St. Catherine’s of Siena: Housing the destitute

Dr Haim Ginott, child psychologist and psychotherapist writes, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” The daunting task before a nation such as ours, where inclusive growth is the only sustainable path, is to make sure that our future generation undergoes the right experiences in their formation years. The right experience means not only quality education but also the correct exposure. Unless we can provide for our children, the future of the nation as a whole remains doubtful.

St. Catherine’s of Siena Home and School for Destitute Children, located in Mumbai, India, has over 250 children to provide for.  Created as the Welfare Society for Destitute Children, the school/orphanage was established by Father Anthony Elenjimittam, a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, who was his mentor. Since 1957, St. Catherine’s has cared for and educated children of lower castes who are deemed by the culture as unworthy of education.

Helping children learn

Brother Joseph (standing in the middle in this photograph), currently the Director at St. Catherine’s explains, “We started as an organisation 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. 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 behavioural problems in children. These children have a background of working as labourers 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, they have provided shelter, food and clothing to kids in need of a safe haven and 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.

Multiple Intelligence

Brother Joseph emphatically states the need to appreciate multiple intelligence. He feels that only when children are allowed to discover their true interest and passion, are they motivated to study and become something in life. Brother adds, “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. Two of our children were there for the Dance India Dance show on TV.”

The kids, part of the Happy Feet Project participated in the show. Sanjay, Manoj’s older brother has graduated from St. Catherine’s and has been studying choreography. He helped Manoj prepare his dance program. Many others have also received scholarships to learn dance and other creative forms. Their Happy Feet Project which was initiated in the year 2006, by the Welfare Society for Destitute Children, with the Terrence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company has successfully completed its fourth year. It has been possible with the constant support and funding from M/s. Siemens Limited [Till October 2009] and Sunshine Kids Intl.

Upon completion of their schooling, the students are assisted with job placement in the community or empowered to seek higher education. It is the goal of St. Catherine’s to not just offer short-term aid to these children, but to prepare them for a healthy and productive future that will impact their nation. What keeps Brother Joseph going? It is his undying love for children. He adds, “Gandhian ideals and social welfare keep me going. It is a challenge for me, when I see so many street children, children from dysfunctional families, etc to be able to provide them a normal, happy life. 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!”

To empower a child and sponsor education, contact:

St. Catherine of Siena Orphanage & School
Mount Mary Road, Bandra (West)
Mumbai – 400 050
Tel: 022-26422859
catherine_siena@yahoo.co.in
brotherjoseph2002@yahoo.co.in