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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!

India’s Railway Children

The next day I return from the heady world of the privileged India once again to how the other half lives. Gyan, a social worker with the NGO Oasis, meets me at my hotel to escort me to their Ashadeep project for railway children – kids of all ages who live at the railway stations, often begging or picking through trash for a living, with no families or real adult supervision of any kind, vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and abuse.

We take a taxi to the huge Victoria train terminal, where it seems millions of people have just got down from the train and are coming straight at us. For 10 minutes we are salmon swimming upstream against an endless flow of humanity until we reach the platform. From Victoria we travel about 20 minutes to the Kurla station, where the Ashadeep project is located. Exiting the platform, Gyan leads the way through an entire community that has sprung up around the station. I would never have known it was even there, but here are lanes and homes and shop stalls, and people cooking and washing their clothes and their babies, everyday life happening in this railway village.

After winding through a maze I’m sure I would never find my way back out of alone, Gyan knocks at a locked door and another Ashadeep worker lets us in. The tiny room is filled with nine boys, ranging in age from about 9 to 16, playing games on the floor with two other male workers. These boys all live at the Kurla railway station by night, sleeping on the platforms, sometimes mere feet from where the trains race by, or on the footpaths or under bridges.

Most are not from Mumbai, but are runaways from towns and villages as much as two or three days journey away, lured by Bollywood and dreams of making it big in Mumbai. It’s a familiar story for an American, where runaways end up in Hollywood or New York for the same reasons, also usually to be preyed upon. According to social work estimates, a child arriving alone at a railway station will be approached by a predator, maybe a factory representative seeking cheap child labor or a brothel owner, within 15 minutes. They know where the children can be found who won’t be missed.

I ask Gyan why it is only boys in the program. He tells me that the majority of railway kids are in fact boys, and this seems to be attributed to two reasons. One, boys are more likely than girls to actually run away from home and leave their villages. Second, for the girls who do arrive, Gyan says they are the first to disappear. The sex trade swallows up the girls immediately. Obviously, some kind of more immediate intervention needs to occur, because once any child is plucked away from the station they are almost always lost. For the girls whom Ashadeep workers do occasionally find in the stations, they refer to another NGO, Saathi, which has a program for girls. The organizations, as well as medical doctors and teachers, all work closely together.

Ashadeep offers the children who end up at Kurla, sleeping on the platforms and ragpicking for pocket money, food and a bath, clothing, medical care, recreations such as games and movies, and learning. Half an hour into my visit the games are put away and a math lesson begins. The boys grow serious as they carefully write out the numbers and do their sums.

Me & Gyan (to my left) with the
boys of Kurla Railway Station.

Ashadeep also offers a caseworker to the children, such as Gyan. The social workers spend much of each work day doing outreach in the train stations, searching for new children and befriending them in a nonthreatening manner, telling them about Ashadeep and the program it offers. They give the children food and offer them baths, clean clothes, and the chance to regularly participate in Ashadeep care. They try to protect the children as much as possible from the dangers of the station. When a child has been coming to Ashadeep regularly and wants to leave the railway life, Ashadeep will contact the family if the boy has one, to try and work with them if possible for reunification. Because many boys fled abusive homes or were forced to leave, this is not always possible. If not, Ashadeep will help him get into a group residential home, boarding school, or rehab center. Drug use, particularly glue sniffing, is a problem for many of these boys without a childhood who often yearn for an escape from the brutality of their lives.

In Hindi, Ashadeep means “Lamp of Hope” – and with an estimated 100,000 homeless children in Mumbai, that’s exactly what it is, at least to these boys at the Kurla railway station.

This post was featured on Global Voices Online – see it here!

PROFILE: Mohammed Rafik

Rafik is one of the rare local Ashadeep children, a Muslim boy with family in Mumbai. Some time ago Rafik suffered an accident or injury to both his hands – exactly what is not known. An infection set in and spread. Because his family is extremely poor and lacking money for a proper operation, rather than treat the injury with adequate medical treatment and surgery, both of Rafik’s hands were amputated.

Rafik lives sometimes at the Kurla station with the other boys, and sometimes with his family, who use his disability by making him beg on the streets. He comes into Ashadeep for food, bathing, and to play games and for education. Gyan says that Rafik is extremely smart and loves to learn; he voraciously eats up anything taught to him or that he can learn.

Rafik would be a perfect candidate for boarding school, if his family can be persuaded to give the permission for him to go. Gyan seems to feel this is unlikely, however, as it will be a loss of income from his begging for the family. “I tell these boys that as long as we are standing with them, no one can raise hands against them any longer,” Gyan says. But still, many are too afraid.

Rafik struggles to write

If you want to read more about Oasis or the Ashadeep Project, please click here to go to their website.