“Melaka Salvatorian Home” and its journey amid Covid-19.
“Year 1998, 31st of December, at exactly 12.00 midnight, my father held my hand tight as we both ran, to catch a running train. My father and I just got down the train, when it stopped at a station. We both wanted to celebrate our new year with a strawberry ice cream, which I love the most. While we enjoyed the ice Cream the train took off. We could not have made it to get into the train if a co-passenger who saw us running desperately pulled down the chain and brought the train to a sudden halt” I never get fed up of repeating this story over and over to anyone who asked about my childhood. This incident had happened when my whole family was on a winter camp to New Delhi, India. During my childhood the most memorable moments I spent with my family were during the many summer and winter camps.
Childhood experiences are great memories that are treasured in one’s life, that every time we look upon them, they shine and sparkle more vividly. They are treasures of countless memories and lessons that make up what a person is. They are mixtures of happiness, wonder, angst and resilience. They are moments of playing, learning, socializing, exploring, and the most cherished moment of life for everyone. But not all are privileged to have such a wonderful and beautiful childhood. In this developing society, there are always some who are deprived of this childhood experiences. The causes vary from child to child, but the loss is the same. Right from the beginning, Jesus admonished his disciples to be attentive to the children who are vulnerable. Many men and women religious are occupied in caring, protecting and educating children, offering their time and energy to ensure that they are able to build a healthy and happy childhood. This task was not always without any problems and challenges, especially during this Covid pandemic where everyone is locked inside for security and protection.
“Melaka Salvatorian Home” run by the Salvatorian sisters is a place where the children are received with love and care, inspired by the Agape love of Jesus. Today, we meet S. Mary Soon, SDS, who belongs to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Saviour (Salvatorian Sisters), to share with us more about the “Melaka Salvatorian Home” and how they are coping with this pandemic.
Mary Soon, could you tell us about your Melaka Salvatorian Home? How did this home begin?
“Melaka Salvatorian Home” is a place where the under privileged children receive healing and are empowered to be human persons fully alive through counselling, coaching, personal guidance and community living. This home began as a day care centre on April 01, 2002. At that time, when our community was involved fulltime in the parish ministry, we noticed that many children were hanging around the streets while their parents worked in the factories. Then, we saw that we need to do something to help these children, and so we began this day care centre. The children come to the center after their school, until their parents return from work to fetch them. After 2 years in this ministry, the situation became more challenging. We were alarmed of the rise of the divorce cases, and most often the divorced parents could no longer care enough for their children. Our founder, Fr. Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan always exhorted us to read the signs of the times. Seeing the reality, we could not be peaceful every time we saw that these children need a healthy home where they can be nurtured and be taken care of. Therefore, in response to this challenge, we began this “Melaka Salvatorian Home”.
There are 5 of you, sisters, and there are 22 children. That means every sister need to take care of at least 4. That’s practically a tough job. How do you move along with this difficult job?
Here in Malaysia, there are many broken families from China, India and Malaysia itself. Each year the number of the children in our center keeps increasing. This apostolate is so important. Because every child is precious and needs to be given enough care and help in order to grow. This fact keeps the “Melaka Salvatorian Home” move forward even though it is demanding. I must confess that there were times when we thought of giving up this apostolate as it includes many problems, at times, from the parents themselves. We came across many bitter experiences, but the words of our founder fuel our efforts and desire to continue our apostolate. He once told us: “Do not lose heart, trust in the Lord. Always go forward.” We also teach our children to be independent and to take care of the surroundings, and because they have learned to follow and to be responsible, our daily chores are lighter.
What is the effect on the children that they do not have their own families? How do they move along with this reality?
Each of our children has a tale to tell us— a tale of suffering and pain that they had undergone. Many of them have never experienced a sense of love and security. When these toddlers enter our home, they feel frightened, they hid themselves to avoid facing, talking and sharing with others. It takes really a lot of time until they are able to come out of their old selves.
What do the children at your Melaka Salvatorian Home enjoy the most?
Once they are able to adjust with the Home and with their friends, they enjoy the most when they play and make friends. The children do not only enjoy themselves, but they also bring immense joy to all of us in the community. I bet you that when you see the laughter and happiness in these tiny souls, you will find that all your life is too small before their innocent smiles. Once they feel at home, they build such family bond with others that they often refuse to go back to their own families during holidays. The children say that they feel lonely at their own homes.
How did the “Melaka Salvatorian Home” face the Covid-19 pandemic?
During lockdown due to Covid-19, our children were at their own homes for holidays. We had to visit each of their families and we brought food because many children belong to poor families. When the children finally were able to come back to the Home, new challenges arose. There was always internet trouble. Because of the online classes, we had to accompany the children full time to guide them. We had no more time for community life. This pandemic also once again showed us the face of humanity. Many benefactors personally called the Home to render their help, even though the country at that moment was already facing a great economic crisis.
Can you share with us the most joyful and the most difficult thing that this home had encountered in its history?
The most joyful thing about this Melaka Home is that we are all one family. When I got sick, the children came to inquire and asked: “Sister are you getting better?”. When they return from school they happily inform that they are back. Though these are just simple gestures, these gave a lot of meaning and added joy to my life. The most difficult challenge we face at the Melaka Home are the troubles caused by the parents themselves. For example, one of our children, a girl of 13 years old, lost her father when she was 4. She had four other siblings from a different father. Their mother was a drug addict and was caught by the police and was sent back to her native place in Indonesia for some years. The child was left behind abandoned, and she was introduced to us by her neighbours. When the mother came back to Malaysia, she married yet an another man and came to the Melaka Home to claim her daughter, but the kid was so scared of her mother and refused to go with her. The mother was offended and began to threaten us, causing us a lot of inconvenience.
What’s your personal experience with this home and the children?
I am very happy being a part of this Melaka Home. Though the sisters began the structure of this home, nevertheless, it is the children who gave a real meaning to the Home, where one loves the other without any expectations. The children teach me how to be truly joyful and hopeful. When visitor come to our home, they remain awestruck with the magical smiles of our Melaka children. We do not need to do any fundraising for this Home. This spotless joy radiating from them automatically brings the necessary help from many kind hearted persons who are concerned about our home.
We are only 5 sisters and the home is actually a small place which limits our capacity to accommodate more children. We have to choose those who are most in need of help. However, as long we cooperate with the Divine grace, we will work to ensure the secured shelter for many more children, where they can achieve their dreams and they can smile wholeheartedly.
Sr Fathima Shirisha Gidithuri, sds