During the past few days, we had the opportunity to visit Udaan girls’ home, the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) boys’ home, the DUSIB (Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board) family shelter home and the mobile school, which are shelter homes that Salaam Balak Trust runs for street children. Usually, when a street child is received at the contact points, SBT tries to locate their parents across the country. It is no easy feat at all in a country with a vast population with limited government services. However, even when the parents/guardians are located, many of them are unable to provide the support and care which these children need, and thus are received by SBT’s shelter homes after negotiation.
There is a saying that runs, “A smile is the shortest distance between any two people”. It is true. At the beginning when we arrived at all the homes, we would exchange wide grins and friendly waves with one another, asking each other’s names in Hindi and play with them. It didn’t take that long for us to quickly bond with each other. Their overflowing confidence, eagerness to learn and enthusiasm to make us feel at home in their homes were heartwarming. At Udaan and DMRC, children would come to us and eagerly give us a tour of where they studied, played and lived. The boys at DMRC would peek around the door and wave at us with a bright smile, while the girls at Udaan would tell us about their favourite subjects in school, share with us their favourite games to play, and have even a little bit of affectionate teasing on who was the naughtiest little girl in the home!
Meanwhile at the DUSIB family shelter home, children from aged 5 to 15 would be provided with basic Math, English and Hindi lessons. Unlike the children from Udaan and DMRC, these children are with their families and SBT provides the family with support and shelter. While the parents/guardians worked outside during the day, the children would be provided with education at DUSIB. The children were working on their homework when we arrived, and showed us their notebooks. One little girl, *Anjali who was 10 years old shared with me that her family was forced to leave their village due to family conflicts, which was why they came to Delhi. Both Anjali and her parents believed in the power and value of education – she shared with me that one day, she wants to be a doctor so she could help others. Another girl shared with me her aspirations to become a teacher, so she could teach and inspire other street children. They exuded motivation and diligence to achieve their dreams. It was inspirational hearing their stories, and learning what really matters to them.
Finally, the mobile school, is a program where Santosh, a social worker from SBT, visits street children at their homes and provides them with nonformal education every evening. This would also include basic English, Hindi and Math. During the day, these children either work or go to school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. We had a cultural exchange that evening! We played football, danced to Indian songs and also showed them the Scottish highland fling and sang songs. They very much enjoyed taking pictures, especially selfies. The moment someone is spotted taking a picture or selfie, they all rush and squeeze in with pose and smile ready. As someone who is reserved and usually takes a long time to open up, I couldn’t help but feel connected instantly. Their smiles, warmth and happiness were so infectious. Being with them made me ponder about how we live life. Sometimes, we make life more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much – just the simple things in life leave a deep impression, and a heartfelt happiness that cannot easily be bought.
These first visits made me realise more about the different ways this partnership opportunity is a research and learning experience. I look forward to the coming weeks in learning more about the lives of SBT children, their world views and their aspirations.
*Name changed for confidentiality issues
Words by Loritta