The Focolare Movement in Mumbai has been reaching out to its local communities for over two decades, inspiring hope and change in the lives of underprivileged families, especially children and youth.
“One can either walk away from the problems in another’s life or embrace the challenge head on. For a Movement that has chosen the suffering face of Jesus on the Cross, it is only natural that the Focolare in Mumbai chose to welcome the challenges among its communities with love and dedication,” writes Annabel, a young journalist, member of the Focolare in Mumbai. Santacruz Project and Udisha have come to symbolize the Movement’s strong commitment to social justice, universal fraternity and, above all, love for Jesus in the other in this city.
Santacruz Project started in 1992 as a direct response to the needs of families struggling with poverty, addictions and lack of jobs. It provides basic food rations and household supplies so that children from these homes can continue their education. “We realized that many of these little girls attending our activities didn’t even have enough to eat at home. In order to love them concretely, we had to empower their families to give them enough food and keep them in school. We struggled initially to fund this project, pulling together our resources and gathering contributions from the larger Focolare family here in India. I’m happy that we’ve been able to sustain this project for over 25 years now,” says Joan Viegas, one of the earliest volunteers from Mumbai involved in the project. “Somewhere along the way we realized that spiritual nourishment was equally necessary for these families to face society’s challenges. We organized Word of Life meetings for the girls’ mothers who desperately needed a space to express themselves, share their troubles and find spiritual strength. One of us, Josephine Passanha who is passed away, started conducting meetings in Konkani for these women who could not speak English, and also organized useful workshops on life skills such as budgeting and family planning to empower them.“
During her first visit to India in 2001, Chiara encouraged the members of the Focolare in Mumbai to reach out even further to people at the periphery of society. This gave a strong thrust to the already on-going Udisha Project in Goregaon which focusses on the holistic development of children from underprivileged backgrounds. Literally translating as a ‘ray of light’ in Sanskrit, Udisha is lighting up the lives of over 120 children today through its various activities such as academic tuition classes, occupational therapy, anger management sessions, medical camps and programs promoting value education and parenting skills. Counselling has becoming one of Udisha’s key specialisations, helping many children and their parents solve many day-to-day challenges, sometimes even saving lives from suicidal tendencies. Self-Help Groups empower mothers of these children to manage their household income and supplement it by starting small enterprises such as crochet bag making, catering and beautician services.
“Udisha has evolved into a full-fledged organisation with the help of the larger Focolare community all over Mumbai, as well as with the Support at a Distance help we receive from the New Families Movement of the Focolare”, says Brian D’Silva, who has been spearheading the project since the beginning. “We try to reach out to more families every day, always bearing in mind that it is Jesus who we serve in each individual. It gives me great satisfaction to see our children from Udisha who are well-educated, employed and positively contributing to society today.”