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Italian widow cares for over 200 children in India, Nepal

Friends collect funds to help Santal tribal children

Luigina Danesi and friends at a hostel for Santal tribal children in West Bengal Luigina Danesi and friends at a hostel for Santal tribal children in West Bengal
  • C.M. Paul, Capriolo
  • Vatican
  • January 7, 2011
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It all started with a visit to Kolkata after the death of her husband and teenage son after a prolonged illness 15 years ago.

Now the Italian widow takes care of some 200 children in India and Nepal.

“When my husband and son died within a matter of one month, I was completely shattered,” says Luigina Danesi a housewife from Capriolo in northern Italy.

She gladly accepted the invitation of a Salesian missionary friend to take a break and visit Kolkata. In 1989, she arrived in the eastern Indian city, and visited Mother Teresa. “I was exposed to such poverty and want that I could never imagine,” said Danesi.

The following year she returned to Kolkata with two friends from her home parish Capriolo in Brescia diocese.

Visiting Salesian seminary in Sonada, in West Bengal state’s Darjeeling district, she was moved to buy raincoats for some 60 seminarians who returned rain drenched from their Sunday ministry in the tea gardens.

In 1993 Danesi and two other friends visited the Azimganj mission in the state’s Murshidabad district where Salesians take care of Santal children. Salesian Father Vincent Mondol took the visitors around the boarding facilities -- classrooms, dormitory, study hall, dining room, cowshed, piggery, fishpond and the rice fields which the boys manage.

“We were shocked to see the use of cow and pig dung,” says Danesi recalling how pig dung was diverted into the pond for fish food. She was further shocked to see boys collecting freshly dropped cow dung for the gas plant to produce cooking gas. The cow dung was even dried and used like coal to cook their food.

Seeing a couple of ducks swimming in the fish pond, Father Mondol, expressed a wish -- “If I had some more ducks I could supply eggs for the children.”

Danesi and her friends told Father Mondol, “On our return to Italy, we shall see what we can do.”

They collected US$100 and sent it to Father Mondol to purchase 50 ducks and ensure eggs for 100 children. She also requested him to send photos and details of 20 boarding children to convince friends help start a distance adoption program.

It was at a traditional Good Friday lunch for three priests of her parish that Danesi launched the one-woman distance adoption project “Dono in Dono” (Gift in Gift) a name suggested by her assistant parish priest.

“Without the generous assistance of Luigina and friends, I would not have managed to provide for 300 or so children when I worked in Azimganj, Krishnagar and Kathmandu,” said Father Mondol.

In spite of the economic depression, Danesi’s program helps some 200 children today under the care of Salesian fathers and brothers, Salesian Sisters, the Sisters of Charity and two rural parishes.

“I keep requesting my friends to give whatever they can spare. I have no office, nor staff to manage the collection. To save on postage and administrative costs, I personally deliver letters which children write for Christmas and Easter,” says Danesi, who works mostly as a volunteer driver at the local ambulance station.

With all her savings and collection efforts, she is able to send about 15,000 Euros in four installments each year for children in India and Nepal.

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