I want to share a story with you that is close to my heart and which has made me view things here in a wholly different light.
Did you know the railway station raises children ? Not as we would expect from a mum and a dad but because there is no mum and no dad and there are children, hundreds of children, indeed thousands who find themselves taken in by this strange, rather large, frightening parent where they can live, if not thrive, barely eat and yet survive.
Children who come because of the thrill of riding one of these beasts into the unknown. God knows all our children have wanted that adventure. The difference is that ours return and these do not. Children who are brought here by impoverished parents, like Shahadutt whose father brought him to Delhi to work in an embroidery factory aged 6 and was then abandoned. Children who come to festivals and events and just lose the grip of a parent and end up in an unknown city seeking refuge in a place that is alive and going 24/7. Street children who have run away from abuse, and ill treatment and find solace in peer groups and companionship.These children number over 3000 a year. It is a staggering number of lost little ones.
The amazing thing is that the railway for all its noise,dirt, congestion and dangers is the place where these children come to find food and comfort. Food, I have found out, is never an issue. They eat the remnants off the train and the temples nearby will never turn them away. They make some money being chai wallahs and shoe shines boys or running errands but never more than they can spend because as one boy said - it just gets stolen. If they have a few rupees in their pocket they spend it watching a Bollywood movie.
There are drugs and there are gangs. There are pimps and there are young girls who are shamelessly abused and led into prostitution. The boys are hardier though not immune to the precariousness of their existence, sleeping in the eaves beneath the railway bridges and eating what scraps they can find.
Salaam Baalak trust which basically translates to "Salute a child" was started in 1988 and now runs three boys shelters and one girls shelter with hundreds of children that agree to abandon their ferous parent for another, an institution that promises education,sometimes a vocation, food and shelter and above all safety.
I went on a City Walk led by a former street child which is conducted in and around New Delhi Railway station where I was shown the contact points for the kids, where they live and sleep, where they get their supplies and where if they need to, they can access medical care. For me however the most moving part of this experience was meeting the little boys who are being held in the holding shelter a few roads in from the railway station. Boys of 5 to 15 with smiling, loving faces, waiting to hear the outcome of their lives. If they agree to come away from the station they are kept here where they are investigated to see whether they are able to find their families and return to them or whether that would not be suitable.
I have found their innocence and their acceptance of what life has dealt them heartbreaking. I hope to help whether it is to advertise the City walks - anyone can participate, just ring 9910099348 / 9873130383 and ask to go on one.
or to ask for sponsors of the children's education for rupees 28,500 per annum, less than £500 a year.
or to see what what some of the children have managed to achieve.
Log on to http://www.vickyroyphotography.com/ to find out about how Vicky rose from being a lost railway child to a celebrated photographer able to make his own living.
or to collect Lego which is my small hairbrained western idea of something to occupy idle hands
There are opportunities for volunteers and for materials like pens and paper, clothes and shampoos.
Whatever the Trust or any one of us can do for these children will be a fraction of what they deserve and can expect from life so please think about ways in which you can make a difference to these children today.
Finally there is an additional reason why I am writing today to encourage you living in Delhi to go to the Indian Habitat Centre The Visual Arts Gallery to see the Art Exhibition entitled Where the Streets have no Names curated by Dr Alka Pande with a string of well known artists who have teamed up with the children to produce some fabulous works of art. If you are in Delhi go along on the 29th and the 30th to see this wonderful collaboration.