Why Sonali Bendre gifted Rs. 25 lakhs to St. Catherine’s Home?

St. Catherine’s Home, Mumbai

In October 2000, film actress Sonali Bendre made news when she donated her Rs. 25 lakh cheque won at the Kaun Banega Crorepati television show to St. Catherine’s Home located in the northern Mumbai suburb of Andheri.

The simple signboard at the entrance of its premises is symbolic of the low profile institution housed within. This institution has been unobtrusively making significant contributions in the field of social welfare for the past 78 years. Their main focus has always been the two most vulnerable sections of our society — children and women. 

St. Catherine’s Home’s humble beginnings can be traced back to the year 1922, when Ida Dickenson took the initiative to provide shelter to a group of homeless girls and to give them a chance to grow in an environment of love and care. Thereafter, the Bishop of Bombay requested the Daughters of the Cross to take over and continue the wonderful work of Ms. Dickenson. 

In 1948, the institution moved to its current location. The original plot was a generous donation from Joseph Gomes of Amboli. Additional land was donated by one Mr. D’Mello, also of Amboli. Subsequently, adjoining plots of land were either donated or bought from various owners. 

The institution has gradually specialised into social welfare with a special focus on the girl child. Today, the institution provides a home to over 320 children. It’s a place where they can grow up free from fear and want and learn to discover themselves and their potential as true human beings.
Firstly, there are the 19 children, aged two to 12 years, who have been born with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), many of whom have watched their parents die. These little ones were found at railway stations, abandoned, in pathetic conditions. 

Crayon drawings on the walls, games strewn all around and the bustling Sister Shanti, always keeping the little ones company. Across an entire wall is a well–stocked medicine cabinet stocked with every kind of medicine, next to which is a birthday chart with beaming photos of the 19 children who live there. 

“Birthdays are a big deal here. We celebrate each one as if it will be the child’s last — because it just might be,” says Sister Shanti. This is the Snehanilaya project, started in September 1996. 

Shanti Sadan, which houses little abandoned children and St. Catherine’s School, which is run on the premises of the Home, has been around long before the Snehanilaya project. The school aims to provide a friendly environment for the children of the Home as well as for poor children from the neighbourhood. 

The co–education Marathi medium school has over 1,750 children in its primary and secondary sections. Of these, over 1,500 children are from nearby slums and chawls. In March this year, the school achieved yet another landmark — 73% of it’s students cleared the SSC examination successfully. 

The Karunankur project of the St Catherine’s Home, begun just a year ago, is an attempt to rehabilitate abused minors and young girls forced into prostitution. At present 12 girls are housed here.

Besides, the Home also provides shelter to unwed mothers in a special section named Vishvasthan. The Home’s medical staff provides assistance to these young women during their pregnancy and delivery and also gives them tips on how to take care of themselves and their children.          

(The above piece is based on information from an article by Namita Devidayal in The Times of India and in the Blaze’s Newsletter). 



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