Imagining the life of homeless children and actually knowing it, are entirely different things and to make us understand this difference we, a group of nine students, were invited to New Delhi Railway Station on the 17th of March by The Tehelka Foundation. They had actually planned a ‘CITY WALK’ and the orientation of an NGO named SALAM BALAK TRUST.
We reached the station at about ten in the morning as were instructed. There we saw John, the social worker from England, & Gauri maam waiting for us along with reporters from CNN IBN and three boys who were later going to be our tour guides. Our meeting started with an introduction. They introduced themselves as Javed, Shekhar and Satnam but it took me in a bit of surprise as the introduction came to me in perfect English.
And then the much awaited city walk started about which none of us had much idea. Actually the city walk was a tour through the station making us familiar with the life of children living on the station. These are the children who run away from their homes in small towns and villages and eventually land up leading there life on the station. The reasons for their running away from home are varied from family problems, to the search of the glamourous city life or to simply fulfill their dreams.
Salaam Baalak Trust protects these children from the life which they live on the railway station and helps them to lead a settled life. They provide these children with basic amenities like food, shelter, clothing and education and also work towards the developmentb of their overall personality. Our tour guides were similar children who were rescued and brought to Salaam Baalak Trust's shelter homes.
We were first taken to the area where trains were parked. We were told that children often come and spend nights in the stationery trains. A little walk on that platform we were shown people from Salaam Baalak Trust training street children to take care of themselves i.e. eat clean food, bathe and follow a hygienic life. This shelter based at the station's platform called "Prerna Centre".
We then moved on to platform no. 1, where all the luxury trains arrived. We were told that this platform was supposed to be kept ‘extra’ clean by the railway authorities.This is where all the VIP trains arrived, hence it had to be free from any of these street kids. Often the Railway Police authorities would use physical force to keep these kids off the platform.
We then made way onto a foot over bridge to change platforms from where we were showed the area where the trains were washed. We were informed that children living on the station often took bath there and went to watch films wearing cheap new clothes. On getting onto the platform Shekhar showed us sheds above the platform and told us that children climb up these sheds and play card games. Just then Satnam interrupted to share the unfortunate event where a kid had fallen onto the train tracks form one of the sheds.
Moving on, javed told us how a lot of these children join gangs with gang leaders and specified there gang areas. These gangs, in there gang areas, are involved in thefts, pick pocketing and collecting empty bottles and cans from trains to sell it to shopkeepers. He also shared a bitter experience of him being stabbed by a boy of a gang because he entered their gang area.
After this, we proceeded to a shelter just outside the station and above the railway police office. Here we met newly rescued children being taught by volunteers. We introduced ourselves to some of those children and played a lido game with them and made some friends.
After spending some time with them, we bid them bye. Later all of us hired ‘rickshaws’ and went to Salaam Baalak Trusts main shelter home called "Apna Ghar".
There were some children studying, some playing and some using a computer. All of us introduced ourselves to the children there. We played with them and learnt about their daily routine. Later in the day, some of the children performed a skit for us before we called the day off.
I happy to tell you all, that day i made many friends namely: javed, shekhar, satnam, sudhir, prince and sachin. I also realized that these children had a very strong determination abut what they are going to do in life.
Our day was full of excitement and adventure which showed the various lights of life to us, thanks to THE TEHELKA FOUNDATION
- By Rohit Gupta
New Era Public School, New Delhi