Airman's character grows from homeless experience

  • Published
  • By Tony Perez
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs Office
The Air Force attracts different people with different backgrounds; however, few people have a story as extraordinary as Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Man.

"I used to live on the streets of India. I was homeless," Sergeant Man said, who is a chaplain's assistant for the 37th Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base.

Sergeant Man does not know where she was born, or how old she is. Elizabeth is not even her real name. Ratna, meaning "jewel" in English, was her birth name.

"Everything about my history is made up," Sergeant Man said. "The year I was born, how old I am, all of it is made up. But I think I came from Bangladesh or Calcutta."

Sergeant Man does not recall much from her time wandering the streets, but she believes she was homeless for several months, during which time she ate out of gutters.

She does, however, remember being rescued by Mother Teresa, where she spent years in an orphanage run by the Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian in New Delhi, India.

"There were many children on the streets, but I don't remember her picking up any other children around me in the black van," Sergeant Man said.

According to Sergeant Man, many children are given up in India because they are female, or because they are born with some sort of handicap.

"I had a cleft palate, and I came from a family from an upper caste system which didn't tolerate deformities," Sergeant Man said.

"The second family I was a part of made me a house slave, and during my time there, I was burned from head to toe, so I decided to run away," she added.

Mother Teresa played a very active role in the lives of the children, helping them with their education and all of their medical issues.

"She was very kind, as were the rest of the nuns that worked with her," Sergeant Man said. "But if we got in trouble, you better believe she would be there disciplining us."

Sergeant Man was adopted in 1976 by a single woman who was a member of the U.S. Army, and eventually moved to California.

"If Mother Teresa wouldn't have found me in the streets, I don't know where I would be today," Sergeant Man said.

Her adoptive mother's Catholic faith, and her time spent with Mother Teresa, influenced Sergeant Man to begin training to become a nun in the eighth grade.

"I wanted to be of the same order as Mother Teresa," she said.

The training, however, was never completed because a member of the convent told her she did not believe that was the sergeant's true calling.

When her formal training ended with the convent, Sergeant Man turned to another opportunity to serve and decided to join the Air Force.

Sergeant Man, who enlisted 13 years ago, plans to retire from the military and continue her work with those who need her help.

She also wants to return to India and do more work with the Sisters of Charity.

"If I can bring some sort of meaning to others' lives, I want to do it," Sergeant Man said.