There is something magical about the way Don Bosco Sneha Bhavan Kochi has managed to provide roots and wings to thousands of children brought under its wings by the hand of fate.
Thanks to the vision of the Corporation of Cochin and the charisma of the Salesians of Don Bosco, children from broken homes or those who were thrown into the streets or abused, have had a chance to pick up their lives and begin anew.
“This is an unknown facet of the task of the Corporation of Cochin”, says K.J. Sohan, Town Planning Committee Chairman about how Kochi was way ahead of its counterparts elsewhere in the State and the country in setting up an establishment to protect the most vulnerable of children.
Now readying to celebrate its 40 birthday, Sneha Bhavan or the House of Love was inaugurated after the Corporation Council unanimously decided to hand over the facility to the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), a Catholic religious order founded by charismatic Italian priest John Bosco, in the late 19th century.
What had a humble beginning has blossomed into a large network providing support to over 300 children daily. “Our mission is to reach out to the young at risk, to help them put their lives back on track and accompany them to the mainstream of society”, said Joe Fernandez SDB, executive director.
He said that about 5,800 children have found love and solace in Sneha Bhavan and have passed under its gaze into settled and secure lives. Fr. Fernandez talked of former inmates, among whom are a real estate developer in New Delhi, a software engineer in Kottayam, a Catholic priest in Thiruvananthapuram and a young scholar, who recently defended his doctoral degree in education successfully. All of them are linked by the love and warmth they received at Sneha Bhavan.
The Sneha Bhavan project is home to 60 children, between five and 13 years, studying in classes up to standard VII. The nearby Don Bosco houses 45 children who are studying in classes up to X; and Bosco Nilayam, close to it, is home to 35 young people, who have passed their Class X examinations and are looking to establish themselves in life through higher studies, technical training etc.
Besides help from the Corporation of Cochin, donations, especially from the local people, keep the hearth warm at these homes for children.
The Corporation of Cochin backs three other institutions for children. The Auxilium Prathyasha Bhavan or the House of Hope in Palluruthy is home to 45 girls studying in Classes up to X. The home is run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA). After the students finish their Class X, they are sent to sister institutions in places like Kozhikode, Kattappana, Pachalam or even to other States for higher studies, said Sr. Thresia Augustine FMA, director.
The home was opened in 1987 and has been a home to more than 1,000 children over these years, she said.
Valsalya Bhavan is a home for children aged between six and 14. The home functions out of a building owned by the Corporation of Cochin in Ponnurunni and is run by the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Catholic religious order.
There are 21 children at the Valasalya Bhavan and they attend the nearby schools in Ponnurunni, said Sr. Mary Francis, DHM.
The corporation also backs Sneha Bhavan annexe near KSRTC bus depot in the city, which is a night shelter for the homeless and doubles as the operational hub for Child Line 1098, the 24-hour helpline for children in distress.