ERNAKULAM: At 13, she was homeless and hungry, struggling to eke out a living on the streets of Kochi. Yet her eyes had a distinct look that Sr Fabiola Fabbri recognised all too well — a spark of forlorn hope and the will to stand up to fate. Over the past two decades she had dedicated to caring for abandoned and destitute kids in south India, the Italian nun has seen that resolute spark in many innocent eyes.
More than 50 such children are currently seeking shelter at ‘Ashwasa Bhavan’, the children’s home started by Sr Fabbri at Veli in Fort Kochi back in 2005. The 52-year-old nun, who provides them with food, shelter, love and care, is no less than a mother to these kids. They call her ‘amma’.
Visitors are astounded by the nun’s fluency in Malayalam — an achievement that can be attributed to her desire to serve the downtrodden, which compelled her to interact closely and regularly with the local community. Inspired by the life and works of Mother Teresa, she has devoted her life to struggling children and paving their future.
Since 1996, Sr Fabbri, who hails from Florence and is a member of the Apostolic Sisters of Consolata, has been looking after poor and homeless children in India. She received Indian citizenship in 2013. Even in 2005, when she was affected with the Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which one’s immune system attacks its nerves, she did not lose hope. She recalls overcoming those dark days “with the help of God’s grace”. She had recovered in a year.
“Initially, I used to work with Jesus Youth volunteers and help destitute kids found in railway stations and streets. Once I came across a three-year-old who looked astonishingly frail, almost like a skeleton, near MG Road. This was in the year 2000. I was shocked to know that she only weighed three kilograms. She was severely malnourished. This incident touched me deeply,” she recalls.
The child only had her mother with her, and the language barrier had made it difficult for the nun to communicate with her. “With the help of some volunteers, I was able to take her to a hospital and give her medical attention.”
In the beginning, Ashwasa Bhavan was a shelter for homeless kids from the neighbourhood as well as street dwellers who moved out of government relief settlements. Now, most kids reach the house through government channels, including those under the care of the Child Welfare Committee. “All the children brought here now are either single-parent kids or those with family issues. After the age of 18, when they are able to take their own life decisions, they either go on to pursue higher studies or are taken back by their families.”
The children’s home has around 25 employees to cater to inmates’ needs. There are separate facilities for boys and girls. The congregation has also set up another centre at Eramalloor for girls above 18 years of age to stay and pursue higher studies.
Around seven girls are currently staying at the facility. Recently, the ‘Mother Teresa of Kochi’ was felicitated by the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) media commission for her work, sacrifices and commitments. “Each child is a mystery. They never fail to amuse me. Being a mother to them calms me and gives me a feeling of contentment,” says Sr Fabbri.