On a cold winter’s evening 30 years ago, Sanjoy Roy and Mrs Praveen Nair went to New Delhi railway station with some blankets to give to the children they knew would be sleeping there. They assumed the gifts would be welcomed, but no. “If we sleep under blankets, other people are more likely to abuse us.” On a later visit they brought some spare clothes. They too were rejected. “We have nowhere to put them. We wear the ones we have until they fall off.”
So began the realisation that there weren’t quick or easy solutions to street children’s problems. Social workers needed to engage with children to understand life from their perspective; that in turn required a safe space. The GRP contact point at the station was that space, where three staff began slowly to gain the trust of about 25 children.
Ms Praveen Nair, Chairperson and Trustee at Salaam Baalak Trust (pictured below) testifies: "It took us quite a while to break the ice with the boys... Sanjoy (Roy) and myself would scout the railway platforms every day, chat with the boys...however they had been cheated time and again, and we weren't the first to propose help...so they would laugh off our intentions but we never gave up....
Image: Mrs Nair at the 30th Anniversary celebrations
At that stage, neither Mrs Nair nor fellow Founder Trustee at Salaam Baalak Trust, Sanjoy Roy, could have imagined what Salaam Balaak Trust might look like 30 years on.
The contact point is still running, in the same place; still meeting traumatised new runaways; still working with the ones who have been there longer. In the last few years its staff have provided a friendly face with 900 to 1,000 new children a year.
In 2019, SBT now has over 200 staff, allowing them to reach out to more than 8,000 children a year. One contact point has grown to more than a dozen. There are six full-care shelter homes for children who can’t return to their families. As well as providing the mere basics: food, shelter, health care and education, there are flourishing programmes in sport and the arts, and a pioneering mental health programme.
The anniversary was marked in recent months with a short film, a book and rather a lot of cake! In celebration of the 30 successful years, inspiring young actors from all six children's homes came together to perform 'Street Dreams' a play drawn from real life experiences of street children. The musical extravaganza of Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi was performed by one of India's finest voices Shekhar Rajivani, also to mark the anniversary year, which followed a special performance by the Qutabi Brothers.
Looking back over the past three decades of supporting some of India's most vulnerable children, we are reminded of this comment from co-founder Sanjoy Roy; "These kids who come to us, come without any hope at all. They come with no future... I have always believed that if you have a platform for a child, any child, that child will realise his or her full potential."
An ethos that still shines through the in the work of the founders and staff today, as it did thirty years ago.
You can hear more from Sanjoy Roy about how Salaam Baalak Trust started and what the charity has become today in this video on YouTube.
As we move into the 31st year of Salaam Balaak Trust, find out how you can help.