MORE ABOUT SHELTER DON BOSCO
"A story of faith in the goodness of young people"
Don Bosco or St. John Bosco was born in the year 1815, in a poor farmer's family in Becchi, a village in Italy. He lost his father at the age of 2 and was raised with much hardship by his mother. Though he was a bright child, education was expensive and he was unable to attend school. Yet his zeal for acquiring knowledge and learning urged him to study while he tended the cattle in the fields. He worked at many jobs with the aim of learning and paying his way through to obtain an education.
Pursuing his education and vocation, John Bosco became a Catholic priest, hence he was now known as Don John Bosco, or better still Don Bosco. As a priest he started his career by teaching young girls for the Marchioness Barollo, a rich society lady of the city. Turin, the city where he lived at the time was gradually getting industrialized. The opportunities for employment had increased tremendously and there was a constant influx of rural people into the city.
With the adults came the many young boys, eager to work, poor, but with no skill or training of any sort. This often led to the open exploitation of these boys in the ‘sweathouses’. Don Bosco was touched by their lives, the conditions they worked in and the lack of facilities that they endured. He chose to dedicate his life to these children. His early experience of poverty equipped him with an understanding of the poor and the hardships they had to suffer. What really attracted the young to Don Bosco was his friendliness- “It is not sufficient to love the young; they must know that they are loved”, he would say to anyone having difficulty working with the young. And this was the basis of Don Bosco mission. It is only when the young feel loved that they can grow.
He truly loved them: “Here in your midst I feel completely at home; my life, l feel is to be spent here amongst you”. These were no mere idle words and his dedication to the young was admirable. Often he had to pay a high price for his efforts; he was chased away from every quarter of the city, was suspected of subversive political activity and his fellow priests thinking he was mentally ill wanted to lock him up in a madhouse.
'Circumstances' led him to buy a field with a shed attached to it so that the young could have a place where they could meet, make new friends and be themselves. Always short of money but never short of ideas, the ‘Oratorio’ as it was called was soon overflowing with young boys and a new extension was added to the house to accommodate the growing numbers.
With the idea of empowering the children, Don Bosco started small trades such as tailoring, shoemaking, binding, printing etc., at this shelter home so that with a skill in hand they could bargain and get a better job later. It was a roaring success. Hundreds of young people benefited and many came forward to help him, especially the boys (and their parents) who had learnt from him and were now independent.
The success of this venture prompted him to replicate his efforts in several institutions in Italy and later all over the developed and developing world especially to South America, Africa, China and India among others, to respond to the needs of similar marginalized children. His team of dedicated and trained priests carried this message with them as the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Over time these small practical trades that Don Bosco initiated to empower the most vulnerable of the society became institutionalized as schools and technical institutions. The charism and commitment to the young and their holistic development continues to touch the lives of many marginalized children and youth through Salesian initiatives the world over. At Shelter Don Bosco, this is reflected in the many happy faces of the street children and other young people who have felt this special LOVE.
History of Shelter Don Bosco
As the Salesian Society (founded by Don Bosco, consisting of priests, brothers and sisters, volunteers, benefactors and the past pupils) decided to respond to this need, Shelter Don Bosco was conceived in the year 1987. Rev Fr. Bosco Pereira and Rev Fr. Raphael Lobo, who initiated the establishment of this institution, spent the first year surveying the area and studying their situations, visiting other institutions and Non Governmental Organizations working with these children to learn more about their problem.
The priests at Shelter Don Bosco then conducted an informal study on the needs of the children which was presented to them in the form of a big 'Mela', a celebration or gathering. Thus in 1988, in a grand Mela or a gathering of 3000 street children was organized on the grounds of Don Bosco High School, Matunga. While varied entertainment was organized for them, several dignitaries holding important government posts, ministers and other famous sportspersons were invited to interact with these children. The experience was a unique one for the street children who asked for a similar Mela every month. Following this study, SHELTER DON BOSCO (to be called Shelter in future) was started as an open house for the roofless, rootless street children of Mumbai wherein any child or young person living on the street could walk in to seek help for their small needs and move back onto the streets.
1995 - 1998 was the period when the project at Shelter Don Bosco was reviewed and it was observed that the boys residing at Shelter on a daily basis had increased to almost a hundred. A majority of these boys were between 14 to 24 years of age, most of whom were engaged in some work, which earned them enough to cover their daily expenses on food, clothing and other requirements. Most of them worked in the unorganized sector, helping in the wedding work called ' WADI ' and earned around 80 Rupees, when there was work, which was seasonal in nature. When there was no work most of them engaged themselves in scrap picking and temporary casual labor jobs.
These boys had minimal savings and erratic incomes. The vices which they had picked up on the streets such as substance abuse (smoking tobacco, charas, ganja, chewing tobacco, consuming alcohol), visiting commercial sex workers / prostitutes, gambling, watching movies, etc. filled whatever leisure time they had.
A significant point of observation was that most of boys who took advantage of the residential facilities were above 14 yrs. of age. Secondly, though some of the boys intended to learn a trade, they found it difficult to adapt to a regular training schedule or taking up a regular job. Also the employers were reluctant to train older boys. After reviewing the situation it was decided to admit boys below the age of 14 so that they could stay on at the Shelter for a longer period during which skill training alternatives could be identified for them. Thus by the age of 18 yrs a majority of them would acquire education or skills to enable them to be independent and self-reliant. With this idea, in 1995, a conscious effort was made to concentrate on boys below 14 years, while those who were already residing in Shelter were allowed to remain and go through their individual process of settlement.
Interestingly, within a year the ratio of the younger children increased dramatically. By 1996,there were over 70 younger boys most of whom were too young for skill training. Through regular non-formal education sessions, their interest in formal education was ascertained and on an experimental basis, four of the boys were sent to the nearby government school. This proved to be a huge success and was followed by many groups of boys, who opted to attend regular government schools. The numbers thus increased from 4 to the present 70+.
In the year 1996, as focus shifted with the younger children being enrolled in schools and the older boys went for non formal skill training, those who did not fit into either group continued to carry on rag picking and Wadi work. A 3-day camp was held with boys in the age range of 14 to 18 years to reflect and seek alternatives to the Wadi and rag picking by learning trades like cycle repairing, motor winding, tailoring and so on. At this stage Shelter took a stand by assuring the boys of taking on the responsibility of maintaining them and their expenses on food, clothing and shelter in the course of their training if they chose to opt out of the Wadi and scrap picking to start formal training.
Thus members of this camp opted to join the training group.
1. To reach out to the unreached rootless roofless children.
2. To empower them by imparting education, skill training and holistic personality development programmes.
3. To assist them in integrating into the larger society and settling down with dignity and independence.
4. To strive to protect and promote the rights of children.
5. To work towards creating a just society by sensitizing the larger Society and making them aware of the situation and dynamics of children and youth living in difficult situations especially on streets through various programmes.
Legal Status Of Shelter Don Bosco