By Fr. Prasad Xavier –
Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) is a Non-governmental Organization working with children and young people in difficult circumstances ever since its inception in 1980. The society forms part of the Salesians of officially known as the Society of St Francis of Sales, a recognized clerical religious institute of pontifical right in the Church. Salesians, the Religious Congregation of men is devoted to apostolic and missionary activities inspired by Christian charity, to the service of young people, especially the poor and marginalized. The congregation draws its inspiration from its founder, St. John Bosco (also known as Don Bosco).
Don Bosco, the Friend of Youth
St. John Bosco was born at Becchi, Italy on August 16, 1815. Hailing from a humble peasant background, Don Bosco, had a first-hand experience of the sufferings of poor youth. “Here you are, Johnny, left without a father”, said his mother at the death of his father, when John was just two years old. The severe famine in the region and the constant bickering of his step-brother forced his widowed mother to send the 11-year-old John to her friend’s farm house to work as a stable boy. Only at the age of 15 he could begin his formal schooling. With his mother’s loving support and the help of some outstanding benefactors, he was able to complete his studies.
Impetus from a dream at the age of nine, in which he realized the power and efficacy of love in transforming unruly young people goaded him onward. He decided to become a priest when he was twenty. After six years of preparation, on 5th June 1841, the Archbishop of Turin ordained John Bosco a priest. John Bosco became Don Bosco.
As a priest, he visited prisons and saw the sad plight of many youngsters and chose to work for them. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, political unrest, moral and religious emptiness that swept across Europe, Don Bosco saw the city of Turin swarming with boys, underpaid and overworked, exploited, abused and in prison. He began boarding houses and an informal training in different trades.
Some of his boys and friends decided to help Don Bosco in his work for the abandoned boys. He formed them into a Religious Society called the society of St. Francis de Sales, also called the Salesian Congregation. His method of educating the young is called the ‘Preventive System’ based on Reason, Religion and Loving Kindness. He died on January 31st, 1888. Today, the society he founded has over 14,000 members working in 132 countries. Through a global network of educational and social service organizations, it currently caters to over 9 million young people worldwide.
The year 1980 was singularly significant for five Theology students from Kristu Jyothi College, Bangalore, a centre for formation for Salesians to priesthood. It was in this year that the Salesians first began to make contact and reach out to the neglected children and youth on the streets of Bangalore. In the process, the Salesian students discovered the hardships of thousands of children/youth who struggle on the streets for survival.
Over a period of six months, the Salesian students extended their outreach and contacted a large number of children the street. Non-formal interviews, interaction and reflection pointed towards the need for an immediate intervention on behalf of the urban youth and children on the street. After four years of intense field study and reflection, the venture came to be considered as one of the mainstream activities of the Salesian province of Bangalore. In 1984, the Salesians began to regularize and systematize the intervention and response pattern with the young at risk. A small clubroom at Race Course Road, Bangalore, was named Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) and became a temporary home for both the children, Salesians and the staff.
The Salesians subsequently felt the need for a shelter home, a centre that would cater to the varied requirements of the poor and marginalized children and youth. In July 1985, the Bangalore Salesian Society bought a two-storey building at Magadi Road, located two kilometers away from the city Bus Stand and Railway Station. The centre served as a contact point, night shelter, training centre and as the office of the project.
The humble beginning made by the Salesian students gained momentum and more staff and volunteers joined the venture. These included nurses, doctors, counsellors, students, teachers and facilitators who helped the field staff in their activities. Contact points were established at various areas of Bangalore City. Basic information- name, age, address and family background of the children whom the staff met were documented. Programmes like counselling and medication were carried out on the street and at the city centre regularly.
Original Aim and Present Status
What began as an outreach activity has today grown into a full-fledged organization, with nine rehabilitation centers catering to children in need of care and protection. The surveillance to identify and rescue children on the street is now a round-the-clock mission, in all the strategic locations. A toll-free child help line (CHILDLINE 1098) receives calls 24/7 and the staff respond to the calls promptly. The team that works with the Police, (Special Juvenile Police Unit) helps in preventing dehumanizing treatments to children. The team strives to ensure that child-friendly treatment is provided mandatorily to the children in conflict with the law.
Advocacy measures are carried out at the government level on a day today basis, and some of the programs like open shelter and missing child search have become nationwide programs accepted and approved by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The organization from its inception has been rallying for ‘the right based-approach’ and carries out its mission upholding the rights of the young, especially the poor and marginalized. The organization has a Child Protection Policy in place, to which everyone adheres to. It also reaches to the neighborhood through innovative intervention strategies, like computer literacy program and skill training program.
BOSCO welcomes and fosters the religious values of children and young people on the street and strives in its unique way for their faith formation. Living and performing amidst strict scrutiny and never-ending challenges, BOSCO judiciously strives to retain its core values to mould children and young people who would contribute to the noble task of nation-building.
Fr. Prasad Xavier, SDB, is currently the Director of BOSCO Life Skill Training Centre, Sumanahalli and Director of BOSCO Childline, Bangalore.