“I see trees of green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you… I see skies of blue and clouds of white, the bright blessed day… And I think to myself what a wonderful world…” This song kept echoing in my mind as we OLCMers journeyed from Mumbai to Karjat, with Fr Aniceto Pereira and his team for a day of recollection and relaxation to Don Bosco Yuva Sanstha, a Don Bosco Institution managed by Fr. Xavier Devdas which is spread over 63 acres of beautiful land surrounded by tall hills around it. What struck us almost immediately was the fresh air we inhaled in comparison to the polluted air of Mumbai.
As we settled down after some breakfast, we were treated to the melodious chirping of birds around the place. Fr. Xavier, who walks around barefoot, spoke to us about his charism to work with young people, mostly the underprivileged ones. He shared with us his struggles as he looked for land to run this institution for street youth. Even while he started his work with loads of zest, he discovered that 60% of the boys and girls in the village didn’t even pass high school, and wondered how they would manage their futures. And then began his journey to empower them to fend for themselves by teaching them different trades like welding, repairing, etc. He made no distinction among them and opened his doors to youth of all faiths. As he related his own struggles to us, he inspired us by telling us that WE ARE CALLED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. He shared with us that when we have faith, God simply provides. He recounted how he would collect waste material from homes in the village, and while he was doing that, someone gave him a welding machine which he put to use and got the youth to learn how to use it. He showed us several objects of use that the youth had made like the roof that we were sitting under, kerosene stove, a barbeque set, etc. He narrated how a multinational Company who happened to know about his work was extremely impressed by it and helped him set up a workshop to conduct the activities in a more organised manner. The youth learned how to make grills, gates, etc and started funding themselves. Even as Fr. Xavier helped these young people, he didn’t allow them to slip into a mode of complacency. He insisted that they earn their admission into the institution by doing work around the place like watering the plants, cleaning the place, collecting dry leaves and twigs, etc. He humbly but happily expressed that in a matter of 4 or 5 years he had trained 1870 boys without charging them a rupee. He mentioned that he assessed the youth and gave them the certificate only after they got themselves a job. By the time they had completed the course they were able to do welding & electrical jobs, repair air-condition machines and other home appliances too. He even helped the young boys and girls to understand the administrative structure of the State Government, Gram Panchayat, etc in the village. He also educated them on education, sports, self-governance, budgeting and ways to improve the quality of their lives.
As we listened to Fr. Xavier, we were totally gripped by the many things he spoke about, and were in awe of his achievements. As if he had read our expressions, he directed that we need to make a difference in our own surroundings too. He appreciated the efforts that we OLCMers carry out in our respective ministries, and called us to empower the youth in our surroundings by getting them to begin with appreciating creation. He stated that God created everything, and in generosity He handed over His creation to us, obviously expecting us to respect it. But unfortunately Man did not look at Creation as his Need, but as his Greed. However, we could try to prevent the situation from worsening by getting children and youth to get in touch with Mother Earth, and be sensitive to it. He suggested that we get them to appreciate the land they stand on, the sense of gravity that helps them to stand on land, etc. He spoke about how he got the youth in Karjat to collect twigs and paper trash and recycle them. He showed us bricks that he got his youth to make from recycled dry garbage. He mentioned that he recycled wet garbage and converted it to methane gas. He also recycled used water for plants, etc. He asked us too to segregate garbage in our own homes, and influence people around us in societies, offices, etc. to do the same. He took us around the land to show us the various plants and trees he had planted and nurtured by using drip irrigation. We were impressed by all that he showed us and were left thoughtful and enriched, thinking of ways by which we could make a difference to the world in our own small way.
After a reflective Eucharist and sumptuous lunch, we sat together to evaluate the year gone by. We shared our achievements and challenges, enriching one another in some way or the other. This was followed by some fun games and tea after which we went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. We then returned to our homes, wishing Fr. Xavier the best in his endeavours and thanking Fr. Aniceto for the wonderful time we had which had left us enriched and empowered to give it our all as we worked towards MAKING A DIFFERENCE!