MUMBAI, India – An annual Advent campaign in Mumbai is focused on children this year, with a special emphasis on protecting their rights.

The Advent Campaign against Hunger and Disease is organized by the Center for Social Action of the Archdiocese of Bombay.

“This project is implemented with the technical support of UNICEF. These children are trained to take up issues of development in their neighborhood and also ensure that the rights of children are not violated,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias in his launch of the theme “Serving the Best Interest of Children.”

“In addition to the above, Center for Social Action is also coordinating supplementary classes for children, vocational skill development and job placement for youth, financial literacy programs, and training for traditional and alternate livelihoods with marketing support for their produce. Enhancing livelihoods reduces migration to the cities, enhances the quality of life for women, and enables the education of children,” the cardinal explained.

Father Mario Mendes, the director of the Center, told Crux about some of the initiatives being sponsored during the campaign.

He highlighted the supplementary classes being offered by the program to at-risk children.

“These provide a support structure to vulnerable children in order to lower school drop-out rate, improve attendance and enhance their learning through a play-way method of teaching,” Mendes said, noting that last year, over 1,500 children were helped.

“It also improves the functioning of the schools by training the parents to participate in parent-teacher meetings and provides a mechanism to keep a check on the health and hygiene of the children,” he said.

Youth from the economically weaker, socially marginalized, and poor academic backgrounds are provided skills, training and job placements through a vocational skills program.

“These trainings have an additional focus on the holistic development of the youth through English speaking, personality development, interview skills, group discussion and a host of other soft skills that help them shape their future,” said Mendes.

The Advent program supports several other programs, including a domestic workers’ skills development program, which teaches basic etiquette and telephone manners, housekeeping, childcare, basic health care, home decor, firefighting, first aid, and other tasks to help people find employment.

“They are also made aware of their rights as domestic workers,” the priest added.

“Trainings are given to youth, grassroots workers, domestic workers, animators, women from Mahila Mandal [an informal social service club], self-help groups, etc. on topics like basics of social work, good governance, paralegal literacy, etc. These trainings have helped to bring about awareness in participants of various pertinent issues and to realize their potential for overall development,” Mendes told Crux.

The priest also said vulnerable individuals and groups are trained to make various products from raw materials that are largely sourced locally.

“They are guided on quality control, packaging, and also given opportunities to access urban markets under the brand name of Navjeevan Enterprises. Enhancing livelihoods helps in reducing migration which in turn improves the quality of life for women and enables education of children,” he explained.

Meanwhile, women in the Financial Empowerment Program are helped to understand the basics of banking and insurance and create assets through recurring and fixed deposits.

“Financial literacy is a powerful tool to empower them against the vicious money lenders and other unsafe financial practices,” Mendes said. “Self-help groups meet regularly for savings, accessing microcredit and planning their socio-economic development.”

The Advent appeal also helps fund programs to help young people become better citizens.

“Children from a village or institution are brought together to form a Bal Sabha, also known as Children’s Parliament. These are inclusive of all socio-cultural groups, as well as those differently abled. They are sensitized about their rights through various play-way activities,” Mendes said.

“It enables the children to develop their leadership skills by taking small initiatives to improve the situation around them; thereby, developing the community and making active citizenship a reality,” he continued.

In addition, the Maaza Maharashtra Maaza Sahabhag project, working in technical partnership with UNICEF, focuses on building a network of children’s parliaments in Maharashtra – the Indian state containing Mumbai – “to build the capacities of young citizens thus creating child advocates.”

“These parliaments which are federated at the block, district and state level have the potential to address many issues that affect the children and help the voices of the state’s children be heard when decisions are being made about them,” Mendes said.

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