An organization that has greatly impressed me is Youth Ventures. What is amazing about this organization is that they pick up ordinary youth, largely from underprivileged communities, and transform them into highly committed leaders. And this is achieved, not by randomly flinging bits of pious advice at them, but rather, through a well designed year long process of training and mentoring. The youngsters who participate in this programme are enabled to launch their own Venture – a project that creates real social change. Youth Ventures believes that this changemaking experience is transformational, it leads to a fundamental shift in self-belief; the youngster who saw himself as just another ordinary person is now convinced that he can be a changemaker, a leader in society.
Take Ashok for example, who lives in one of Mumbai’s largest slums, Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar Colony. He realized that many of his childhood friends had dropped out of school and taken to drugs and alcohol. Ashok was determined to ensure that younger boys would not be trapped in this same situation. Hence, he launched a Venture called Oscar, a football club for boys who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out. Oscar provides these boys the opportunity to train, play, and compete with other local teams. However, to be a member of the club, each boy must attend Oscar’s informal classes twice a week, which help develop maths, Hindi, English, leadership, and life skills. Through this Venture, Ashok has got many dropouts to re-enrol in school and complete their education.
Then there is Priyanka, who was fed up with the garbage strewn all around her neighbourhood. She launched her Venture, Pradushan Mukti, to combat this menace. Her efforts to raise awareness on waste management have targeted every segment of the community. She educated school children, got them excited to become ambassadors of the environment, and used their artwork for poster campaigns. She mobilized these kids to take to the streets and march for awareness. Priyanka also motivated older community members to champion this cause. The Bombay Municipal Corporation took notice of her project and asked Priyanka to submit a proposal on how to create a clean community. Thanks to her efforts, the BMC has covered all open drains, increased the number of garbage collection points, and allocated funds to fight pollution in the community.
And not just city youth, even young people in the villages are enthusiastically participating in Youth Ventures. Ukesh launched Hamaro Adhikar to motivate people participate in the village Gram Sabha. He started by making the villagers aware of the importance of the Gram Sabha, highlighting its value and the need to be a part of it by conducting a play on Gram Sabha. In just a year, he and his team, through the Gram Sabha were able to provide electricity to a nearby village, help tribal farmers, get employment for people in the village and even get a school built in the village. Thanks to his work, the villagers have become aware of their rights and are now confident of approaching the administration on various issues. Looking back at the past year, Ukesh recalls his most memorable moment: ‘I had gone to the District Collector for the issue of forest land; I was leading twenty-five people. All of them were praising me and I felt proud to lead them’.
As the International Youth Year takes off and as we press ahead with our Youth Ministry, creating youth leaders, changemakers in society, should rank high on our agenda.
Glenn Lowe sdb
At the very outset, if you are in search of a proper definition of ‘Spirituality’, forget about it. Search engines on the internet will give you over five million hits to define ‘Spirituality’ and over eleven million entries for a ‘Definition of Spirituality’. I don’t intend to give you another one. Like each one’s fingerprints, each one does possess a unique ‘spirituality’ expressed and lived out in the daily bustle of life.
Pope John Paul II rightly acknowledged Don Bosco as a ‘Master of Youth Spirituality’. As Salesians journeying with the young, we cannot but be proponents of Salesian Youth Spirituality (SYS), a style of educative holiness which prompts every young person each day to grow in Christ, the perfect man, by developing his interior dynamic forces towards maturity of faith.
Salesian Youth Spirituality can best be understood in the following perspective: The adjective ‘Salesian’ distinguishes the project from other proposals offered within the Church. The adjective ‘youth’ underlines the fact that this proposal refers to young people and has the characteristics of youthfulness even when it is lived out by adults, as is the case for the Salesians and the Sisters. The noun ‘spirituality’ attempts to reclaim a serious and challenging commitment based on the tradition of discipleship. Finally we are saying that we want the ‘Salesian’ and ‘youth’ aspects of our spirituality to encourage us to live that gospel radicality that has been the mark of so many Christians before us (RM, AGC 334).
Looking at the present scenario we live in, with the whole focus on ‘Holistic Growth’ and the body-mind-heart-soul paradigm, I would like to focus on the Nazareth Home, the Valdocco Experience, the UN programme for Education in the twenty first century and the four needs of people as proposed as Steve Covey and fit the entire growth process within the Preventive System.
1. The Nazareth Home: (Lk 2: 52)
Jesus is lost, found and then taken home. In one line, Luke explains Jesus’ Nazareth experience for the next eighteen years: He increased in stature (Physical Quotient – P.Q.), wisdom (Intelligence Quotient – I.Q.), favour with God (Spiritual Quotient – S.Q.) and favour with people (Emotional Quotient – E.Q.). Spirituality is about this ‘increase’ in the four dimensions of life: the Body-Mind-Heart-Soul). Salesian Youth Ministry ought to be a reliving of this Nazareth experience where the young people are invited to experience this ‘increase’. There is no spirituality without this total increase.
2. The Valdocco Experience: (Salesian Constitution 40)
In the Salesian Constitution, Article 40 we read: Every Salesian Institution must be a Home that welcomes, a School that educates, a Church that evangelizes and a Playground where friends can meet. Don Bosco, the master of youth spirituality, uses the four metaphors ‘home’, ‘school’, church’ and ‘playground’ that are to be the paradigms for this holistic growth. In today’s world, Home is anywhere where one belongs, School is about building minds with vision, Church is about creating a soul space that bring meaning to life, and the Heart is about living the quality of love expressed in relationships.
3. The United Nations: Learning: the Treasure Within
The report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century was presented in 1996. Simply speaking, the Commission felt that education throughout life is based upon four pillars: learning to do, learning to know, learning to live together and learning to be.
Viewing Education in a broader perspective, the UN chose to focus on holistic formation once again. Learning to do (Physical Dimension), Learning to Know (Intellectual Dimension), Learning to Live together (Social Dimension) and Learning to Be (Spiritual Dimension). Learning is no longer viewed as just a function of the brain. Learning must be a ‘Body-Mind-Heart-Soul’ connection.
4. Steve Covey: The Four Basic Needs of Every Person
For too long, humanity considered food, clothing and shelter as the basic needs of every person. Steve Covey, in Seven Habits of Effective People, rightly proposed the ‘4 Ls’ as the basic needs of every person. These four needs are: to Live, to Learn, to Love and to Leave a Legacy. Effectiveness is seen in the fulfillment of these needs.
The need to Live (the Physical Dimension), the need to Learn (Intellectual Dimension), the need to Love (Social Dimension) and the Need to leave behind a Legacy (Spiritual Dimension) are basic and the quality of one’s life is directly proportional to the fulfillment of these needs.
5. The Preventive System:
Pope John Paul II in his letter to the Salesians for the 1988 Centenary wrote: ‘The originality and boldness of the plan for a “youthful holiness” is intrinsic to the educational art of this great Saint, who can be rightly called the “master of youth spirituality” ’. John Paul II reminded us again in his message to the GC23: ‘an aspect that calls for your careful study is “youth spirituality”... it is not sufficient to rely on the simple rationality of a human ethic...We must stir up deep personal convictions which will lead to a life commitment inspired by the perennial values of the Gospel’.
When we look at holistic formation in the environment of the Nazareth Home, the Valdocco Experience, Education in the twenty-first Century, and in the needs of an Effective Person we see a very close link between all the four dimensions. To increase in only one dimension at the cost of the other three is no growth at all. Salesian Youth Spirituality is about nourishing all these four dimensions: the Physical, the Intellectual, the Spiritual and the Social.
In all this, where does the Preventive System come in? Don Bosco’s educative system is holistic to the core. The Preventive System stands on four pillars: Presence (Home: physical dimension), Reason (School: Intellectual dimension), Religion (Church: Spiritual dimension) and Loving Kindness (Heart: Social Dimension).
To enable our youth to mature into God-fearing people and responsible citizens, we cannot but propose our Salesian Youth Spirituality.
Ajoy Fernandes sdb
The Spiritual Tradition of Don Bosco and Salesian Youth Spirituality
Don Bosco has bequeathed to us a simple, but rich spiritual heritage. The spiritual tradition he has passed on has become a way of life for many Salesians and young people who have passed out through the portals of Salesian institutions.
· Through moments of prayer as well as youth ministry, Don Bosco constantly maintained a close union with God.
· By patiently pursuing his apostolic goals amidst trials and obstacles, he showed us how we could ‘carry our daily crosses’ and live life with determination, joy and optimism.
· He insisted that his students do their daily duties in an extraordinary way.
· All his efforts were geared towards making his boys honest citizens and good Christians.
Youth from all over the Salesian world gathered together in Rome in the year 2000. Drawing inspiration from Don Bosco and the spiritual tradition they saw lived out in different Salesian institutions, they crystallized Salesian Youth Spirituality into seven propositions. Three of these elements have a self-reference; three have an ‘other-directed’ orientation; and one is centered on God.
1. Celebrate life in happiness (Joy and Optimism)
2. Fulfill daily duties well
3. Accept the Cross (A ‘death’ that leads to Life)
4. Live out one’s vocation and mission in life
5. Participate in the life of the Church
6. Participate in Social and Political activity
7. Live constantly united with God
Salesian Institutions: School, Home, Church and Playground
Don Bosco wanted every Salesian institution to be a School, Home, Church and Playground. These are symbolic terms that go far beyond the institutions they literally represent. These four aspects facilitate holistic human growth as they represent the development of the Intellect (Intelligence Quotient), Heart and Emotions (Emotional/Relational Quotient), Spirit (Spiritual Quotient – S.Q.) and Body (Physical Quotient – P.Q.). The seven elements of Salesian Youth Spirituality (SYS) either encompass, or permeate these four dimensions.
Living out Salesian Youth Spirituality through Groups
Youth spontaneously team up with their peers. In addition, most institutions accomplish their goals and tasks through group activity. Groups dedicated to liturgical animation, sports, music, intellectual, cultural, or social activity are part and parcel of any Salesian institution. These groups provide an excellent opportunity to live out as well as pass on the Salesian Youth Spirituality. The SYS could sometimes be passed on through explicit instruction. However, SYS is most effectively communicated, when it is lived out in concrete ways through the life of different groups. I have had an opportunity to pass on the SYS to a group of band players. However, I will illustrate how elements of SYS can be passed on through a group as seemingly ‘mundane’ as a football team when we look at youth ministry through the lens of the four dimensions: School, Home, Church and Playground.
Salesian Youth Spirituality: A Football Team Format
Schooling in its broadest sense has to do with orienting, shaping or training the mind. Thus, much schooling can be done even within the context of a sports group. This can happen on the playground where education focuses on learning the rules, skills and sense of the game. All this calls for intelligence and focus, and discipline demanded by steady and regular practice. When all these are pursued with diligence, they help concretely live out one element of SYS—‘doing one’s daily duties well’.
When in a spirit of true sportsmanship players are taught to respect their fellow-players as well as opponents; to maintain their position on the field; and to play by the rules of the game, they are schooled in a vital lesson in life: indulging in fair-play and respecting others’ boundaries. This is a way of evangelizing on the playground. Remotely, it paves the way for making persons respectful and honest citizens.
Persisting through regular exercise and practice schedules makes demands on one’s commitment; and may be physically tiring and painful. However, painful drilling helps develop stamina and skills that enable players to handle a game with ease. Amidst it all, when players concretely experience the progress they have made, they come to realize that their painstaking efforts help them develop into skillful sportspersons. Implicitly, they learn a bigger lesson in life — that carrying one’s daily ‘cross’ inevitably leads to small ‘resurrections’—expressions of a more abundant ‘life’.
Teams do not always win. Amidst losses, when players continue to give of their best while orienting themselves towards victory, they adopt a mental stance that helps develop a healthy optimism.
Young players often aspire to become like the football ‘stars’ they admire. Talking about football as a professional choice opens up an avenue for getting young persons to reflect on their place and calling in life.
Thus, schooling on the playground focuses on learning the skills, sense, and rules of the game; developing discipline through consistent and regular practice; imbibing the true spirit of sportsmanship; optimistically pursuing victory while struggling with losses; and discerning one’s calling in life. Implicitly it helps players imbibe vital elements of SYS such as respecting other persons, doing daily duties well, carrying one’s daily cross, and living life optimistically.
‘Home’ is a symbol for the relational or interpersonal dimension of one’s personality. Many interpersonal lessons are learned on the playground.
When students learn to respect the positions of others on the playground, and learn to play as a team, they live out a vital exercise in cooperation. Cooperation and understanding on the playground is then easily transferred to real-life situations.
· When a team follows the directives of their coach, they learn to open themselves to the guidance of more experienced individuals. Implicitly, they are schooled in a healthy respect for authority.
· When the more-talented players help and support the less-talented players, they develop a healthy sense of concern, and hone their nurturing skills.
· Players who learn to care for and maintain their grounds, develop a sense of healthy belonging and responsibility, and implicitly learn to care for their environment.
· While teams aim to win a game, success may not always come their way. Training children to rejoice in success without growing arrogant and to handle failure without breaking down is an important lesson for life. A sense of group responsibility and support can contribute towards this end. Implicitly, children learn to rejoice with each other amidst success, and to support one another in moments of failure and difficulty in real life situations.
· Many outstanding players have been known to reach out to the needy through some form of social activity. In doing so, they extend the bounds of their home beyond the playground. Players of a team can express this in various ways such as playing for a cause, coaching other children in their school or neighborhood, or refereeing at a class or school tournament. These little exercises help them develop a healthy sense of altruism and service. They implicitly learn to be contributing citizens of the world.
Through these little lessons in life, children learn to live meaningful and emotionally healthy lives. Implicitly, they are schooled in the art of participating in Church, humanitarian, social, and political activity—expressions of the spirit of a ‘Home’. This helps concretely pass on another element of SYS.
‘Church’ symbolically stands for the Spiritual Quotient that a person needs to develop. Martial Arts training in the East was often part of a spiritual quest. Trainees were taught to draw energy from a source beyond themselves. Martial Arts training was sometimes used as a means to dissolve the Ego and to attain enlightenment. Beginning a game with a prayer is a way of teaching players to draw strength from a source beyond themselves. Ending a game with a prayer of thanksgiving is a way of acknowledging that all that one learned during the practice session was a gift from God. Offering up one’s play to God as an expression of devotion helps develop continuous union with God. It is now an established fact that prayer helps better the quality of life. Within a prayerful context, the playground becomes a ‘sacred sanctuary’. This is easily noticed when players are engrossed in their game, where the ego is set aside, and the pursuit of victory takes a second place to selfless immersion in the game.
Players at a game develop physical strength and stamina. A well-oxygenated body makes for greater mental and emotional calm and focus in all aspects of life.
The playground is a place of play. When players manage to get beyond learning techniques to indulging in free play and expression, they are able to play creatively and with deep delight.
The attitudes developed through the three dimensions of School, Home and Church get deeply embedded not just in one’s mind, heart, and soul. They also get ‘stored’ in the body, making for calmness and serenity in life.
Lessons learned theoretically run the risk of becoming an ideology. An ideology that is proclaimed may not always be lived. Spirituality on the other hand is a way of life. Life is deeply interrelated; it does not consist of watertight compartments. The spirituality that is implicitly imbibed and learned experientially through a sports group will overflow to other aspects of the person’s life as well. When a group dedicated to sports learns much more than kicking a football, the playground becomes a school of life, a home, and a sacred sanctuary.
Groups can be of varied types: altar servers’ groups, a band, a choir; a recreational, theatre, study or social group. Group experience offers many opportunities for passing on the SYS. This article was intended to provide a starting point and an inspiration towards this end. Once an educator understands and imbibes the principles of SYS, he or she can pass it on through youth group ministry in inspired and creative ways.
Cleophas Braganza sdb
Don Bosco’s pastoral zeal was mainly directed toward migrant youth, who were easy targets of exploitation and abuse in the big cities during Italy's industrial revolution. In most developing countries, migration from villages to metropolises still continues. The new-found prosperity in the economy and industry lures many young men and women to the cities, where they seek a better future. They plunge into an ambience of frantic haste, pressure to perform and exacting standards which promises quick gains, recognition and a rise in social status.
However economic prosperity brings with it a host of problems for young people. As they grow up, they sometimes lack the presence, care and affection of their parents who are busy trying to provide for them. Frustration in a parent's career has negative repercussions for the other members of the family. Some of these youngsters end up as failures themselves—school drop-outs who easily become antisocial elements, addicts, get involved in illegal activities or run away from home to earn their living. On the other hand, even those who succeed academically, find themselves at great risk, because they have to remain away from home for extended periods for study or for work. Since they have easy access to money and other resources, they tend to experiment (without responsibility or commitments) with substances, relationships and their own lives. They might achieve financial stability, but end up morally disoriented, searching for meaning in life. All these are young people in need of a caring heart, a listening ear and a guiding hand.
The Salesian, like Don Bosco, draws inspiration from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 sheep in the fold to seek the stray one (cf. Jn 10). He seeks, through his pastoral ministry, to lead the young person to a personal experience of God’s love, which alone can be the foundation of a holistically mature personality. This is possible when he appropriates the attitudes of Jesus towards those in need: a compassionate non-judgemental attitude, listening to and trying to understand the experiences of the young in need, together with constant availability and willingness to accompany them even at the cost of personal sacrifice.
In today’s world, parents and educators find it difficult to make demands on those in their care, because they feel that they might become unpopular or that their relationship might be strained. The story of the young man who comes to Jesus asking what he should do to gain eternal life (cf. Mt 19:16-22) sheds light on what an educator ought to do. Jesus, on hearing that the young man is already observing the Law, makes a further demand: ‘Go, sell your possessions and then come, follow me!’ The young man is sadly unwilling to do so, but Jesus does not water down the criteria for attaining perfection. Educators need to realize that throwing challenges to the young is essential to help them achieve all-round maturity. Some particular areas in which the young need to be challenged in order to facilitate their growth are:
—The building and maintaining of healthy interpersonal relationships
—Learning to appreciate the diversity and richness of God's gifts to them, and becoming generous enough to share them with others
—Being courageous enough to risk making commitments of increasing duration and seriousness in life.
The desire to succeed at all costs, to create a reputation for oneself is one that could tempt not just the youth, but even those who engage in youth ministry. There is a danger of ‘hijacking’ the pastoral agenda by replacing it with our own, of proclaiming not Christ, but ourselves! Jesus sent out disciples ahead of him and gave them instructions on how they were to proceed (cf. Lk 10:1-16). The apostle is ‘the one sent’ on a mission, not his own, but that of ‘the one who sends’ him. This awareness serves a double purpose: in good times, recalling that it is the Lord who uses him as an instrument to carry out his mission effectively; and in moments of difficulty, not giving in to discouragement or despair, knowing that the Lord supports and accompanies him.
Another element that can diminish the effectiveness of youth ministry is the apparent lack of common purpose among those who should work together. Already in the early Church, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they shouldn’t be attached exclusively either to Apollos or to himself, since both are servants of the same Master (cf. 1Cor 3:4-11,21-23). This admonition can very well be applied to the Church, to the congregation or to the local community. Many are the instances when painstaking individual efforts go in vain due to lack of proper planning or collaboration or continuity; and the youth are the worse off for it. On the other hand, the ministry produces results surpassing our expectations when a common programme of goals, methods and strategies is drawn up, and when there is collaboration in its execution.
There is need of working in synergy, both within the ecclesial framework as well as with others who share the same ideals and goals. While the congregation defines the general outlines and the framework for youth ministry, it is the prerogative of the province and the local communities to define the concrete areas of work and the plans for particular initiatives. If the communities and the individuals responsible for youth ministry are not taken into confidence during this process, or they themselves choose to ignore what has been decided together, then as a consequence there is a colossal waste of time, energy, personnel and resources. This occurs due to either a competitive duplication of initiatives, or a dispersion of efforts by different individuals or groups working at cross purposes.
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’ (Lk 10:2). Those of us who engage in youth ministry need to become increasingly aware of the wide range of needs that the youth present today, while not forgetting that we are servants sent by the Master to tend to His harvest. In order to lead the youth in our care to greater maturity we need to offer them challenges to which they can respond with generosity and creativity. Since ‘the labourers are few’, we need to optimize the use of our time and other resources through careful planning and through working in synergy for the greater glory of God and the salvation of youth.
Chris Valentino sdb
After having worked for twenty-four years in Ahmednagar, Br. Alex Gonsalves has moved on to a new assignment. During these long years, he founded Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra and undertook Watershed Development in over twenty villages. We thought it fitting to do an article on this man who can definitely be called the pioneer of rural development work in the Mumbai Province. ~Editor
In these days of furious frenzy over ‘saving our planet’, ‘keeping track of the deteriorating ozone layer’, ‘rapid climate change’ and ‘going green’, it has become fashionable for us to mouth relevant quotes on making an impact for the preservation of our ecological systems. As we continue to live and move and have our being here in this ever-changing climatic scenario, it is a fad to state that in some way (however small it may be), we are trying to make a difference in our lifestyle and contribute to a greener planet. Now, why anyone would think of this half a century ago is a question that doesn’t occur to us. In fact, some of us who’ve grown through this half a century perhaps believe that this pattern of thinking couldn’t or needn’t have originated twenty five years ago because everything was as it should have been, at least on the ecological front. How wrong we were and how very incorrect we still are!
Besides those who were busy making careers, trying their luck at something futuristic, or even those who had ventured into the just emerging computer arena, there were others —Salesians—trying to make a niche in the youth scene with playground activities or camps and other events. For those of us who were serious about social work, our focus was on street work, slum development and evening classes. It somehow never occurred to most of us (I wonder whether it still does) that youth work could also mean community development, rural development or even plain ecological consideration.
In the field of rural development, community development and rural social programmes, there is one name that shines bright from among a galaxy of Salesian stars in the Mumbai province. Yes, it is the name of the man we have come to recognize as Br. Alex Gonsalves. This is a name which has been hailed and lauded at the local, national and international platforms but sadly downplayed within our family. Is it a case of ‘a prophet is never recognized in his own country?’ Perhaps. Perhaps not. Yet it is difficult to speak of the involvement of the Salesians of Don Bosco in rural community development without the explicit mention of Br. Alex Gonsalves. What moved the man to do what he ventured to do with little support from those at the helm or very little acceptance of his work? What goaded him on, kept him going and still spurs him on to this different mission? It is best to get some quips from the man himself. This article is precisely a journey down memory lane, beyond the surface into the nooks and crannies, peeping behind stony rocks and emerging into the streams of the gushing life-force that is Br. Alex.
When you meet the man the first thing that strikes you is his ability to smile. The other evident characteristic is his soft-spoken nature—no intimidation, no snobbishness, and no airs. This is really admirable in someone who has won local, national and global recognition. Br. Alex has been the motivating and driving force behind a series of initiatives, schemes and community development programmes not only in those areas of Ahmednagar District where the Salesians function, but also in areas beyond the geographical boundaries of his work. Under the creative management of Br. Alex, Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra (BGVK) has been the recipient of notable awards. These include the General Championship Award for rearing the Best Female Goat of Barberi variety at Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, Ahmednagar in the State level Goat Exhibition cum Competition; the Vanashree Puraskar from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2000; Dr. Cardinal Simon Pimenta Worker Award; the Gram Vikas Bhushan awarded by the Bigar-Sheti Nagari Sahakari Patsantha, Ahmednagar; and the prestigious National Ecology Award (Indira Priyadarshini Vruksha Mitra Award) in the year 2005.
Speaking about his many interventions for and with the people of 22 villages and more than 72 Self Help Groups (SHGs), Br Alex says that his MSW degree did not prepare him for this work. How then did he implement numerous self-employment schemes for individual farmers, Integrated Watershed Development Programmes, cattle rearing, poultry farming, adult literacy programmes and pioneer a Rural Development Centre that specializes in Integrated Watershed Projects and Training for Skills in Village Sustainability? With simplicity that oozes from within, he says ‘I did not achieve this merely by studying the MSW degree. My initial experience at the farmland in Sulcorna (South Goa), my consistent background reading of managerial and other leadership/motivational literature coupled with the knowledge acquired in my childhood as a young boy playing and working in the fields has proved very helpful in this regard’.
He further goes on to state, ‘My only concern all along has been to help the poor farmers capitalize on the readily available resources at hand, namely, land and labour. Right from 1986 till date, that alone has been my endeavour. Hence I have not achieved this simply by studying in a classroom setting, but I have had first-hand experience in the farm, have faced water-shortages, have struggled with finances and have asked myself “what is the way out?” ’ In seeking and initiating solutions, Br. Alex has managed—despite the odds stacked against him—to set up BGVK, a massive undertaking that affects society constructively. BGVK’s work area now covers 22 villages, 26,000 hectares of land, 24 crores of additional income generated, and over 72,000 direct beneficiaries.
When quizzed about the general reaction from confreres, Br Alex smiles and says, ‘There have been many who have stood by me, there have been many who never understood and who still don’t understand this as being appropriate Salesian work and there have been still others who have largely remained indifferent’. On being prodded a bit further, he confides, ‘When I began, I was told to find my own resources and fund the entire project expecting no financial help, and I did just that. But later, I felt that this is not my work; it is the work of everyone, of us all and so now I am happy in my present state. Perhaps it is now time for me to relax a bit and look at other pastures’.
Br. Alex categorically states that it was his primary aim to prevent soil erosion, increase the irrigated area and agricultural production. ‘That is precisely why we did tree plantation, afforestation works, horticultural plantation, farm bunding, constructed nallah bunds and check dams, ventured into money-saving, banking, income-generation, poultry projects, goat rearing, and making of household products’, he adds. Beginning with scepticism, indifference and reluctant support in the semi-arid, parched village of Dongargan, and gradually progressing with hope, prayer and greater participation to the villages of Bhoire-Pather, Ratadgaon, Agadgaon, Ranjani, Mathani, Ghat-Deolgaon, Pimpalgaon-Ujjaini, Kaudgaon, Khandke-Deogaon, Sasewadi, Sonewadi, Prewadi, Kolhewdi, many rural households have benefitted tremendously.
The local impact was such that BGVK and its principal mover garnered sufficient mileage to be approached by agencies and other groups for training, lead management and coordination of similar enterprises. The successful organization and coordination of the Maharashtra Social Forum was a golden feather in his cap, which further enhanced the status of BGVK as a formidable stakeholder in rural social transformation. The man who dreamed and spearheaded the organization is mighty pleased with the laurels he and his collaborators have rightfully earned. But the success story neither terminates nor restrains his enthusiasm and zest. Br. Alex says ‘I never worked for recognition. I knew that God wanted me to do something different. One needs to continue doing one’s work selflessly in a spirit of genuine service to the community and the results are bound to follow’.
As a parting shot, Br Alex says, ‘Many young Salesians are now seriously interested in this type of apostolate, but they focus either on the social aspect or on the aspect of economic viability. Both need to be stressed, since that is what this type of participatory community development entails’. The smile lingers; a Salesian who knows what he has endured and what he has achieved. Surely the amchi mathi, amchi maansa apostolate is a landmark watershed in the historical evolution of Salesian intervention for a better society.