The Principal Br. Joseph: the pandemic made St Catherine "respond positively and find solutions, so that the education of poor children continues".
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Brother Joseph, director of the St Catherine of Siena School for Destitute Children, has spoken to AsiaNews about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that it has helped the institute focus even more on the poor and adapt the schooling they offer.
Br. Joseph says the pandemic meant that St Catherine’s had to "responded positively and find solutions, so that the education of destitute children continues".
“Our creative ways include online classes, where teachers have to establish personal online contact with students and their parents, and since our kids, who hail from nearby slums, have little access to technology, this has also created a new relationship between teachers, students and families. While our teachers are far from the 'family situations' of our destitute children, the online lessons are like a 'home visit', where our teachers can see for themselves, the little hovel the children live in, the levels of poverty and also the levels of illiteracy of their families”.
“This is a great encouragement for our teachers and therefore teaching the students of the St Catherine of Siena School for Destitute Children acquires a missionary dimension, a challenge for them, as agents of change and transformation. We are able to do this in St. Catherine, which is located in the metropolis of Mumbai, where resources are available: The Internet signal is superb. In remote villages, even if they have a telephone, poor signals make connection difficult”.
Currently in India, while nearly 60-70% of the population owns a smartphone, the remaining 30-40% still do not. This is a serious problem, because it means that around 400-500 million people are still out of the picture and as India has a majority of a young population, it could be a large number of people who are not included by the online school system.
“Since our inception in 1957, we have also run a recognized primary school, as well as providing counselling programs for children and parents of street children. This year we have more than 500 students in education. All our activities are based on Gandhian practical principles of basic education. Our community undertakes the education and training of orphans, street children, semi-orphans and children in extreme distress.
We are also a Welfare Society for Destitute Children (known locally as St Catherines), so since the start of the blockade we have been feeding the needy and migrants who have been stuck, homeless and jobless in the pandemic. So far we have distributed over one hundred and fifty thousand meals - breakfast and lunch - to train stations, bus stops and even at our own gate (pictured).
Hunger and poverty are visible in our city. The latest Global Hunger Report, 2020 states that India is ranked 94th out of 107 countries in the global hunger index. So even today at Catherine’s we continue to feed them and our lines are getting longer, as many have stopped distributing food. Recently, we ran a 'haircut' program for the poor, so many destitute adult men, who come regularly for food packs, have taken advantage of the haircut. We also gave them soap and a towel, so that they could bathe, like a public toilet. We will continue until the hunger of our people goes away and the Bank of God is never empty.
Our founder Father Anthony Elenjimittam affectionately called the poor 'Angels in Rags' and our motto is: "Atmano Mokshartham, Jagat hitayachha - For the freedom of the soul and the welfare of humanity." The motto encourages us to work to promote the "Universal Brotherhood" and create well-being in the physical-mental-spiritual areas for all the children who are cared for in school and in the orphanages and for all the poor, the homeless, the orphans and anyone in need ".