Sit back. But don’t get too comfortable…
Now imagine. You are 7.
Your parents have both been lost and there is no one left to take care of you. You are probably scared and hungry. Probably very, very scared and very, very hungry. Your whole world has just become lopsided.
So, you sneak onto a crowded train with no ticket and you run away to a big city filled with 15 million people where you know no one. You are completely unaware of what adventures and dangers are ahead of you. You have probably never seen a train or been very far from your small village. But that does not stop you because you are left alone with no real choices. And there are no movie cameras rolling. It is not some writer’s made-up fantasy about just how bad life can get. This is real.
This young man (the one on the left) is living this story – it is his life. He has been living on the streets of Delhi since he was 7 when he lost his parents. I do not know if that means that they died or that they abandoned him. I didn’t have the heart to ask for clarification. The Salaam Baalak Trust found him when he was 8. They have been helping him ever since. Now he has dreams of becoming an actor.
The young man on the right grew up here with his family. Behind the railway station. He told tales of running the streets and drinking and mischief. Now he tells tales of a university education and making a difference.
The Salaam Baalak Trust takes kids from the street and gives them safety nets. John Thompson (not of Georgetown fame – but from England) thought of giving these kids some training in giving tours of their “homes” and lives on the streets. He knew it would be important to teach the children strong English skills. And now, some of the children are taught how to give tours and teach others about their lives on the streets of Delhi. To share all that their life involves – crime and poverty and loneliness at first – but then with the help of the Trust – community, education, and finally, hope.
There is a non-government organization (called an NGO in India) that helps get street kids off street. In fact, there are several. The one I visited is called the Salaam Baalak Trust – it means “greeting children with trust/faith”. It is not a religious organization – by faith, I believe they mean that they have faith in every child – that every child can find a better life.
I went on the city walk tour that the Salaam Baalak Trust offers. It was, to say the very least, humbling, depressing, and exciting.
Humbling because most of us aren’t really doing as much as we can to help each other out as global citizens – as neighbors to everyone. As brothers and sisters of our own human race – we forget that we are all connected and that if one of us is suffering – it’s just too many. We take a lot in life for granted. We should be more generous. And, by we, yes, I mean ME too. I assure you that I am at the top of my own list.
You can hold hands and sing Kum-Ba-yah now. Please be sure to swing to and fro whilst you are singing. But really we can all do more. In my neighborhood in the U.S., I simply cannot imagine a scenario where a child would be left unattended. Really left alone. It is unfathomable. Not that it doesn’t happen in the U.S., I know children are unattended there – but it is just not so obvious. That doesn’t make it better – it’s just harder to ignore here.
It’s absolutely depressing because it is so impossible to ignore – to pretend it’s not happening – that these are children. And they are left unattended on the streets of a big city. Innocents who grow up way too fast. They eat out of trash cans and spend what little money they earn at the movie theater. They learn to be sneaky and how to swindle and how to run away all in the name of survival. They are clever, very clever, and it is criminal that their energy and talents are sucked dry just making it through the day. Finding ways to eat and avoid the repercussions of the trouble they can get into. And trying to avoid the evil that is out there. And it is out there, looking for these unattended children.
But it was also exciting. Really. The energy that these guides shared was wonderful. This Trust is swooping up kids and giving them real opportunities to succeed. And protection. And food. And hope. And a community. They are eating without stealing and learning to read and write. The Trust believes that education is the key to getting these kids off the street and everything they do is in furtherance of that. They are no longer completely unattended.
Here is a little bit of what we saw….
This is a make shift classroom. Street children can come here and eat and learn for a few hours everyday. They can also get a bath. They catch the water that is used to clean the trains and bathe with that. Unfortunately, I am not kidding. But a bath is better than no bath.
No matter how run down or shattered a village may be, there is still very much a sense of community and family. Thankfully, we don’t need much to care about one another. I am guessing this is a mother and a daughter.
These train was rolling down the track very slowly in between the children and the clotheslines and the huts.
These are some of the kids we saw that day…
Get it? Kid? I couldn’t resist. These kids live there too.
So, now what. Now you might feel like you aren’t doing enough. What can you do? Of course, the website offers an opportunity to donate. It mentions wire transfers. Yeah, I know, that makes me nervous too. But you can donate to the Salaam Baalak Trust thru Give India. The link for the Trust is here. If you are in Delhi, you can encourage others to go on the walk – raise awareness. If you are not from Delhi, I am sure there are children in need near you. They might even be in your neighborhood. And we can all just be a little more open to others who need our help – whether it is a parent or a friend or a teacher or a child.
Change does not always have to come in big sweeping movements – sometimes a simple kind gesture changes a life forever.