The work of Don Bosco Veedu Society is focused around four centres – the Don Bosco Nivas Care Home, the Don Bosco centre, the Don Bosco Veedu centre and the women and child help centre.
I arrived at Trivandrum Central Station from serene Kovolam and headed straight to their women and child help centre. Conveniently located on platform 2 of the station itself, I learnt that this center had been opened in partnership with the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police. The center provides emergency assistance, care and protection to deprived women and children who arrive at Trivandrum. It is for this reason that they are located at the railway station itself – so that it is more accessible to women and children who arrive in the city by train.
Set up in November 2009, the centre provides help to hundreds of women and children who seek emotional support, referral services, and rehabilitation and shelter assistance. The centre is also a source of public awareness on child rights and child protection. It has catered to extremely poignant cases, from the 200 children it caters to every year as they end up at the train station with nowhere to go.
From the station, we walked to the Don Bosco Nivas centre, located around 10 minutes away. This is a shelter home for children rescued from streets and other dangerous circumstances. The centre is managed by Fr. Thomas P D who is current President of the Don Bosco Veedu Society. Fr. Thomas has completed his Masters in Law but then decided to become a priest after being inspired by the work of Don Bosco.
The Don Bosco Nivas home is a temporary shelter and most children stay here for upto a year. The main issue with these children is they have come from the railway station and are from other states therefore trying to relocate their families is extremely difficult. Relocating a child’s family is the first priority. If the family situation is safe for the child to return to, then they will be repatriated. If returning the child would leave them in a precarious situation, then they are taken to an orphanage/care home in the state of Kerala. The home currently houses 16 boys aged 6-16 years and there is a total of 17 staff working in the home. The home provides food, clothing, medical care as well as basic education and talent development programmes.
This home also houses the office for Childline, which is a national 24 hour emergency helpline outreach service for children in need of care and protection. Don Bosco Nivas functions as the Childline Collaborative agency for the district of Trivandrum. The initiative was launched in March 2000 and Don Bosco Nivas is the first Childline centre in Kerala. Since its inception, Childline has received over 200,000 calls and hundreds of children have been rescued, and supported. Father Thomas informed me that the centre receives around 100 calls a day and those lead to around 80 interventions a month by the Don Bosco staff. The free phone helpline is open 24 hrs and the initiative has been well-advertised around the city with a widespread poster campaign at stations, schools and places of worship.
Don Bosco Nivas also works towards running the ‘Missing Child Search Network’. This is a technological intervention for children at risk using Homelink software and the Missing Child Search (MCS) website. This nation-wide project is run in collaboration with various agencies, to trace missing children and restore them back home. Homelink is the software that enables members to scientifically record all the services rendered and personal details of the children in their child care institutions across the nation. This nationwide data is pooled together and forms the database in which a search is conducted to identify the missing child. The programme has a national server, regional centres and local centres to facilitate and monitor tracing and linkage services. In Kerala, this network functions as a pilot project of the Department of Social Welfare with Trivandrum Don Bosco Veedu Society as the nodal agency in Trivandrum.
I then visited the Don Bosco Centre, which is located at Mancaud. It is a training and spiritual animation centre. Training programmes for youth of neighbouring slums, women empowerment programmes and other workshops and seminars are conducted here. Spiritual animation programmes for families in the area take place here too. Every year, the Summer Camp for children and youth of Karimadom colony and neighbouring schools is also conducted here.
We then headed to the Don Bosco Veedu centre which offers vocational training for poor youth and women of the neighbourhood. Young women of the neighbourhood are empowered through training – tailoring, embroidery and fabrication etc. Training helps them earn a livelihood either through self-employment or through employment in establishments. Another programme functioning from here is a three month skill development programme for poor youth of Trivandrum. The skill development programmes are conducted on sales and marketing management and hospitality management.
During my visit I was taken to the nearby slum where Don Bosco works with the local community by sponsoring children’s education. The conditions there are very basic and unhygienic and there is the growing concern of diseases spreading in the area, aggravated by the monsoon rains. The mothers I spoke to though were very pleased that their children had been given the opportunity to go to school.
The organisation’s work relies on prevention, so they aim to find abandoned or deprived children as young and as early as possible so that they do not have to face life alone and miserable. With the overarching aim of reaching out to and rescuing children at risk, the organisation strives to inspire each child towards a dignified life, protect them from abusive and dehumanising situations, and restore their rights. This organisation is a catalyst in the formation of a child-friendly society.
Don Bosco is looking to run government homes in Kerala and wants to be in ownership of one in each of the 14 districts. This will allow them to build on the basic care that the state provides for these children, ensuring that their care home experience is not one of neglect and misery. Although the Childline campaign has been successful so far, Don Bosco wants to continue to reach out to more children. They aim to spread their message and raise awareness in 1,300 schools and health centres. It also wants to work to lower some of the negative statistics for the state. Kerala has the highest suicide rate in India and is known as the ‘divorce capital of Asia’. Ironically, this is due to the fact that education in the state is very high (Kerala has the highest literacy rates in India). Divorce and suicide inevitably have serious consequences for the children caught in the middle of these situations. This can lead to children with mental health issues or those who lack social skills. Don Bosco hopes to work with these children, whether it is counselling or advice and ensure they lead happy, healthy childhoods.