find any other solution,” she reflected.
It took almost a year to prepare and get everything in order. Numerous complications arose. Pollak recalled praying what Mother Teresa had termed her “Little Novena” – a series of 9 Memorare prayers offered consecutively.
Within days, the complications had been resolved and the adoption process was complete. “I attribute that to the intercession of Mother Teresa and also the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Pollak said.
Rekha was seven-and-a-half years old at the time of her adoption. Now, almost 18 years later, Pollak said that her daughter has come a long way. While some of her conditions can never be cured – for example, she was born without eyes, and therefore has no chance of ever being able to see – there are other areas in which she has developed significantly.
Despite autism and mental delays, Rekha was able to start speaking at age 15. Once she started speaking, she began picking up more and more words, and now has a basic vocabulary.
But the transition was not easy. For years after she was taken away from India, Rehka had frequent, violent fits.
“During these fits, she would bite herself, rip off her clothes, throw herself on the floor…and she also physically hurt me,” Pollak said, recalling times that her daughter would bite her or tear out her hair.
Pollak believes that these fits were caused by Rekha’s inability to communicate her needs, combined with insecurity at being transported to a new and unknown life, as well as hormonal changes as she went through puberty.
Thanks to medication and a great deal of devotion and time, Pollak said that “Rekha is today a much calmer individual – the fits still occur but they are much less intense and much less frequent.”
“Rekha has helped me to become a more patient person!” she added.
Many of Pollak’s friends and family were not initially supportive, with some of them believing that she was making a serious mistake. A dear friend told her that she was ruining her life.
Her younger sister was married to an adoptee and was sympathetic and supportive, she recalled. But her older sister made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the adoption, including assuming any responsibility if anything were to happen Pollak.
But over time, Pollak said she seen how her daughter has brought out the best in humanity.
“Over the…years that she’s been with me, I have witnessed the graciousness, kindness and love of other human beings, from people whom we’ve met maybe only on a bus ride to people who have become a part of our life,” she said, pointing specifically to the caregivers they had worked with over the years.
“People frequently stare at us in public because we are sort of an ‘odd couple’ and because Rekha is often very boisterous, but those stares are so often accompanied by smiles.”
On Sept. 4, 2016, Pollak and Rehka were both able to attend Mother Teresa’s canonization, an opportunity that Pollak considers incredibly special.
“Today, I believe that my mission to meet Mother Teresa indirectly led me to Rekha,” she said, reflecting on her own journey to adoption. While there were many factors in her decision, which unfolded over several years, she said that watching the saint’s work more than 20 years ago was part of the inspiration that led to her become more deeply involved in the life of the girl she would go on to adopt.
“Seeing Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta and in other places in the word has a strong impact, and can turn a casual observer into a protagonist,” she said.