By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 21, 2017

Fr. Gregory Almeida (sdb) who is also the Provincial Council Member for the Young at Risk (YaR) gives a brief overview of the many works of YaR, and the reason for the book, Forever Grateful to Don Bosco: Success Stories of the Young at Risk

What was the need for a book like this which highlights the work done by the Salesians of Don Bosco in India?

As we know, when we plant any fruit trees, we would like to see fruits in the years to come. Likewise, those who are our benefactors, well-wishers, volunteers would like to hear and see the success of these boys who were once upon a time difficult and different. At the same time, it is also good to tell our present boys that they too can achieve great things in their lives based on these success stories. It gives them inspiration and motivation to move ahead like these successful boys who were once like them!

Would it be fair to say that the volume of work done by the Salesians is humungous as opposed to the minuscule position it occupies in the media speaking about their achievements?

Gregory Almeida Young at Risk
“The goodness will spread by itself  without looking out for any recognition. Our energies are spent  on changing the lives of the Young at Risk,” says Fr Gregory Almeida.

We Salesians believe in doing good work no matter how the media looks at us. We believe in this quote that our left hand should not know what the right hand is doing. The goodness will spread by itself without looking out for any recognition. Our energies are spent on changing the lives of the Young at Risk.

Is there any special reason why the Salesians are so quiet as opposed to various other NGOs who highlight the work they do at every forum they get?

We do not believe in showcasing our works to all. We believe in helping the child who is at risk and the child’s testimony will speak for itself. By nature, we do not compete or crave any awards or recognition. We believe in working and networking with all the NGOs for the betterment of the child who is at risk. The one lost sheep is more important to us than the 99 who are safe!

All the same, would it be right to say that the Salesians need to focus a little on speaking in the public domain about the work they do, not for publicizing but for creating awareness and getting the others interested and involved?

Yes. We need to move along with other NGOs in the field of Advocacy. There are many issues related to Young at Risk that not only needs attention but also general awareness to make their future bright, safe and secure.

Coming back to YaR, how long have you been associated with marginalized children?

In Shelter, I have been associated with YaR works for the last four years. But I started working early as a Brother, going on the railway platforms every Saturday and Sunday at Pune Railway Station for two years and also working in the slums of Gorpuri, Pune.

What are the challenges you have faced whilst collaborating with YaR at the National level?

Not much. The YaR National Office had good representation from the beginning of its inception and were able to coordinate will all the provinces. The vision and mission are very clear. They have brought in a standardization process for each institution and policies that will help them move in the right direction. What they should address now is the needs and problems of the provinces. More than focusing on different National projects, they should help those provinces which are lacking in YaR work.

Fr Gregory Almeida Young at Risk

From the time YaR started to now, what are the changes that have been incorporated into the system?

YaR was started in March 2000, with a National Consultation for those involved in the work for the marginalized of all provinces in India. The Forum was reconstituted under the name ‘Don Bosco National Forum for the Young at Risk’, which was officially approved by SPCI (Salesian Provincial Conference of India) in March 2001. There are many changes that have taken place from the time it has started. Different national projects were taken up, YaR Standardization process began, different policies related to Young at Risk were formulated like child policy, child protection policy, social integration policy, YaR handbook, Juvenile Justice Desk, Home-Link or Child MISS programme for missing children, Migrants Project, Participation Action Research, etc. We are always looking out to enhance the ongoing projects as well as introduce new ones.

You obviously need a huge base of workers. How do you go about the task of hiring volunteers/staff?

We have built a good rapport with different colleges in Mumbai. Most of these students come from MSW colleges or other colleges for an internship or volunteer experience. We always have volunteers. Moreover, through our Salesian Volunteer Network, once a year we get Foreign Volunteers from Germany and Italy for a period of one month to one year.

Social Work is now a career option with students opting to make a career in this space. Is this a lucrative option?

Social work as a career is losing its charm because not many NGOs are able to get funds to sustain themselves. Only big corporates and institutions which have the money flow can employ and pay a good salary. In cities, most MSW students want a salary of more than Rs 25000/- per month, which the NGOs find difficult.

What is the vision for YaR in the next five years and do you have any plans of roping in the people whose lives your institute has touched to form a larger volunteer/staff base?

In the next five years, the plan is to start a new shelter in Nasik, a youth hostel for 18 plus street children, organize seminars and workshops for brothers who are in formation in the Salesian community, start or network new forms of YaR ministry, prepare a comprehensive YaR Syllabus for formation houses, prepare and motivate young Salesians to take up new YaR ministry. We want to grow at a steady pace and ensure the marginalized benefit from our work.

From the book Forever Grateful to Don Bosco: Success Stories of the Young at Risk

Also Read: Forgiving and praying can turn all our enemies into friends:  Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil

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