Contact points have always been the front line of SBT’s work with street children. They are places where, with the bare minimum of infrastructure – in some cases a roof and two or three walls, or in other cases just a space under a tree – social workers base themselves to reach out to a particular group of children at most risk. Covid and lockdown changed the nature of the front line. The GRP centre at New Delhi station, which normally connects with around 1,000 new arrivals a year, fell as quiet as the station itself when trains abruptly stopped. (Sadly, of course, this did not change the factors that used to force children to run away from their homes: far from it, the economic downturn will have increased problems of poverty and hunger).
Social workers at the Kishalaya centre, by contrast, which focuses on street-living children around Connaught Place, suddenly became providers of badly needed rations to the children and their families who remained on eerily deserted streets. The Delhi government was supportive and provided staff with curfew passes, allowing SBT’s outreach work to support almost 10,000 families with urgent food packages.
At all six of SBT’s residential shelter homes, children found themselves stuck inside. Some who would previously only have stayed for a few days or weeks were faced with longer uncertainty. Older children who would typically go out to school or sports training lost those opportunities; formal and higher education came to a halt in March, as did vocational training programmes. The seemingly good news that online education was being rolled out for school-aged children at the end of April was balanced with the extremely limited technology available in the shelter homes and the extra costs for internet connection.
With more than eight months of being home-bound, it’s no surprise that many of the residential children experienced psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, with 70% of them receiving support from SBT's mental health team. Group therapy and one-to-one counselling was also provided for the care staff who reported stress, fear and burnout amidst the pandemic.
As lockdown eased, things have begun to return to how they were - but with the huge extra challenge that a number of important income streams have dried up: the City Walk programme, and substantial levels of income from companies that has either shrunk because of the economy plunged into recession, or has been diverted from earlier CSR schemes to the fight against Covid.
The challenges for Salaam Baalak Trust continue to evolve alongside the pandemic and we accept it's impossible to acurately forecast what 2021 will bring for the charity and the children they care for. At Friends of SBT we'll continue doing all we can to support them financially, and in person once more when it's safe to do so. You can help too by making a donation here.