INDIA: Don Bosco Ashalayam Programs Help Youth Living on the Streets Have a Second Chance in Life
(MissionNewswire) The Salesian-run Don Bosco Ashalayam manages two night shelters, one for girls and one for boys who are living on the streets. The two shelters are located within the vicinity of the Salesian main office in Howrah and help to connect youth with the shelter and services they need. When night comes, street children become particularly vulnerable, and these shelters provide a resource of safety and support for them.
Every evening, Don Bosco Ashalayam in Kolkata opens its doors to all children in need of a safe place to sleep. Children and older youth come stay the night but have the freedom to leave if they wish. The night shelters are strategically located close to the main Salesian homes for street children so if they have a positive experience at the night shelter, they can easily connect to a longer-term Salesian program and more stable environment if they desire. At the night shelters, youth can eat healthy meals, wash, receive medical care, and enjoy a safe place to study and socialize with friends.
At the end of every month, Don Bosco Ashalayam organizes a “mela” (festival) at the night shelter where street children can enjoy a welcome bath, haircut and change into new clothes. They play games, watch movies and eat. Come evening, everyone goes to sleep at the night shelter. These melas can also give children the opportunity to discover life at Don Bosco Ashalayam and to elect to remain in a safe, supportive environment.
Deciding to come to a shelter home is a big decision for children and older youth. Events and outreach programs help build trust. Even for those children who choose to remain on the streets, the mela is a day of festivities and a break from the constant anxiety of life on the streets.
“All youth deserve a second chance in life and to feel safe and be a valued member of their community,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Youth who attend Don Bosco Ashalayam’s night shelters and innovative melas have a real opportunity to enter into a safe and stable environment where they can gain an education, connect with their peers, and gain the work and social skills needed for long-term success in their lives.”
Because many street children turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism, Don Bosco Ashalayam also provides regular rehabilitation camps to help break the cycle of addiction and poverty. These five-day camps are held in the beautiful local of Kalyani, where children and young people can rediscover themselves away from the daily challenges of life on the streets. As they fight their addictions, the children enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood by playing and dancing in the clean environment.
Life skills classes on hygiene, sexual health, confidence, fear and addictions provide them with tools for the future, while yoga engages their bodies and minds. Many of the participants chose to remain with Don Bosco Ashalayam after the camp. Recognizing that play and learning are vital to a healthy development, youth are also treated to outings several times a year. Past trips included the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata Zoo, Botanical Garden, Indian Museum and Nico Theme Park.
India is home to 25 percent of the world’s poor and more than 30 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. With the largest number of child laborers in the world, India has made significant progress the past eight years reducing the number of out-of-school children from 25 million to 8 million. However, an estimated 11 million children live on the streets facing the daily horrors of rampant exploitation, forced labor, widespread substance abuse and physical violence. Many poor youth see little opportunity or hope for a better life.
PHOTO: © Don Bosco Ashalayam, Kolkata
World Bank – India