Opening Doorz Editorial | January 31, 2018
Fr Xavier Devadas (sdb), Director, Maria Ashiana Therapy Education and Research Society, gives an insight on the early years of Shelter Don Bosco.
In Indian Salesian history, the early 1980s is a very significant period. During this time, special interventions for street children gained momentum. In fact, all this began at Kristu Jyoti College (Theology), Bangalore.
From here, the young theology students took it to their provinces. In the Mumbai province, Cleric Elson Baretto and Cleric Raphael Lobo started the summer apostolate with the street children in Mumbai. Simultaneously, Clerics Dominic Savio Fernandes and myself, who were students at Nirmala Niketan (College of Social Work), Mumbai, started engaging in work for the street children within the college. The result of both these initiatives was the birth of Shelter Don Bosco, Wadala. We knew there was a huge task to undertake as the streets were filled with boys who were ‘crying out’ for help. Don Bosco’s dedication to care for the marginalized had to be given a new thrust.
Fr. Bosco Pereira and Fr. Raphael Lobo were the first to begin the work at Shelter. From 1986 till 1995, Fr. Raphael remained at Shelter. During this period, Shelter was a 24-hour Open House. They maintained the street contact and also organized a monthly mela to get the street children together.
In 1993, after one year of being a priest, I was asked to take over Shelter. Two years later, in 1995, Fr. Barnabe D’Souza (page 14 ) was transferred here. In those days there were not many NGOs working with street children and there were thousands of children and youth who had made the street their home. Seeing the pathetic situation of the smaller children who were abused and exploited, Fr. Barnabe and myself decided to bring them into Shelter and provide care, protection and nourishment to them. We also ensured they were empowered and treated with dignity, something they were not used to. Till this period, there were no structured programs at Shelter.
“For me, the years of being with street children,was the best time of my life. I have done so little but I have received so much form them. Though they were roofless and rootless yet they were ready to face life as it comes. They are so resilient and strong that they are willing to face the toughest challenges life has to offer them. Watching their resilience and seeing them grow as confident citizens of India was an experience in itself.”
—Fr Xavier Devadas
However, since many smaller children began joining the program we decided to put some systems in place. Along with food and clothing we started providing healthcare, schooling, home placement, etc. By the year 2003, twelve programs like Outreach Centers, Drop-in Center, Open House, Residential Home, Mela, Schooling, Home Placements, Skilling, Drug Rehabilitation at Lonavala, Research Center, Khelwadies and Room Placements, had taken shape and were being successfully executed. These integrated programs enabled us to give the child a holistic service.
For me, these years of being with street children was the best time of my life. I have done so little but I have received so much form them. I have only a sense of gratitude and satisfaction at being able to be of service to them, all thanks to the dream little Johnny Bosco had at the age of 9.
Though they were roofless and rootless yet they were ready to face life as it came. They were willing to face the toughest challenges life had to offer them.
Watching their resilience and seeing them grow as confident citizens of India was an experience in itself. Their forever smiling faces brought in positive energy all around. All my life I have lived with the marginalized children and youth and I take this as a blessing and a privilege given to me. Every street child is special and unique and he needs our love: here and now.
As we speak of the history and development of the project we need to acknowledge the tremendous commitment, dedication and love which so many Priests, Clerics, staff, volunteers and benefactors (in India and abroad), have plowed into it.
As I look back, I thank God; as I look forward, I see the good work growing from strength to strength and I’m sure in the years to come, with the support of friends and benefactors, we are going to reach out to many more vulnerable children and youth who we call Young At Risk. Forever Grateful to Don Bosco is a book that will give you an insight into the work done by the Salesians and the reslience of the street children!
(From the book Forever Grateful to Don Bosco: Success Stories of the Young at Risk)