In normal times, the Salesian Oratory of Navi, on the outskirts of the Mumbai megalopolis, used to offer hours of recreation and learning to about 250 children. But like all aggregation centers, with the outbreak of the pandemic, it has been closed for months.
“When we went around for our food relief measures, the children themselves would say: 'Please open the school campus, we want to come play and study.' We could not do so, for their safety,” say the local Salesians. “Then they themselves told us: 'send us some fun videos and suggest us something we can do in small groups in our own place. And so we did.”
At that point, the first 4-5 children borrowed a mobile phone from one of their parents and listened to a couple of educational stories from an animator, who also offered them a few suggestions for group activities. The children, in response, made funny videos, with dances and games, and sent them back to the oratory's coordinator. And seeing how much fun the little ones were having, their neighbors started to participate too.
“As the number of groups grew, we asked the help of a group of volunteers in Navi Mumbai, who call themselves, ‘Team Spreading Smiles’. They now organize regular fun activities and learning programmes. They teach story-telling, maths, drawing, craft and origami, life skills for kids (e.g., good touch-bad touch) and language. They conduct competitions and quizzes… ”
The presence of this E-Oratory is even more significant considering that these children's government schools do not have online classes.
The E-oratory started on 7 July with only 4 or 5 children, but it spread like wildfire among the children of the slum of Navi Mumbai, and then, through word of mouth among parents, also among the children of workers currently living in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
“When their families were in Mumbai, the children came to our oratory. Now they have returned to their villages of origin, but the little ones continue to 'attend' our 'E-Oratory' every day,” said local Salesians.