Friday, April 3, 2009
Hungry. Needy. Homeless. This is the state of the estimated sixty thousand children dwelling on the streets of Bangalore. While some are orphaned, others are a burden to their families. Many abandon their dysfunctional homes in pursuit of happiness. Employed in garages, dingy food joints and bars they are harassed, humiliated and exposed to the dark side of the city. Unable to bear the torture meted out by their employers they flee again. To pacify their hunger pangs they resort to begging, rag-picking and stealing. Indulgence in cigarettes, drugs and alcohol is common. Many are addicted to inhaling strongly odorous substances (erase-ex, turpentine, kerosene etc) called ‘solution’.
Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota better known as BOSCO is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that reaches out to the young at risk. BOSCO draws inspiration from St. John Bosco (also known as Don Bosco) who dedicated his life to the service of underprivileged youth. Food, accommodation, life-skills training and education are provided to empower marginalized youngsters to mend their shattered lives. BOSCO collaborates with other NGOs and the Government of Karnataka to address issues like child labour and child abuse.
BOSCO, a home for street children in Bangalore was the pioneering effort of four students of Theology of Kristu Jyothi College. They ventured into crowded localities like Chickpet, City Market and Majestic to get a first hand account of street life and its hazards. The concept of providing a roof for homeless boys became a reality when one of them, Fr. George Kolashany sheltered a few who were living on the streets. This social endeavour has come a long way since its modest beginning in the early 1980s. BOSCO now has a set up of seven city centers in Bangalore and one village center at Ajjanahalli.
Finding a home
BOSCO has set up Child Rescue Booths at the City Railway Station, Majestic Bus Stand and Kalasipalayam Bus Stand which are the primary entry points for those who flee from their homes. After the preliminary screening at BOSCO’s administrative office at Gandhi Nagar, boys under the age of fifteen are sent to Bosco Mane in Chamarajpet while those above fifteen are sent to Bosco Yuvakendra, near Magadi Road. It takes anything from a few hours to months to comfort these boys and coax them to reveal their true identities. Factors like age, educational background, personal interests, physical and psychological health determine the centre that would be home to each boy admitted to BOSCO. While keeping its doors open for those who need a shelter, BOSCO leaves no stone unturned in placing them back in their homes. Once re-united with their families, the boys are followed up for a year to ensure their well-being.
Centers of Learning
At Bosco Vikas, the school-going children are made to adhere to a strict schedule which includes prayer, exercise, studies and sports. The older boys stay at Bosco Yuvakendra and Bosco Summanahalli. While some pursue higher education others undergo vocational training. Vocational training is a life-line for the boys who have not undergone formal education. The boys are trained in welding, tailoring, book-binding, screen-printing, carpentry and two-wheeler mechanics. They are also provided the opportunity to explore new avenues in fields like Hotel Management and four-wheeler driving. After the successful completion of their training at BOSCO, the boys are helped to find a suitable job. School drop-outs are encouraged to utilize their free time to prepare for the Karnataka Open School (KOS) examinations.
BOSCO has setup a rehabilitation center at Ajjanahalli, a quaint hamlet in the Magadi taluk of Karnataka. Located in the lap of nature, Ajjanahalli provides a conducive environment for street boys to bounce back to life. New boys at Ajjanahalli are coached and prepared before being admitted to school in the subsequent academic year. The boys study at the local village school. BOSCO in collaboration with other NGOs has eradicated child labour in the Magadi taluk.
The boys are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities and are provided several opportunities to exhibit their talents. Music and dance are a part of all celebrations at BOSCO. Sessions in yoga, personality development and life-skills are conducted to enhance their all-round development. Carom or cricket, foosball or football, the boys are always game for a game. Some are even coached in karate, cricket and swimming. Be it watching on television or playing, sports tops the list of their pastime options.
The lanes around prominent markets in the city are flocked with young children who do menial jobs like scavenging through discarded waste to earn one meal a day. Youngsters who take to begging and rag-picking live on the streets by day and night. BOSCO’s open-shelters provide a place for such people to rest and relax. Bosco Nilaya is an open-shelter in the City Market area and Bosco Nivas is a one such shelter in the Shivajinagar area. Counseling, rehabilitation and de-addiction programmes are some initiatives undertaken by the BOSCO team for the boys who frequent these centers.
Volunteers and Support Groups
BOSCO has had the support of benevolent volunteers who are willing to share and care for these less fortunate children. Students, professionals and trainees from religious orders offer their services at BOSCO. The volunteers from Professionals for Young at Risk (PYAR) lend their professional expertise to the initiatives undertaken by BOSCO. Service-minded youngsters, who constitute the Youth for Youth (Y4Y) group, dedicate considerable amount of their time. BOSCO connects with foreigners who are interested to volunteer in India through its outreach programme. International volunteers reside at the BOSCO premises and tend to the needs of the boys.
The Road Ahead…
While many success stories have blossomed from BOSCO, there are stiff challenges in the road ahead. Most boys have had a traumatic past and tend to escape rather than confront a difficult situation. It’s tough to keep them focused on the job at hand. Preventing them from going back to the streets is a daunting task. Sufficient funds have to be raised to meet the needs of the ever increasing number of children taking to the streets each day.
The BOSCO team strives hard to pave the path for a brighter tomorrow for these children who have been denied the cushion of love and the joys of life. BOSCO welcomes anyone who wishes to be a part their mission to provide a shelter and a bright future for these children, so that they may have life, in all its fullness.
For more information about BOSCO, you can log on to the BOSCO website www.boscoban.org , send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 080-65370112, 080-22253392.
This article was published in The Deccan Herald on the 31st of March 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.