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Saturday, October 13, 2007

My visit to Salaam Balak Trust (SBT)

I reached the New Delhi railway station around 9:30 AM and met the gentleman Mr. Shekar who is supposed to take me around. I was accompanied by two Canadians and an Indian gentleman who works for Accenture in New Delhi but supports SBT operations.

We went on something called "City tour" - a tour of several different locations in and around the railway station where SBT is doing work. We began our walk at the railway station. Mr. Shekar himself was a street kid 8 years ago and he lived on the platforms of New Delhi railways station.

He began explaining why kids run away. They mostly run away rid themselves of lot of pressures that are put on them by different people such as teachers, parents, Friends and family etc. He got into bad circle of friends and his family was very respectable one in the community so people began ridiculing them so he ran away. He begged on the platform, ate the leftover foods in the train cars or when nothing was available, he would search trash. That was hard to listen to.

Even among the street kids they have hierarchy. They have gangs for boys and girls. Girls are quietly shooed away to brothels while the boys are trained to pickpocket, beg, and work etc. Most of the kids enjoyed the freedom. They all develop a habit of drug abuse of one kind or another. Most of them sniff some kind of chemical which apparently gives them high. Most of them are sexually abused and some are also infected. If not infected, they are high risk as they are sexually active.

It was interesting to see places where Shekar used to hide. I wouldn't have thought in million years that anyone could sleep in such places in the nights to stay away from cops. One day, when SBT counsellor approached him to ask him if he wants to be helped in anyway, he took the offer and the rest is history. He is a productive citizen to the society and he is living a model life.

Then he took us to a place called "Shelter home" where all those street children that wants to make their life better are brought to. I was shocked to see some little kids as young as five years old. That broke my heart to know what their mom's and dad's must be thinking about them. Where are they now? When we took pictures, they wanted to see our cameras to see themselves, wanted to shake our hands, say ta ta......just like any other kid.

I asked Shekar: "If I have a shelter for you near railway station, where you have hot meals, a place to wash, and sleep in comfort with no restrictions of any kind, even if you want to go back to the platform in the morning, would you stay"? I was shocked to hear him say "NO". When I enquired more, he said there's so much freedom and less trust in people that I rather live on the platforms than any place else. Bottom line is, street children have to be won over to rehabilitate them.

Then we moved to another shelter home where older boys are kept. Most of them are able to speak quite good English as most of the volunteers there are of western countries. Most of them have ambitious goals for their future. Some wants become engineers, while others wants be actors, photographers and mechanics.

I took Shekar for lunch and talked more with him alone. He is a very strong willed individual to pursue his future with determination to become an actor. He finished his schooling at National Institute of Open School (through distance education) and now he is pursuing Bachelors degree in Arts. I left the place with a clear idea that every child needs love and care. Once that's done, give them opportunities to explore the world.

I hope I can go back home tomorrow and make some difference in my neighbourhood.

Ruby

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