Indian Catholic News

Help is at hand for Bangladeshi street kids

Providing food, medicine, exercise and training are all in a day's work for Brother Lucio.

 
Brother Lucio Beninati, an Italian Catholic missionary from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, teaches street children in Dhaka how to make sculptures. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
Dhaka: 

On the sunny second Tuesday of April, seven poor Muslim slum children in threadbare clothes eagerly awaited the arrival of a Westerner at an inter-district bus terminal in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

Brother Lucio Beninati, 63, an Italian Catholic missionary from the Milan-based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), has been working in the low-lying nation for the past 19 years.

When Brother Lucio arrived at the bus terminal, overjoyed kids clasped his hands.

"Kemon achen Lucio Bhai [How are you, Brother Lucio]," they asked him. Brother Lucio can speak Bengali, the main language of Bangladesh, fluently.

Wearing a T-shirt, sports trousers and cheap slippers, he immediately got to work sweeping an area to be used by the children for two hours of activities.

Two student volunteers helped Brother Lucio to provide first aid as well as conducting physical exercise sessions and lessons on art, numeracy and literacy.

Billal, 9, and the other small group of children have for up to two years been meeting Lucio at their bus terminal haunt in the Gabtoli area of Dhaka.

He lives in a nearby slum with his elder brother and mother. His father passed away years ago, so his mother relies on begging in the street to feed her two children.

Billal studies in Grade 5 at a local government school, albeit irregularly.

"Brother Lucio is a good friend. He loves us so much. He teaches us, plays with us and has fun with us. He also teaches drawing, gives medicine and also food," Billal told ucanews.com.

"When I grow up, I would like to do something for people like Brother Lucio," he said.

A big heart for street children

A native of Naples in southern Italy, Brother Lucio and six other volunteers in 2007 set up the Pothoshishu Seba Sangathan (Street Children Service Organization), to offer basic services to destitute street kids in Bangladesh's sprawling capital.

Over the years, there have been hundreds more volunteers joining in to give support to about 12,000 disadvantaged kids.

Six days a week, the volunteers run street schools at various spots in Dhaka including parks, bus terminals, the river port, railway stations and markets.

Volunteers include students, teachers, business people, government and non-government workers as well as doctors and housewives. Among them are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and even atheists.

The organization spread its services to the north-eastern city of Sylhet one and half years ago and now operations are being established in the south-eastern port city of Chittagong.

Of the original seven volunteers, one was Muslim and six were Christian, Brother Lucio told ucanews.com.

"We were just fed up seeing children living and begging on the streets," he said.

Gatherings were started without asking any help from the government, political leaders or other organizations.

Brother Lucio has lived in various dilapidated slums in Dhaka in order to try to cultivate a sense of respect and togetherness with marginalized children and their families.

There are about 700,000 street children in Bangladesh including 250,000 in Dhaka, according to a European Union funded non-government group combating the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Most street children are vulnerable to various forms of abuse that include hazardous factory and other working conditions.

Leaving family to embrace humanity

Brother Lucio was born in 1956 into a family that eventually had ten children. After completing his education, he found a job and even had a girlfriend with whom he planned to settle.

But he he decided to turn away from the pursuit of material gain.

The plight of poor people caught his attention and he decided not to start a family for himself, but to serve the big family — humanity.

"When I could understand God's will that He is calling me to be a missionary, I left everything — my lovely family, my job and my girlfriend, to follow Jesus, in the mission of taking care of the smallest,” Lucio recalled.

In 1982, Brother Lucio was sent to Brazil and India, where he worked for seven and two years respectively, before he was mandated to come to Bangladesh.

Brother Lucio says his work for street children is an expression of love and solidarity.

He notes that there are many forms of discrimination, including over religious beliefs, gender and income, adding that volunteers use local resources to benefit children and other fellow members of the human family.

A life-changer

Firoj Kobir, 21, a graduate student in Dhaka, came across Brother Lucio's group at the bus terminal one year ago and was motivated to join them.

“When I am with those children I feel very glad,” Kobir told ucanews.com.

He felt happy because he felt he was doing something for people largely neglected in society.

"By getting involved, I have learned how to love human beings better and have a deeper look into human life,” Kobir said. “I dream that one day no child will be on the street, but in safe homes.”

In such an environment they would have greater opportunities to prosper in life, he added.

Source: UCAN

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