The Humanist Interviews Hemley Gonzalez

Mike Kuhlenbeck has an interview with Hemley Gonzalez in The Humanist that is worth reading despite its flaws. Gonzalez is a guy who went to work in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the poor in Kolkata, India and was so appalled by what he saw that he decided to start his own organization to do that work more effectively. Unfortunately, the interview focuses almost solely on saying bad things about Mother Teresa and not on the positive things Gonzalez is doing. The introduction is about the only place that’s even mentioned:

Hemley Gonzalez is revolutionizing humanitarian efforts with Responsible Charity, a nonprofit humanist organization he founded in 2009 that is making strides in “education, planned parenthood, and self-employment” in India. In June 2013, after years of planning and fundraising, Responsible Charity finally leased a property to establish the first secular school in Kolkata, West Bengal, for impoverished children and their families. “Our work goes beyond education,” says Gonzalez, “as we deal directly with the families of children we help, and we learn more and more about the harsh realities they face each day while living in poverty.”

Responsible Charity calls itself a humanist charity, assisting the poor in India with a variety of needs (as shown in the photos on the opposite page), including education, English classes, medical and nutritional assistance, family planning, microloans, assistance in rebuilding living spaces and repairing vehicles and appliances, and implementing sustainable lighting.

Here’s some of what inspired him to start Responsible Charity:

THE HUMANIST: What inspired you to start “STOP the Missionaries of Charity?” HEMLEY GONZALEZ: For a period of two months in 2008, I worked as a volunteer in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the poor in Calcutta, India. I was shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates, in direct contradiction of the public’s general understanding of their work.

Workers washed needles under tap water and then reused them. Medicine and other vital items were stored for months on end, expiring and still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carried out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of tuberculosis and other life-threatening illnesses. The individuals who operated the charity refused to accept and implement medical equipment and machinery that would have safely automated processes and saved lives.

After further investigation and research, I realized that all of the events I’d witnessed amounted to nothing more than a systematic human rights violation and a financial scam of monumental, criminal proportions.

Not once in its sixty-year history has this organization, the Missionaries of Charity, reported the total amount of funds it’s collected in donations, what percentage is used for administration, or where the rest has been applied and how. Defectors and independent journalists have placed the figure since the charity’s inception upwards of $1 billion (and counting). The mission currently operates over 700 homes in over 100 countries and maintains an average of 4,000 workers while consistently failing to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.

It’s sad, and a bit absurd, that the whole rest of the interview focused on criticizing Mother Teresa, as warranted as that is, and not on the work Gonzelez is currently doing. Hemley is going to be one of the speakers at the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Humanist at Work conference, which will take place July 18-20, 2014. And I know from my conversations with him in preparation for that event that he is excited about sharing his experiences in building an effective humanist organization with other group leaders.

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  • colnago80

    It is important that someone like Gonzelez who actually worked in one of Teresa’s vile “homes” confirm what Christopher Hitchens said in his book on her. The real tragedy is why the Indian Government hasn’t shut her “homes” down.

  • Sastra

    It’s sad, and a bit absurd, that the whole rest of the interview focused on criticizing Mother Teresa, as warranted as that is, and not on the work Gonzelez is currently doing.

    There are probably two good articles here: one on the work Gonzalez is doing and another one criticizing Mother Teresa. That second one is still relevant. Not everyone in the atheist/humanist/skeptic movement is as cognizant of the issue as you probably are and Mother Teresa is still held up as the role-model of religious benevolence — one which no atheist could ever hope to match.

  • busterggi

    “It’s sad, and a bit absurd, that the whole rest of the interview focused on criticizing Mother Teresa”

    Not really, the myths about Mother Teresa and all her fictional accomplishments provide cover for not doing anything concrete to correct conditions – after all, she already ‘fixed’ everything. The myth must be dispelledto allow reality to be acknowledged.

  • When it comes to the topic of mother teresa and humanism there are often strong opinions as to how much focus should be given to the misdeeds of her charity versus highlighting the progressive work of other humanist charities such as the one I run which is clearly covered in the article. Too much or too little of either subject will always be debatable, particularly when someone is tackling both in the same piece as the one in question attempt to show the readers exactly how Responsible Charity was born; and thus it would be unjust to not categorically highlight the natural progression of my findings at mother teresa’s houses.

    Another issue with the criticism of mother teresa and her organization is that until I came along in 2008, most of the prior ‘exposes’ were at least a decade old and no one had seem to continue where Hitchens or Aroup left off. As I stumbled upon the negligence without prior knowledge of the past critics it was clear the whole issue had gone dormant and back beneath the radar of international media and even humanist/freethinking outlets and or reporters.

    We should all continue to highlight both the now ongoing investigation of mother teresa’s medically negligent and financially fraudulent charity (as it is still very much in operation and remains largely unaccountable for their actions) as well bringing to light new secular and humanist charities working in the different fields of poverty-related issues around the world. There is room for both and there is purpose and indeed humanism at the core of pressing for change while being the change.

    Hemley Gonzalez