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Father Hunt swiftly recognized the acute need for a special facility for the children of leprosy patients. Although many of the youngsters did not have leprosy themselves, they inherited the social stigma attached to it. The community considered them to be outcasts by association.

In 1968, Father Hunt converted the former school into a hostel which would provide academic and vocational training for the sons of leprosy victims, while helping them to overcome the stigma their society placed upon them. Father Hunt recalls that the cliche “easier said than done” proved true.

“Children who are this young,” he says, “are very impressionable and very sensitive to the way others act towards them. They perceive things much more strongly than adults do. We knew we had our work cut out for us at the start, but it has been incredibly rewarding the whole way.”

Since the hostel’s main goal was to give the boys a new and better image of themselves as important and intelligent people, Father Hunt set up a carefully designed system. The boys would run the hostel themselves, taking responsibility for its operation and working with the supervisors.

When they arrive at the hostel, the boys immediately begin workshop classes in which they learn a valuable skill. Classes include batik, weaving, tailoring, blacksmithing, carpentry, and masonry. All of these crafts are highly marketable in India, where manual skills and cottage industries remain a significant part of the economy.

When a young man possesses one of these skills, he can become financially independent and one day support a family of his own.

After each student has received background instruction in every workshop class, he selects the trade he would like to pursue, with the guidance of his teachers. He then enters a class where he receives intensive instruction.

The boys learn to read and write their native language, and they are instructed in math and Indian history as well. Each boy is also given the opportunity to learn English.

When they are not attending classes, the boys run the hostel farm. Some of them cultivate the extensive fields, raising food for all the residents. Others tend the hostel’s small herd of livestock. All four water wells on the grounds were dug by the boys, and several of the handiest youths installed the plumbing to pump water to the buildings. When repairs are necessary, the boys generally do the work themselves.

The daily round of classes and chores at the DeBritto House gives the boys a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Suresh Sahoo, one of the young residents, says, “I not only have a good trade now, but I love myself. I didn’t know that someone could love himself.”

Suresh will be leaving the hostel soon. He has been there for four years, since he was 15. When he arrived, his hands were bent and beginning to atrophy from leprosy. Suresh received medical treatment and then began classroom training. Today he is a master tailor, doing a job that requires skillful hands.

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Tags: India Children Education Health Care Poor/Poverty