When 15-year-old Alex swapped the home comforts of Surrey for a trip to India, he realised how lucky he was. In his own words he tells of the people, stories and sights he encountered when he was introduced to Salaam Baalak Trust...
Imagine being a small child and getting on a train and you do not know where it's heading and you are on your own being left to fight for yourself. It is difficult to really picture it, but it does sound very harsh and unfair for whoever it is happening to, doesn't it?
Image: Alex, third from right, with his brother Will, parents, and SBT City Walk guides Anni, Ejaz and Junaid.
Today I am going to talk to you about Salaam Balaak Trust, an Indian charity that rescues homeless children who have arrived by train on their own into New Delhi railway station, their main base of operations.
Salaam Baalak is an Indian non-profit and non-governmental organisation that provides a sensitive and caring environment to street and working children in Delhi. The charity was created after the making of the film Salaam Bombay. From three staff members and 25 children on a balcony of a police station 30 years ago, the organisation has grown to 200 staff members and provides support for over 9,000 children across Delhi.
Every year, Salaam Baalak Trust rescues over 5,000 children who are in a vulnerable position. On average 200 of those children will have been rescued from a critical situation such as abuse, human trafficking and child labour.
"On my 5th birthday my grandmother put me on a train on my own"
I was lucky enough to have a tour with the charity round the deprived streets of Delhi and my guide, Aarav told me his story. This is what he said to me:
"I lived in a small village far from here where there was no police and no law. My father would beat my family on a regular basis and there was nothing anyone could do about it. On my 5th birthday my grandmother put me on a train on my own headed for somewhere away from here. The train stopped at Delhi central station and being only 5 I did not know what I should do. This was when a member of the charity spotted me and took me to the shelter. That was 13 years ago and I am now going off to university to study economics as a degree."
Another story was from Amit, an engineer who got to where he is now because of the charity.
Amit has a family in West Bengal. He was born in a family where education was not considered to be important. Amit's father wanted him to join their family business at a young age of 12 years. However, Amit didn't want to, so he ran away and arrived in Delhi where Salaam Baalak Trust supported his education to enable him to become an engineer.
Salim, another boy I spoke to, was at a very large festival with his parents when he got lost and his parents left without him. Salaam Baalak found him and he is now an actor hoping to be in a Bollywood film.
Many of the children would be homeless or dead
The charity gives children a chance at life by giving them somewhere to live and food to eat. They put the children through school and college so that they can thrive in later life. Without the charities help, many of the children would be homeless or even dead.
Over the years, Salaam Balaak Trust has helped over 81,000 children. The charity has had two children who have completed their engineering degrees and one boy who is currently pursuing engineering, three who have completed their Masters in Arts programme, nine who have won scholarships for advanced programmes to American Universities, 43 children in various graduation programmes sponsored by an Australian University, and many more who are pursuing their academic career in schools and colleges across India.
There are several ways that you can donate to the charity - for instance, my dad ran the London marathon and raised £2,000 to help the children with their education and living qualities. Other ways you can donate to the charity is by buying their merchandise or paying to go on a guided tour round the streets of Delhi. There is also the normal way of just donating money to the charity. Each and every one of these options will help a child to receive a better life.
Some of the money you donate goes towards funding an annual tour which consists of going on a small holiday for the children who have been affected the most by their experiences. For example, a group of 78 girls went to the mountains of Manali, several hours away from Delhi.
Image: taken by Alex on the streets of Delhi during the City Walk
People were cooking on the floor
My personal favourite is the walking tour as you get the chance to see Delhi for what it really is and not what it looks like from the surface. The tour consisted of meeting children who had been rescued by the charity and walking down narrow streets. The condition of the streets shocked the whole family as we walked past open sewers and toilets. People were cooking on the floor and the hygiene was some of the worst I had ever seen. It makes the worst places in the UK seem quite nice. On returning to the hotel, I really started to understand just how lucky I was and how much that I took for granted. The tour made a lasting impression on me.
Image: taken by Alex of the street conditions in Paharganj
To conclude, I believe that Salaam Baalak Trust is a vital part in many kids lives and without their help these kids will not do as well in their life and a few might still be in the same position as when they first arrived in Delhi.
Many thanks to Alex for sharing his story with us. We'd love to hear your experience of the City Walk, meeting SBT beneficiaries or volunteering so please email us if you'd like to be considered for the next newsletter.
If you have plans to be in Delhi soon, you can follow in Alex's footsteps by signing up to the SBT City Walk here.