It’s hard to believe when you watch the children playing and interacting with each other with such ease, what atrocities they have not only seen, but also lived through. In saying that, the eyes are the windows to the soul there are definite flashes of deep pain that those big beautiful smiles cannot hide.

It would be meaningful first to have an understanding of the origin of Life on the Streets before we read about individual children’s lives.

Children find themselves on the streets for many reasons. With the deterioration of traditional Joint Family culture in India, when the parents die, children of an urban Nuclear Family are left alone to fend for themselves. Natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods and droughts are three major disasters in India that produce orphans and destitute children on a regular and continuous basis. In rural settings, often the relatives become responsible for their upbringing after their parents die, however, poverty and scarcity of resources begin to take its toll and the abuse and/or exploitation begins. When it becomes unbearable, children run away. For all of these children, the streets become their permanent home – these are the children OF the streets.

There is another category of Street Children in India – children ON the streets and a large percentage, almost 90% falls within it: the children of slum dwellers. These are the poor families that live in small, dark, dingy apartments and work as daily wagers. While the parents are away their children make the streets their playground and then they start making money by begging. While the children of the second category have a home and sleep in close comfort and protection of their loving parents, the children belonging to the first category have to live on railway platforms, under broken bridges or deserted train carriages. Their struggle for survival is often coupled with problems such as rape, prostitution and physical molestation at the hands of police, vendors, railway staff etc…They are vulnerable in many ways and often fall into the hands of adults or older street children who exploit them by forcing them into prostitution, drug trafficking, pick pocketing and petty theft.

These are just a few of the children’s stories!

Sangita was barely five years old when she was found living under the steps of a famous temple in Jaipur. During the day she begged for sweets from vendors, devotees and tourists to feed herself. At night her life changed dramatically. The “babas”, rickshaw pullers and other beggars in the vicinity were regularly sexually abusing her. Under the guise of protecting her these men taught her to “play” sex with them. Being five years old and living on the street, she soon learned how to use the sex game as a means to survive. Sangita has now lived at Udayan for 8 years and although she has grown to learn what is right and wrong, she is still learning to trust.

Sohan was four years old when he was found living alone in the woods around Udayan. With Jackals and other animals in the area it’s amazing that a child of four could survive in the woods. His mother had died and his father is a drunkard that would beat him when he asked for food. He decided to run away. Sohan claims his uncle killed his mother. She was beaten and thrown down a well in front of him. The uncle’s story and the “official” story speak of suicide. When Sohan first came to live at the village his dream was to become a “Goonda” (meaning villain) so that he could kill his uncle. Now he wants to become a plice officer so that he can put men like his uncle in prison. This is the life mission of Sohan who is now nine.

Maheshi is fifteen and lived with his parents in Ajmer. His father died and he had to leave school to help the family survive by farming and working with cattle. One day he heard a scream in the field and went to look. He found a man molesting a young girl. The man turned around, captured Maheshi and threatened to kill him. Protecting himself he struck the man and the man died instantly. The relatives of the dead man burned Maheshi’s family home to the ground and forced his mother to leave the village. Maheshi was then charged with raping the young girl.

To read more about the children on the streets Click Here to purchase 18 Million Question Marks, The Street Children of India.

CHILDREN AT VATSALYA’S UDAYAN

The children at Udayan have worked hard to turn their lives around. They are achieving good results at school and developing skills in leadership, taking responsibility and building positive relationships. These children now have a loving, caring environment at Vatsalya’s Udayan – where they can be children, where there is the opportunity to dream and to aspire to living a fulfilling life.

Anmol (Star of Udayan)…”I am humbled by this award and am grateful but I think I really do not deserve it. There have been moments when I have been disrespectful to my elders, have not been able to perform my duties well. Last time I got this award, I was simply excited to receive it and never thought whether or not I actually deserved it. But, seems my values make me question these things now. Having received it, I will do more to come up to the expectations of my elders and that of my own. I dream of becoming an honest, able and hardworking administrator of Udayan help everyone in this noble work….”The other children and staff shared that they found Anmol dependable, obedient, dutiful, keen leaner, mature, priceless, and inspiring. She was also ‘advised’ by one of the children to ‘express her resentments as spontaneously as she does it for positive feelings’!

Devashish (Rising Star of Udayan)…”I think I am given this award because I have worked hard to leave behind my past, developed a positive attitude towards life and now I stand right next to others who were much ahead of me 3-4 years ago. I am obedient, respect my elders and have been able to control my anger considerably. When I complete my studies, I want to be a good teacher and help little children learn everything about the world. I am happy to get this award, but, please don’t mind if I say I did not need it. I have my goal in front of me and to be able to pursue is enough for me…” Children find Devashish a very good friend, trustworthy and understanding.

Mukesh (Academic Star of Udayan) ….”I am happy to get this award. Some years back, when I was not listed for any award, I was very heartbroken. I was angry with myself and wowed to change it. Awards are important for me; they encourage and inspire me….” Mukesh, who is in Grade 12th and is preparing for entrance exam of government administrative services, questioned the system of deciding awards in Udayan! He said there was not a good mechanism to select good performers. Coming from a person like Mukesh, no one questioned his question. And so there was an instant decision to appoint one “Award Committee” to undertake the responsibility in future. Though sounds like a bureaucratic management strategy to bypass troubled areas, you can trust our children to get the best out if it…:)

I will include a few others briefly- Prasanna and Parveen were chosen as dedicated trainees who make beautiful thread jewellery and dresses; Sonia was recognised for her leadership abilities (we are told even staff members are confronted by her if found to be slacking in their duties!); andAryan was chosen to be the best sportsperson. Aryan also offered to take on the responsibility of training children of Udayan in different sports as we do not have a Sports Instructor currently. Aryan wants to join armed forces and is working towards it.