BIS #6163 Don Bosco Naigaon faith-based capacity-building provides hope to Palghar residents

by Carlyle Laurie and Father Joaquim Fernandes for BISMumbai

Mumbai’s neighbouring district, Palghar, is in the midst of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic with a mid-September tally of over 29,000 cases. In a bid to provide for sustainable access to food and livelihood, the Mary Help of Christians Parish in Naigaon, run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, joined forces with local area leaders, government institutions, partners, and parishioners to help 300 residents in the area procure ration cards and all-important employment.

Father Dominic Martis, Rector of the institute and Parish Priest, initiated a collaborative capacity-building project after conducting a needs-based assessment which pointed to the dire need for sustainable access to food and livelihood. The parish has traditionally followed a service-delivery model for providing services to locals and parishioners in the area, however given the extraordinary circumstances due to COVID, a capacity-building approach was adopted. Father Martis and his team assessed the needs of the residents of the area and then set about establishing help desks that coordinated between the internal and external stakeholders.

“We used a human rights based approach model for resilience and relied on participatory governance mechanisms so that the stewards—the local communities—also become the primary beneficiaries of this resilience and sustainability model for food security and livelihoods,” Father Martis, said. He further added, “There are two stakeholder groups in rights-based development—the rights holders [who do not experience full rights) and the duty bearers (the institutions obligated to fulfill the holders' rights]. Rights-based approaches aim at strengthening the capacity of duty bearers and empower the rights holders.”

Statistics published by Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE's) Consumer Pyramids Household Survey provide a glimpse at how the pandemic has affected the region. The survey stated that from April and July 2020, in the age group of 25-29, 11 million jobs were lost. But job losses in the workforce aged less than 40 were much higher, at 19.6 million. At a more micro level, Mary Help of Christians Parish caters to around 1,100 Catholic families. The initiative undertaken by the parish enabled parishioners to get their entitlements through this rights-based approach.

“The short term goal was that the families living in the neighbourhood get access to government schemes pertaining to food and hence The Sustainable Access to Food and Livelihoods along with Job opportunities for the youngsters,” Father Martis, said. 02 help desks were set up in the parish.The first was to facilitate employment. The second was to gather the data regarding ration cards. Leon and Merwyn, under the guidance of Alfred Rapaso, began the work of employment. The Parish Pastoral Council members were involved to communicate about the purpose of the help desk. The resume of candidates seeking employment came through (PPC) members. So far 55 applications have come and 19 people employed through the help desk. Around 45 families benefited through the ration card process.

Government ration-welfare schemes provide residents with saffron ration cards with 2 kgs of Rice, 3 kgs of Wheat and 2 kgs of Dal. The parish worked closely with local ration stores to help locals get access to the food grain. “I was indeed very happy to co-operate and collaborate with your parishioners of Mary Help of Christians, Nagioan since most of the people have to come from very far. It is a distance of around 4 km and without transportation it becomes really difficult to carry the ration and to go back home. It is expensive too to come to my ration shop and then pay for the return journey by auto rickshaw,” Bhanumati Padmakar Patil, owner of a ration shop at Juhuchandra, Naigoan, said.He added, “I was indeed very happy to hear that Father Anthony Fonseca, Principal of Don Bosco High School, Nagioan made available the school bus for transporting his parishioners to my ration shop which is 4 kms away and to drop them to their residence too. It is an excellent service given by the priests of Don Bosco, Naigoan.”

“During the Covid 19 pandemic and amidst the lockdown many people have lost their jobs and we needed to something for the church and with the guidance of Father Dominic Martis instead of depleting the Parish Contingency Fund our team members decided to have a sustainable model which is self reliant and gives dignity to people and partner with stakeholders. The beneficiaries were very appreciative of the whole process,” said Helen Kandhare, Parish Council Member, and Church Property Head of Mary Help of Christians Parish, Naigoan.