INDIA: Rehabilitating and Bringing Hope to Street Youth
(MissionNewswire) Salesian-run programs are making a difference in the lives of poor youth in India, but the need continues to grow. According to the World Bank, India is home to 25 percent of the world’s poor. A little more than 30 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. While progress has been significant and the number of out-of-school children has been reduced from 25 million to 8 million in the past eight years, India continues to have the largest number of child laborers in the world. In addition, an estimated 10 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.
Salesians in India are working to provide poor youth educational opportunities and a safe environment in places such as the Ashalayam Rehabilitation Center in Mohanlalganj. Here, at-risk youth have access to a safe place to sleep, food to eat, medical care and schooling.
“The Salesians at Ashalayam are working hard to rehabilitate street children and restore their childhoods,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Many take for granted things like having a safe place to sleep, enough food to eat and access to medical care. The Salesians working with these youth recognize how critical meeting these needs are before they can focus on education.”
Started in 1997 in a small rented house in Uttam Nagar, the Ashalayam Rehabilitation Center today houses 150 youth and reaches out to thousands more through contact programs. The organization focuses on holistic child development, integrating physical, social and psycho-social development programs into the lives of the youth they serve.
Ashalayam has an excellent reputation for its work with youth which has earned it the respect of surrounding communities and law enforcement. Recently, police in New Delhi rescued 13 children, some as young as eight years old, from a garment factory. These youth were forced to work 15 hour days in deplorable heat and unsanitary conditions without pay or hope of escape. The police brought the rescued children to Ashalayam for support, rehabilitation and renewed hope.
At the Center, youth receive warm beds, nutritious meals, medical care and the chance to participate in cultural outings, yoga, sports, organized games, competitions and tournaments and group excursions with other youth their own age. Youth also have access to morning and evening jobs that provide hands-on employment skills as well as individual and group counseling. Those who have previously never attended school are enrolled in an intensive educational program in preparation for entrance into the 4th or 5th grade. Older students are trained in skills that can help them generate income and stay off the streets. Many of the children, in the care of supportive adults for the first time in their lives, thrive in the Center’s safe environment.
“Salesians are making steady progress in the fight against poverty for youth in India, but there is so much more to be done,” says Fr. Hyde. “As long as children face unspeakable hardships, Salesians will be there to offer shelter, education and other supports in the hopes of providing a brighter future.”
Don Bosco – Ashalayam
Salesian Missions – India: Restoring the Childhoods of Street Kids
World Bank – India