MUMBAI, India – A children’s home in India celebrated its patron’s feast day by pledging to continue to “nurture the diverse and multiple talents and potential of each child.”
Founded in 1957, the St. Catherine’s Home in Mumbai is managed by The Welfare Society for Destitute Children, a trust started by Father Anthony Elenjimittam, who died in 2011.
The students and staff of the school celebrated the feast of St. Catherine of Siena on Apr. 30, since the general election was being held on Apr. 29.
“St. Catherine of Siena’s Home and School for Destitute Children has over 250 children to provide for,” said Brother Joseph Sebastian, the director of the home.
“We are committed to the development of the children – the orphans and destitute – through various activities and we support them until the age of 22. The youngest child is a three-year-old boy, whose destitute mother died leaving him and his older brother orphans. All our children are children who are orphans and destitute and we strive through education to help them to have dignity and confidence and become responsible adults. It is the goal of St. Catherine’s to prepare them for a healthy and productive future that will impact their nation,” he said.
The reason the institute continues educating people until the age of 22 is to make sure the students have basic job qualifications and the ability to live independently. It also helps prevent child labor and child marriage – problems prevalent on the margins of society in India.
“For those above the age of 22, the home has various other measures. It’s not just a home, it is a way of life,” Sebastian explained.
The religious brother said that besides serving destitute children and orphans, St. Catherine’s also serves non-resident students from the neighborhood who are from the periphery of society.
“They are very poor and are rejects of the mainstream educational system. For these children, too, we have a midday meal scheme, where besides education, they receive nutritious meals,” he explained.
The Apr. 30 celebration was a demonstration of the success of the school. Former students attended, many of them now in careers. The woman who read one of the readings at Mass is now married and a successful yoga teacher, and the sound system was set up by a former pupil, who now provides sound engineering at major events in the country.
“We started as an organization to educate students who never attended regular school. Father Anthony started teaching such children. Today, we are catering to street children and the orphaned here. We also run our own primary school. The reason for doing so is because we wish to cater to street children, which the other schools might not be open to,” said Sebastian. “Secondly, many of our students are overage. For example, even ten-year-olds are studying in our kindergarten classes. We are tackling many issues such as behavioral problems in children. These children have a background of working as laborers and they find it very difficult to start writing or studying. With our counselling sessions, we make sure that they can overcome such learning hurdles.”
In addition to education, St. Catherine’s provides shelter, food and clothing to children in need of a safe haven, and even more importantly, love.
“Helping them heal from the trauma of abandonment and abuse that many of them have experienced is a priority. Committed to the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of these children, they offer healing and hope through a holistic program of counselling and therapy using art, dance and music,” Sebastian said.
Upon completion of their schooling, the students are assisted with job placement in the community or to seek higher education.
Sebastian told Crux it is fundamental to “nurture the diverse and multiple talents and potential of each child.”
“When children are allowed to discover their true interest and passion, they are motivated to study and become something in life,” he said. “We encourage children to follow their interests. This helps them to later make a career out of it. For example, some children who might not be very good with academics might like working with machines and tools. They can become automotive engineers. Then there are those who love animals. We teach them about the scope of veterinary fields.”
The brother said when he sees so many street children and children from dysfunctional families, it is a challenge to be able to provide them a normal, happy life.
“It is the goal of St. Catherine’s to not just offer short-term aid to these children. I want to grow the orphanage by looking at long term partnerships with others. It is wonderful to be able to give these children a reason to study. When they see dreams of being MBAs or bank accountants or computer engineers, they actually work towards it. That’s the greatest joy!”