Bal Bhawan is a clean, colourful and cheerful place. Love and caring resonate through the halls. Kids run and play and slide down bannisters. Teenagers sit in computer rooms surfing the internet. Someone plays the guitar in a corner and others sing along Father Agnel Schools are well known in India… we visited Bal Bhawan, an orphanage for 220 children aged 3 to 18 in Greater NOIDA recently. Bal Bhawan was set up in 2000 and is run by the dedicated missionaries of Father Agnel. The children are from the most marginalized segments—children of sex workers, children of people affl icted with leprosy, some orphans from the violence in the North East… the list is endless.
The children who reside here attend the normal Father Agnel school in the morning, and then come back to have lunch and stay at the center. Though there is a small amount of stigma attached and often the kids are taunted at regular school for being Bal Bhawan kids, this is a small price to pay for the lessons and care they are getting here. And if they were not here, the alternatives would be gruesome for children from their backgrounds, with little money or support… drugs, juvenile crime, etc., come to mind. What impressed me the most was the confidence of the kids, the care that shone through from the playful way that Father ruffled the hair of some of the kids on their way to lunch, to the amazing Mothers patiently sitting and helping some of the youngest kids with their Colouring Books. Each “Mother” lives in a small area with about 16 children under ten. She is responsible for everything the children need after school, at bedtime, keeping them clean, helping them stay focused on their homework and activities, etc. I asked the Father if these “Mothers” were also nuns, but he
smiled and said, each of them has their own story, and that they stayed a few years, before moving on.
I know of Bal Bhawan because of my association with SNEHI, a mental health NGO. SNEHI’s psychologists go, often twice a week, to work with children who may be showing signs of depression, aggression or anger, not very uncommon considering the roots some of these children come from. We went with Mr Abdul Mabood of SNEHI and it was very heartwarming to see the rapport of the kids with Abdul.
We asked the Father about funding over lunch. He smiled and said most donations come from private individuals and that God is watching over them and providing plenty. He pointed to the chicken on the plate we were eating with the dal and rice and vegetables, and said, for example, this chicken comes from the Taj Group of Hotels, who sends them chicken often! SNEHI has been associated with this orphanage at Greater NOIDA since 2001, and it is them who need funding more.
We spent a lot of time with some of the adolescents. The girls’ soccer team had just won a match earlier in the day, and they were still in their kits, with the glow of victory still on their faces! They told us they had won 2-1 and it was a close match. The Father told us about some of the older boys who were very talented with art and showed us a poster designed by one of them, which is being used for an upcoming music festival. He stressed how everyone is unique, and sometimes the kids who struggle with regular school do very
well in Open Schooling. We also asked whether they are open to doing adoptions from this center, and the Father said no. He said when time, except for a month in the summer. Some of the children who do not have a home to return to in the summer, spend the summer at Bal Bhawan itself.
One of the rooms was getting ready for a stage for a talk in the evening. I asked who was coming, and I was told a Hindu Baba was coming to give a talk. I was very amazed that here, the children are being exposed to all different faiths, not just what the missionaries believe in. Bal Bhawan is a clean, colorful and cheerful place. Love and caring resonate through the halls. Kids run and play and slide down banisters. Teenagers sit in computer rooms surfing the internet. Someone plays the guitar in a corner and others sing along… the
children find joy in the moment, and though we all have pasts, some worst than others, these children are forging life long friendships, a disciplined life, a love for sports, art and music, and a strong spiritual backbone. And can’t that only be a good thing??
A Small Background on the Charities The Father Agnel Ashram is a charitable institution in India. Founded under the inspiration and guidance of the Father Conceicao Rodrigues and a dedicated few, the movement started with an orphanage and a trade school in carpentry. Today this movement has grown from a humble beginning to a universal family. Under the guidance of Agnel Ashram Fathers, it caters to full-fledged schools, industrial training centres, polytechnics, engineering colleges at the bachelor and postgraduate levels
and a School of Management and has spread its wings with large technical complexes at Bandra in Mumbai, Verna in Goa, New Delhi, Greater Noida, Ambernath, Vashi in Navi Mumbai and in Pune. Bal Bhawan at Greater NOIDA is a home for poor, orphaned and destitute children providing them shelter, education and skill training.