Father Jose Akkara and his 50 kids (Feature with Images)

June 9th, 2009 - 10:15 am ICT by IANS  

Taare Zameen Par By Brij Khandelwal
Aligarh, June 9 (IANS) Five years ago when a Catholic priest from Kerala took two street urchins from the Agra Cantt station into his protective care to rid them of the “drug-sniffing” habit, little did he know he would soon be a father to more than 50 kids who had made the railway platforms their permanent home.

Father Akkara’s Navjeevan Bal Bhawan in Aligarh has 50-odd street children as inmates. “They come from varied backgrounds, different religions and are in the age group of six to 20. They are all studying in different schools like Lady Fatima, St Fedilis; some are in a Mathura school,” Father Jose told IANS.

Rakesh, Shaheen, Farooqi, Gulzar and many others like them who know nothing about their backgrounds, laugh, chat, fight or watch TV, play computer games and study in a homely environment.

“Each day brings in a new challenge, I hardly get to sleep, someone’s always sick needing affectionate care. I try and make them comfortable and see they don’t miss anything in life and they respond with such warmth and love. We make no distinction of caste or religion here,” Father Jose explained.

When Father Jose started the centre for street children about five years ago, the Agra Archdiocese was cold and reluctant to help him. “But the new archbishop has seen the usefulness of the centre and the role it is playing. He has extended support and very soon we may have our own premises and better facilities,” Father Jose added.

Two years ago Aligarh’s district magistrate Bhuvnesh took the kids to see the popular film “Taare Zameen Par”. “It was a wonderful feeling to see an IAS officer mixing and chatting with the kids for three hours and watching the film together,” recalls senior Tamil journalist Shaffi Munna who operates from Aligarh.

“Every now and then we go to the railway stations in Aligarh, Mathura or Agra and look for abandoned kids or others who have no shelter or wherewithal,” Shaffi told IANS.

“The idea came to me whenever I took a long distance train to visit Kerala or some other place. All through the journey kids would come and clean the compartment or sell something. When I talked with some of them, I learnt there were quite a few at every station,” Father Jose told IANS in an interview.

“When I returned I took a small house on rent and started with two-three kids. But help did not come my way and I was in fact transferred to Shillong. I returned after two years with more resolve and determination.

“People in Aligarh helped me raise some support and provided me with flour, dal, and other cooking materials free on a regular basis. Till date I keep getting free support from locals and it gives me a wonderful feeling of being of some use to society,” he said.

The senior-most boy Shaheen, from Bihar, said he does not want to return to his home as “I will not be able to pursue my education there.”

Dressed in a simple kurta-pyjama, Father Jose today has many admirers and supporters in Aligarh, but his dream is to set up a string of such shelters in all the districts so that street children not only get care and protection but also an opportunity to pursue their studies.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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