By C.M. Paul
Kolkata, March 19, 2019: A priest who worked for street children in various Indian cities for over 33 years died on March 19.
Salesian Fr Anthony Thaiparambil died at Don Bosco Provincial House New Delhi. He was 84.
His funeral is scheduled to be held in New Delhi on March 22.
Father Antony was the eldest of three brothers who became Salesians in Calcutta province and one Jesuit priest. Fr Anthony’s younger brother, Salesian Br. T.V. Mathew died on February 1 in Kolkata.
“Father Anthony has touched many lives of street children [in Kolkata and New Delhi]. He always prayed for the children in the streets during his last days,” said New Delhi Salesian Provincial Father Jose Mathew.
Father Antony started work for street children in the same room in Pilkhana slum near Howrah Railway Station that French author Dominic Lapierre used while writing his eponymous novel The City of Joy.
The Salesian priest had completed Master of Social Work degree and noticed an unsettling number of children roaming around the platforms of Kolkata’s Howrah Railway station. The children looked distressed and miserable.
Alarmed, Father Anthony decided to approach them and learn more about their situation. He started coming to the station regularly to spend time with them. He learned about their struggles, their constant fight for survival and the abuse they often suffered.
He also observed that they did menial jobs during the day, and fought for their safety at night. Unable to bear such misery, Father Anthony decided to act.
On December 8, 1985, he opened the first night shelter for 14 street children with the help of the NGO Seva Sanga Samity in the Pilkhana slum and lived with them.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta came for the blessing of the first Ashalayam (Home of Hope) shelter in 1991 at Belilious Road, Howrah and for second Ashalayam shelter at Bhattnagar, Howrah in 1995.
“We shall take care of the girls, you take care of the boys,” Mother Teresa told Father Anthony when he started Ashalayam Project.
Some 10 years later Father Anthony went to the nation’s capital to work for street children and started Don Bosco Ashalayam in January 1997 in a small rented house in Bindapur, Uttam Nagar, and later at Palam Gaon in 1999.
Almost 10 years later he began the work in Lucknow in 2007 and then moved out to its present location at Mohanlalganj.
Today more than 500 children reside in Ashalayam’s 23 shelter homes in Howrah, Kolkata and Nadia districts. Besides providing assistance to thousands of street children every year, over three decades, Ashalayam has helped over 80,000 children.