I had the good fortune of exercising my Salesian apostolate in an ashramshala that houses only girls. This might sound odd considering that Salesians direct their apostolate to boys. But this is the only apostolate of its kind that we, students of Philosophy at Divyadaan engage in. Our task over there is to teach English to the 9th standard girls and entertain the 8th standard girls with activities and games. The shala is run by Sisters belonging to the Assumption Congregation. At their request, two brothers travel every Sunday to their shala in Tilloli some 80 kilometers from Nashik. This particular Sunday, I was standing in for a brother who was not keeping well.
This wasn’t my first time there as I had gone before to help the brothers organize a Christmas party for the girls. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a nun and served breakfast. As I partook of the simple breakfast consisting of chana and chappati topped up with a cup of coffee, I was struck by the lifestyle of the sisters. There are six of them, only one of whom is a Maharashtrian; yet all of them speak Marathi so fluently and well. The missionary vocation and zeal of the sisters immediately struck me. Their immersion in the culture and adoptions of the local language and lifestyle ignited the flame of missionary zeal within me. The simplicity with which they lived, inspired wonderment in me. They live in the interior of a village, secluded in a real sense. The shala is surrounded by green fields, without a house in sight for at least a mile. The wonderful work they do is a testament to their intrepid character and breaks away from stereotypes attached to women.
I gauged that my presence and teaching was successful from the response I received. Language was a barrier for me but I tried my best to get my message across through my broken Marathi, but more effectively through my actions. The girls were amused at the spectacle of a teacher using comedy as a method for teaching. I hope that my antics don’t go in vain and that the lesson remains in their minds for some time to come.
I have come away from this experience enriched and encouraged. I realize that the need to adapt to the situation is crucial for an effective apostolate. Simplicity of lifestyle characterizes missionary life and complements witnessing to Christ, who made Himself poor.
Cl. Ian Pinto sdb