“It is not enough to love the young, they must know that they are loved.”
—St John Bosco

By Shruti Chheda | Opening Doorz Editorial | August 14, 2019

In just their first outing in the professional football league and after just under 12 months of being together, their passion for soccer has seen these slum children gain confidence and a sense of self-worth. Playing in the Third Division of the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) League, Don Bosco Oratory boys have remained unbeaten so far after six games with 3 wins and 3 draws (12 points). They stand second in the point table behind Vipul Gorai FC with 19 points from seven games. That’s not all, two of their wins have been thumping victories (9-0 against Youngstar Sports Club and 7-0 against St Rocks FC (Brillian SA). Fr Glenford Lowe, himself a sucker for a soccer ball, with his lethal left foot still intact (at 59 years of age) as it was way back in 1981, as a 22-year-old, cannot stop beaming at the way the boys have shaped up. He refuses to single out any one player and gives credit to the entire unit which has performed beyond expectations.

Street children of Don Bosco
Don Bosco Oratory Boys have been having a ‘ball’ at the MDFA League.

Opening Doorz caught up with the Salesian Priest who is always busy with a game of football if he is not busy with Priestly duties. For him, Don Bosco Oratory is a place that Don Bosco dreamt about: a ‘home’ that welcomed, a ‘school’ that educated, a ‘church’ that evangelized and a ‘playground’ where friends meet.

Excerpts from an interview:

When did you decide that your boys were ready for the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) tournament?
We saw that the boys worked hard and were training diligently. We spotted a lot of talent. We put the boys through the grind for over a year and finally decided that they were ready to perform professionally. We thought that this level of exposure would do a world of good to them and their confidence. Presently, they are performing well in the MDFA league. We have every chance of progressing to the next division.

What is an Oratory all about?
Don Bosco was a man of vision. He believed in the dream at the age of nine in which God showed him his mission and vocation to serve with the young who were victims of the industrial revolution. He began an ‘Oratory’ for the youth from the streets who had no place to stay, no dream to follow, no skills to sustain and no faith to hold on to. The Oratory was a ‘home’ that welcomed, a ‘school’ that educated, a ‘church’ that evangelized and a ‘playground’ where friends could meet.

How did the Oratory at Matunga come about?
The Salesians of Don Bosco at Matunga believed that the Oratory would be the best platform to enhance the growth and formation of the young, especially from the slums and economic background environments in our neighbourhood. Here, were offered opportunities for personality growth and active citizenship through music, sports, dance, spoken English, computer studies and team building. The entire community at Don Bosco Provincial House considers the Oratory as a privileged setting for youngsters to discover their place in society with dignity and meaning. The many facilities like the turf grounds, the music instruments, the computers, the office spaces for dance and spoken English are provided to the youngsters every day. Fr. McEnroe Lopes, Fr. Leon Rodrigues, Fr. Anthony Goyal and me make up the Salesian team for the daily Oratory.

What was it that motivated you to start the Don Bosco Oratory Soccer team?
The slums of Mumbai are seedbeds for talents. With little or no opportunities, these youngsters have shown the will and resilience to rise above every obstacle and reach for the stars. We knew from the start that football would be the key to beginning the Oratory here at Don Bosco Matunga. We first started a weekend program for training youngsters from the slums in football. Gradually, we opened up facilities for cricket, music, dance, computers and spoken English. Initially, we had coaches and volunteers who would train our youth. Slowly, we turned to empowering our own Oratory youth to coach the football teams in U12, U14, U16 and the open category. With the commitment and improvement, we saw in the youth over a few months, we decided to join the MDFA Third Division Football league for 2019-20. Fortunately, sponsors came in to join hands with our project. Today we have two teams playing in the MDFA. Our U-16 will soon start playing in the YPL 2019-20. Football has indeed been the key to the growth of our Oratory.

Street children of Don Bosco
The Don Bosco Oratory Boys are at home with the priests who have helped hone their skills.

How was the response in the beginning?
In the beginning, it was slow. Just as Don Bosco experienced the difficulties in starting his Oratory, we too had our own teething problems. We had youth coming in from various slums in the neighbourhood like Dharavi, Sion-Koliwada, Chunnabatti, Sewree, Antop Hill, Kings Circle, Matunga, and Mahim. It took time to bond them together as one family. Various outings, picnics, team-building programs helped bring them together. We started initially with around 10 youth. Today, there are more than 340 boys registered in the senior group (above 18) and more than 150 boys registered in the junior group involved in football and other activities.

What were the major challenges faced whilst forming the soccer team?
We knew that our target groups would be youth from different slums, from broken homes, economically backward situations, school drop-outs, different religious and ethnic backgrounds etc. Integrating them as one family would take time. Many of the youth would come to play on empty stomachs. Some were really malnourished too. Undergoing rigorous training on an empty stomach was difficult too. As a solution to this, we started providing the youth with a glass of milk and bananas every evening. Our youth were rough, prone to violence and bad-mouthed too. We slowly were able to create a culture of calm and of respect for everyone. Today, no one uses foul language. Violence on the ground has stopped a long time ago.

Was there any issue of an identity crisis, considering you mentioned that they came from diverse backgrounds and into an environment where there were boys also of other backgrounds?
Yes. That was a major problem. We were aware of was that they needed to have an identity of their own. They were surrounded by youth on our campus who were training/playing in different clubs. They had the best of coaches, the best of uniforms and playing kit. Our Oratory youth faced an identity crisis. They were called slum boys. They were looked down upon by the others as second-class players. We gave them a new sense of identity. We created our own logo, our own attractive jerseys and a Don Bosco Oratory ID card. Today they are recognized as the ‘Don Bosco Oratory Boys’ and we can challenge any other football club with courage and skill.

Did you face any issues with discipline and being on time?
We face a huge challenge as far as punctuality was concerned. Now we have set up a biometric scanner to reduce this. Those who are regular with practices are taken for special trips to other Don Bosco institutions for practice matches. A few of our youth have dropped out of school for various reasons, mostly financial in nature. We have been able to assist some youth to join the night college program. Spoken English classes have proved another asset to enable our youth to perform better in their academic studies or in their workplaces too. A few have been able to receive professional counselling services from Fr. Ajoy Fernandes at the Prafulta.

Street Children of Don Bosco
The Don Bosco Provincial House has offered the best of facilities for the youth.

How are the financial requirements of the Oratory/team fulfilled?
Don Bosco believed in giving his best to the youth. He said, “For you, I study, for you I work, for you I live and for you, I am ready to give up my life.” Here at Don Bosco Provincial House, we have offered the best of facilities for our youth. No doubt, to run the daily Oratory we need financial support. Don Bosco himself experienced the power of Divine providence in his mission. We experience the same today. So many sponsors and well-wishers reach out to us. Many of my own past pupils from Don Bosco Lonavala support the projects of the daily Oratory. We have so far provided over 200 Oratory jerseys and 80 pairs of football shoes to our youth. We constantly receive sports equipment from benefactors. The Kenkre Club also supports our Oratory.

We have a very active Facebook page where we post all that is happening at the Oratory. Media has helped us to keep people informed of all our projects. Once, we had a couple from New Zealand who offered us Rs 2 lakhs to the Oratory. Through that fund, we were able to take 50 boys to Goa for a week-long leadership camp and football matches with other Don Bosco institutions in Goa. My office is a place where constantly people come over to donate sports and music equipment. We also received a Computer for our youth office. The Salesians of Don Bosco also supports our daily Oratory by financing the various coaches in Dance, Cricket and Football and the evening snack for 60 youth daily.

What advice do you give the boys when they go to play on the field?
Our style with the young is different from other Clubs. Ours is a home! We don’t advise our youth through training programs in a Conference room. We follow Don Bosco’s style of the ‘word in the ear’. We accompany the Oratory youth as a family. We reach out to youth also on the individual level. Somehow, we are blessed with the sixth sense! We can identify any youngster going through a difficult time in his life and we reach out to assist with friendly advice, a loving gaze and a challenging proposal to live for. Our Salesian style of ‘presence with the young’ is the secret of an educative and pastoral environment. When we are with them, they know that we are there for them. The day we are away due to another commitment, they miss us for sure!

What are the goals set for the boys?
The goal that Don Bosco had for every youngster is the goal we have for our Oratory too. We want our youngsters to be God-fearing, to live in religious harmony with one another, to be responsible citizens and to care for the environment too. We dream of our youth making a positive contribution to society: to build healthy families, to live a morally upright life and to make good career choices. We want the youth in our oratory to mature and grow in an all-round formation. We dream of our youngsters making a commitment to change their slums into places with better hygiene and facilities for a better quality of life.

Also Read: “Humanity is the basic religion at Shelter Don Bosco,” says Radha Shukla
Also Read: Shahul Hamid is Forever Grateful to Don Bosco


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