Category Archives: street children

In Plain Sight but Invisible

Shelley with fellow volunteers Joanne and Kathleen, waiting on the train

Sitting on my backpack in the Rourkela railway station at ten o’clock p.m., I am waiting with my group of four other volunteers for our train. We hover around our amassed baggage, far more than the five of us need because many of the bags contain art supplies, games and treats for the children at the Miracle Foundation orphanage in Choudwar we are on our way to spend a week with.

From nowhere it seems, two boys suddenly appear beside us. They look about seven or eight years old and are alone. Silently they hold out their hands, then bring them to their mouths, then hold them out again in the universal language of begging. I am acutely aware of the mountain of belongings surrounding the five of us, the suitcases containing toys and treats for other children, the plastic bags of food and drinks for the overnight train journey at my feet.

There are millions of such children in India; waves of people step over and around them every day without ever really seeing them. Of all the vulnerable children they are the least hidden, in plain sight right out on the pavement or the train stations – yet they are perhaps the most invisible of all.

When brought face to face with them, it becomes almost impossible for me to ignore them, to say no. A struggle invariably begins inside my soul and no matter how many times the situation happens, that struggle never lessens and is never resolved. The truth of the matter is that giving money to these children will not have any significant impact on their lives beyond a few moments. It might even worsen their circumstances; many of these children turn the money directly over to parents or other adults who are either exploiting them or simply trying to stay a step above starvation. Reinforcing the tactic of children begging as a successful strategy merely continues the cycle. Activists and NGO workers will tell you over and over that if you really want to make a difference for children like this, or in fact anyone in desperate need, then supporting legitimate holistic programs that address the root issues and long-term solutions is the only way to make a lasting impact.

With railway kids in Mumbai, 2007

I agree with this. In my head, I know it is true. I donate thousands of dollars and volunteer hundreds of hours every year to NGOs that work with vulnerable children. It’s the reason I’m in India in the first place, volunteering in this orphanage. But in my heart it is another story every time I’m approached, every time children like these boys look up at me with their haunted or, even worse, vacant eyes. It’s so hard to look away, to wave them off, to pretend not to see them.

A few minutes later, the station alert sounds as our train approaches the platform. I grab my backpack and a team suitcase. But I can’t help it. Just before we start down the platform to where our car will board, I pull several candy bars and two bottles of soda from a plastic bag and set them on the ground. We begin to walk away and I look toward the boys. Amazingly, they do not grab the snacks and run. They just stand there, not taking their eyes off us. I look at the candy, then at the boys, and nod my head. Hesitantly the older one questions me with his eyes and looks at the pile on the floor for the first time. I nod again and like a shot, the boys quickly snatch it up and dart off at a blazing run.

After we board the train and find our seats, I stow my backpack under a side bench and sit down. Within moments, there is a knock on the window. I look out and the two boys are standing on the platform, now with several other boys. They’re all grinning from ear to ear. “One more, auntie!” they shout. I smile and wave at them, but the train is already pulling out of the station. As little as it seems, I’m glad we left the candy and I hope it makes them happy even if it is only for a moment. They stay with me long after I’m gone and I wonder how they ended up there, what their life is like, where they will be tomorrow.

Help Street Kids in India – Win Great Prizes

Today’s post is about a project currently underway by my friend and fellow writer, Mariellen Ward. She is currently raising funds for Deepalaya, a non-profit organization that has educated more than 44,000 underprivileged children from the slums of Delhi and surrounding rural areas. She is also trying to win a contest, through the charity fund-raising, that would allow her to travel in India.

Mariellen spends a lot of time in India, and loves it as I do. She has also done some amazing volunteer work there – read my story about her work at Art Refuge in northern India, with refugees from Tibet.

And even better – when you make a donation, you automatically go into a drawing for several fabulous prizes – including an autographed copy of my book, The Weight of Silence.

More about Mariellen’s contest is below:

I have spent more than a year traveling in India, and months living in Delhi. I love India, and I love Delhi. In fact, I think Delhi is one of the most under-rated cities of the world. It has incredible richness of culture, layers of history in the form of monuments, gentle foggy mornings and iridescent pink sunsets, a jungle of greenery, great food, a treasure trove of shopping … and children, living on the streets. You see them at traffic lights, skinny bodies, huge eyes, wearing shabby clothing, sometimes no clothing at all. They turn somersaults, cling to their mothers, sell toys, flowers and magazines. They sleep under bridges, on the railway platforms or in blue-tarp juggis.

The street kids of Delhi always tug at my heart strings, and I sometimes find myself dreaming of finding ways to help them. I dream of giving them proper food, clothing, health care and shelter, and of educating them and giving them a fighting chance to rise above their status and at least earn a living making handicrafts, driving an autorickshaw, selling chai … and who knows what else. There are stories of former street kids who, after earning an education, had successful careers, made money, and seriously challenged the stereotypes.

What would it feel like to know that you helped a child beat the odds? You can help by donating to the fundraising project for Deepalaya through The Intrepid Foundation before October 26, 2011.

It is estimated that Delhi alone has over 100,000 street children. Deepalaya started in 1979 to help these children for whom the street is their place of work and home. The sad reality for most of these children is a life of hard labour and work in environments that no child should  be exposed to, such as prostitution and drug trafficking.

Deepalaya social workers counsel these children and place them at the  Home for Boys in Deepalaya Gram in a village called Gusbethi, 60 kilometres from Delhi. Deepalaya has educated more than 44,000 underprivileged children from the slums of Delhi and rural areas in Haryana. At present the Home for Boys has 52 children staying there. The school in Gusbethi imparts formal schooling to the boys and children from the surrounding villages of Tayru. The school has more than 250 children.

Donate $10 to help street kids in Delhi

By October 26, 2011 I am hoping to raise $2,000 for the fundraising project for Deepalaya through The Intrepid Foundation. For every $10 you donate, I will enter your name into a draw. So, for example, if you donate $50, you get five ballots. I will put all ballots in a hat and draw randomly. But the more ballots you have in the hat, the more chances you have to win!

To read more about this fundraising project, please read my post Help the street kids of Delhi — and send me to India. And see below for more information about Intrepid Travel and Deepalaya.

Here’s where you can donate online. There are 17 prizes so you have a great chance of winning! Prizes include:

  • A stay at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto
  • A framed photography print
  • Two tickets to the musical Bharati
  • T-shirts, books and more – click here to see all the prizes!

If you have $10 to donate, I recommend Mariellen and this cause. Breathe, Dream, Go!

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