New Life, New Hope

by Mark Guidera
photos by Tom Guidera

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Peter is 10 years old. Though he is known by the name Peter, it is not his given name. If you were to ask Peter what his given name is he would not be able to tell you, nor could he tell you where his family lives. Peter only knows that for the first eight years of his life he was caught in the binds of the caste system of India. He was a harijan – a child of the street.

One of Peter’s legs is missing. He cannot tell you why; he does not know how he lost it. The event was so frightening that his mind refuses to remember it.

Though Peter cannot recall much of his short life, the staff members at the DeBritto House Hostel do know a little of Peter’s past and how it reflects the lives of thousands of children in India today.

Father Larry Hunt, S.J., the American Jesuit who began the hostel for homeless boys, says, “Peter is a fine example of what the DeBritto House Hostel can do for these kids who literally come in off India’s streets.”

Father Hunt explains that when Peter was seven years old he was working on a train as a busboy in the diner car. One day as the train pulled into a station near Calcutta, Peter was standing in an open doorway. Suddenly the train jerked violently and Peter was thrown out of the car. He landed on the tracks while the train was still moving. It severed his leg above the knee.

Peter was fortunate enough to be close to Calcutta when the accident occurred. He was taken to a hospital, where doctors managed to save his life. They could not save his leg.

While Peter was recovering from his ordeal, his story was made known to several Catholic Sisters who worked in the hospital as volunteers. They realized that Peter’s future looked bleak. He had no family to turn to, and his chances of finding work were slim, considering his age and his handicap. He would probably have to spend the rest of his life as a beggar. Like thousands of other children throughout India, Peter would call the streets his home, and his constant companions would be hunger, disease, and the bitter knowledge that life held no hope for him.

But the Sisters knew that there was still a chance for Peter. He was a perfect candidate for the DeBritto House Hostel, run by American Jesuits in the small town of Gomoh. Located in the Bihar province of east India, Gomoh is surrounded by farmland and open country. It provides a serene and healthful setting in which the boys can live, work, and learn.

“If Peter had not been found by those Sisters and sent here to the DeBritto House, he probably would not have led a very fruitful or happy life,” Fr. Hunt remarks. “Today Peter knows weaving and batik, and he can read and write in his own language. Before he leaves the hostel, he will be a master tailor and he will be able to speak English.”

It was for children like Peter – children who might otherwise be condemned to the life of the streets – that DeBritto House was founded.

The hostel was originally a school where American Jesuits were trained in the Hindu languages. Their primary mission among the people of the region was to work with the victims of leprosy, a disease which ravages the spirit as well as the body.

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