New programme for brick kiln children in Mumbai
by Nirmala Carvalho

In Maharashtra, the St. Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage started a project to counter malnutrition among the children of migrant families and provide them with educational support. The school, which began in 1957, pursues its founder’s mission.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Last week the St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage launched a new programme to provide food and educational support for children who work in brick kilns.

In the villages of Tokowade and Dhasai (Murbad Taluka), 110 km from Mumbai, there are “a total of five to six brick kilns” and “over 50 children aged 1 to 15 live in these kilns along with their parents,” said Brother Joseph Sebastian, secretary and trustee of the Welfare Society for Destitute Children, speaking to AsiaNews.

Migrant families seeking employment come with their children who are usually unable to get an education. They work in farming during the monsoon season, from June to September, and in brick kilns the rest of the year, from October to May.

St. Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage provides clean clothes, food to counter malnutrition, tries to involve older children in various types of educational activities, and provides some financial support to students.

“Staff supervise children’s progress since the dropout rate can be very high,” Brother Joseph explained. “Most students come from poor, low-income families and some of them are semi orphans. The project works on a need basis, not on a long-term basis.”

The issues relating to malnutrition “are addressed in the villages with the coordination of the village head (called sarpanch) to make the programme effective and successful,” he added.

A social worker ensures that procedures are followed according to the doctor's suggestions. Every month the number of malnourished children in the village is recorded and food items are provided to the whole family, not just for undernourished children.

"During this first phase, follow-up sessions provide feedback; in the space of three months the cases of malnutrition went from 20 to two,” Brother Joseph noted.

The second phase is the most delicate because children must remain healthy and their development regularly monitored. “All this has helped families a lot, especially those who come from tribal areas with no or distant health centres."

The involvement of mothers is of primary importance for children’s health while health and hygiene education are promoted among all village residents.

“It is very important to educate villagers about water use, sanitation and hygiene for the future of their children so that they can own these activities,” the welfare society’s director said.

“The St. Catherine's Welfare Society for Destitute Children works in remote areas where it is most needed. We operate away from the spotlight of the cities, so that the local community benefits from our initiatives.”

Caring for children has always been at the heart of the society’s mission. Fr Anthony Elenjimittam, who founded it in 1957, wrote in his autobiography how distressing it was to see children raised in distant villages without education or drinking water.