Their New Home
By Fr. Gilbert Sales cicm
Father Gilbert Sales, cicm is the District Superior of CICM in Mongolia and also the Director of the Verbist Caring Center. The center is a Catholic home for street children in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. Father Sales is pictured here with the youngest resident of the center and two other children, who like the 70-plus other residents, benefit from this ministry which is partly funded by donations from benefactors of Missionhurst.
During one of my Wednesday visits with the street children, two children caught my attention. They were Oxinoo and Banda, three-year-old brother and sister twins they were tagging along with their mother who had who had come for meal. What struck me particularly was that these two children appeared spiritless. They had bloated stomachs and a strange look in their eyes. They clung to their mother, obviously looking for security.
Living in Sewers
I learned that they had been forced out of their dwelling and were now living in sewers. They had become victims of the recent political and economic restructuring in the country, which has eliminated long established free social services, childcare, nurseries, kindergartens and milk kitchens. Oxinoo and Banda are only two of many street children.
The street children of Mongolia have received quite a bit of attention lately, not only in the Mongolian Parliament and government agencies, but also from non-government organizations and even the international communications media. The Catholic Church, though small and new in Mongolia, has together with the above-mentioned bodies raised the question: what can be done?
Not just visits but shelter
The Catholic Church in Mongolia started working with the street children in 1994. At that time, were simply visiting these children in 1994. At that, we were simply visiting these children in the places were they normally gathered in the evening. We would bring them hot tea and some food. We also provided first aid to those with wounds. And brought those who were very sick to the hospital. We would spend time with them in friendly conversations, trying to gain their trust and confidence. After a year of regular contact, it became clear to us that these children badly needed a shelter. The winters are cold here and food is scares during the long winter months. It is a time the street life becomes very tough as gangs rule different parts of the city. In August 1995 the Catholic Church in Mongolia decided to open a shelter for street children. The center started its operation by distributing food, lunch and supper to the few street children. In no time the numbers grew to more than forty. Once the five small rooms of the rented building were fixed and furnished, the center started accepting children to stay and sleep there.
The beginning were hard
Kids coming from different gangs started fighting with each other, breaking windows, and using bedsheets for cables to go up and down through the windows. We were forced to review our policy of acceptance. Consequently it was decided that we would accept only younger children, the sick, and girls for overnight stay. Since then the center has become as safe haven for children from ages two to twelve.
When the 1995-1996 school year started we began sending the children back to school. The younger children were enrolled in kindergarten. The older ones had to take qualifying exams to determine their level of literacy, and were enrolled at different levels accordingly. One of the main goals of the center has been to bring these kids back to the mean stream of society. This is not an easy task. Some schools, upon learning that the children, were former street children, were unwilling to enroll them. Often once they were enrolled, classmates would mistreat them on account of their background. Regular contact with both principals and teachers was needed to make them understand the plight of these children.
Their new home
We are five years further down the road now and we’re pleased with the result, thanks to the close supervision and counseling by the center has steadily grown. The rented building we first had became too crowded. We needed to be able to move around and have an atmosphere conducive to studying (especially in winter when the children have to stay indoors most of the time). So, it was decided in1997 to look for a bigger and more comfortable place. With the help from benefactors around the world, we were able to find a suitable place to house the growing number of children in our care.
The news home is called VERBIST CARING CENTER, in honor of Theophile Verbist, founder of the CICM Congregation who worked with orphans in Inner Mongolia, a province of China not to be confused with Mongolia which is an independent country.
AT present we have more than 70 children at our center. It is our hope that this center will eventually open a facility that will train and educate the teenagers in the streets in carpentry, dressmaking and other vocational courses.
Oxinoo and Banda, no six years old, and very happy in the company of the other children in the Verbist Caring Center. They have been here now for three years. Staff members help them spiritually and psychologically and their self-confidence is growing. It is our hope that he children in our care find hope in the loving, caring and understanding atmosphere her at the Verbist Center.
One of the main goals of the center is to bring these children back to the mainstream of society.