On Friday morning we went on a tour in Old Delhi with a focus on street children in Delhi and the the work of the Salaam Baalak Trust, a Charity which aims to improve street children’s lives in India. Our guide, a young man called Tariq who used to be a street child in this part of Delhi himself, guided us through the streets and bazaars of Old Delhi and showed us two of the centres that the Salaam Baalak Trust runs. The first was a contact centre near the Railway Station. It is a centre where the trust invites street children to come and spend the day, have counselling and medical attention if needed. They also offer activities, celebrate festivals, offer some learning programs. On Fridays, like the day we visited, they allow the children to watch television. Our guide explained, that as many of the children are crazy about Bollywood movies, they love the opportunity to watch TV and have a break from their life in the streets. If children then show an interest in staying more permanently with the Salaam Baalak Trust and to receive a more formal education, then they can move into one of the trust’s shelter homes. We visited such a shelter home and got to spend some time with the young children in this home. Tariq explained that many of the children are run-aways, who have left their families because of abuse or poverty or parents who for various reasons had been unable to provide a happy home environment for them. These children often believe that if they come to Delhi, they will be better off on their own, or they dream of a life as Bollywood Stars and they believe they will find this in Delhi. In the reality of life in the streets, they find, that life on their own is much tougher than they expected and they are abused, exploited, and suffer many forms hardship. The Salaam Baalak trust encourages children and parents to be reunited if the children wish to do so. If not, it offers them protection, car, and an education. The Trust also works closely with Childline, a helpline for children in trouble.
Tariq, now 20 years old, told us his story as well. He had run away from home in the far north of India at the age of 9, because his father had beaten him. He believed that he could make a life in Delhi and travelled there by train, a journey which took 18 hours. He had stolen some money from his fathers wallet the night he ran away and thought he could maybe start a business in Delhi selling watches. He used all the money to buy watches and then tried to sell them in the streets. However as he had nowhere to go at night, he had to sleep outside and one morning, soon after, he woke up to find that all his watches had been stolen. He began to cry which attracted the attention of a policeman. When he told the police man what had happened, he was beaten by him, because the police man did not believe him. So he learned to distrust the police. He then found unpaid employment as a dishwasher in a small restaurant. The owner of the restaurant gave him food and a mat to sleep on, but refused to pay him. When he asked for payment, the owner threatened him that he would go to the police and report him. He then found that many of the other street children earn a little bit of money by sorting through rubbish and taking recyclable materials to recycle shops. They can earn about 100 to 200 rupees a day (1 to 2 Euro) by doing this. They often use the money to buy alcohol or drugs, which they take to stop feeling their pain. He was in this situation when he found out about the Salaam Baalak Trust’s contact centre. He loved to go there to watch television. He also received counselling and and eventually he declared that he really wanted to receive a proper education and so he was moved into a shelter home. He finished his Highschool and is currently studying for a tourism and business management degree via distance leaning. He and 2 of his peers at the Trust have applied for a scholarship offered by the Trust to spend one year studying in the US and his greatest hope is, that they will all be granted this. He is also getting on well with his parents and siblings now and hopes to be able to support his family in the future.
I found Tariq’s story very inspiring and how the work of the Salaam Baalak Trust has made a big difference in his life.