26th August, 2020
A Slum Outreach Programme of the Redemptorists and an NGO is likely to bring about far-reaching changes in the lives of over a 100 families in the Deshyanagar Slum bordering Lazar Layout in East Bangalore.
The Deshyanagar Slum comprises a mixed population of some 112 families mostly nomads who resided there in little huts until the government provided proper housing for them a few years ago. Their living is near or below subsistence level with the men doing odd jobs whenever they found work; the women went out begging with their infants; Healthcare, hygiene or education is below par and life just went along in the slum.
In June 2019, Fr. Peter. B got involved in this slum as part of an Internship Project tied to his Masters in Counselling Psychology course at Christ University. More importantly, this ministry has been undertaken by Fr. Peter in response to the Province’s apostolic priority to reach out to families in distress and is supported by the Liguori Bhavan community.
As a head start Fr. Peter chalked out a plan, initially for the children to be followed by a plan for the parents to bring about a change for the better. The programme for the kids entailed imparting basic, practical knowledge in the form of classroom coaching. The aim was primarily to engage the largely restless children in learning through basic lessons, music, action songs, games and exercises.
The kids programme proceeded as per plan for four months with the help of the volunteers of GRACE. “It was fruitful with 60 kids who eagerly attended classes and learnt to read and write their names, their parents’ names and addresses too,” said Fr. Peter.
Having got a foot in the door, as it were, through the kids’ programme, Fr. Peter, along with the NGO and a Bethany nun Sr. Theresa, a social worker, embarked on a population census of the slum ahead of launching an Income Generative Programme aimed at putting an end to the practice of women going out to beg. In order to minister effectively to these people, Fr. Peter formed a new volunteer group called ‘Hands of God’. It is a group of friends of the Redemptorists, who have come together as lay collaborators supporting this mission. The basic aim of the ‘Hands of God’ team is to support these poor people to change their lifestyle of begging, to economically and socially help the families in distress and to help them find human dignity and values in their lives.
Soon, with the help of ‘Hands of God’ and Fr. John Mathew, a plan was devised to launch the programme and interestingly enough 67 women agreed to join. Collaboration was established with the ‘Goodwill International Association’ (Multi skill and vocational training provider) to teach skills in tailoring and making jute and paper bags. Even potential buyers for the products were identified. But sadly, when everything was set to take off, the coronavirus came and everything came to a standstill.
Nevertheless, the team came with another plan of putting together videos that can be used in training the women. “We are making an attempt to use the technology to reach the poor and the abandoned’ says Fr. Peter. A Whatsapp group called ‘Pudhiya Padhai’ (meaning New Path) has been formed to use the technology to reach out to the poor through simple videos that include instructions, motivation, training skills and lessons regarding hygiene and cleanliness so that their lives can be changed and a new path can be found.
The team is hopeful of starting the training within a month. Meanwhile, regular meetings of the ‘Hands of God’ team is on full swing in the last few months planning different strategies to help and support the underprivileged population. “We are keen to start the skills training for women at the earliest so that they can stop begging outside. We are also looking at alternative jobs for the women. Both the women and the men are showing a lot of interest,” noted Fr. Peter.
In the last three months, basic food items have been distributed twice to the 112 families and once to the 18 coronavirus-affected families.