Upon arriving in Delhi, India, I was approached innumerable times by ragged-looking children begging for food and money or aggressively hawking items, even as I sat in the backseat of the rickshaw taxi.
I discovered an organization near the train station that shelters, clothes and educates many of them, the Salaam Baalak Trust. Like many similar NGOs, they’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of street children. It’s estimated that there are 300,000 children on the streets of Delhi living with their families and 50,000 on their own.
SBT offers a tour given by former street children who have been helped by the organization. It can be quite eye-opening for tourists who want to see beyond monuments to discover how so many of the children live. They tell of their experiences escaping poverty and abuse – the resilience exemplified by their stories is quite amazing.
Street children often work together in packs scavenging items near or on the trains to survive. Girls are more vulnerable than boys, often falling into prostitution. Many of the boys experience sexual abuse and drug addiction.
Anil, the 20-year-old guide, spoke of how fortunate he was to have found Salaam Baalak Trust. The organization was founded by Mira Nair, the director of The Namesake and an upcoming movie on Amelia Earhart. Twenty years ago, she attracted the attention of Hollywood while directing a movie about Indian street children called Salaam Bombay. It became a minor hit on the art house circuit and she used some of the proceeds to start Salaam Baalak Trust to provide aid to the homeless children who appeared in the movie.
The charity continues to provide needed aid and support to thousands of children left behind amid India's economic rise. We entered two classrooms filled with children of all ages. They loved the attention – many of them reached out to shake my hand and pose to have their pictures taken. I was left with a greater understanding of a societal issue that’s often swept under a rug and an appreciation for those who work so hard to provide solutions.