My book Skyfire, begins with the disappearance of street children which takes its protagonists on a riveting trail of mass destruction. While my book touches on their plight lightly in the hope of creating awareness, in reality, they face unimaginable hardships of which missing children are only the tip of the iceberg. While we may not have the power to make this change by ourselves or even overnight, we could begin a movement of small acts of benevolence that could start to make a change in their lives and the lives of their future generations.
How many times have we sat in an air-conditioned car and stopped at a red light, when a street child has approached us asking for money or a vada pav? Countless perhaps. What did we do then? Often we look the other way or open our purse and give them money. If we’re feeling very generous, we may stop at a food stall and buy them something to eat. While these gestures are thoughtful and kind, it’s only a short-term solution to their continuing struggle.
Nupur Shah, co-ordinator with Hamara Footpath (@hamarafootpath)–a community that works with street children in Mumbai to transform the streets into a learning space for its children–has shared with us 6 simple ways in which each of us could make meaningful and lasting change to the lives of India’s street children.
If you feel a genuine concern and drive to make a change, we recommend contacting a reputed NGO that works with street children in your area. Then get involved with them in any of the ways mentioned below that touches your heart the most.
- Give time and attention
Children living in poverty on the streets need positive human interaction more than money. When they come to your window and beg for money at signals, stop, and have a conversation with them instead. Ask them where they stay or where their family is, or, if they go to school. Schooling is the most important conversation we could have with them. They need to know that education is important for them and we need to drive this point home persistently. Until they begin question their own parents about why they are not being sent to school.
- Build Education Awareness
If they cannot go to school, take education to them on the streets itself. They don’t need classrooms they need knowledge and exposure. Doing simple informal activities like sitting and drawing with them, playing games or showing them tutorials on the laptop, can help encourage them to do better and desire a better life for themselves. The intent is to make them understand that there can be a better future for them, if, they study and work hard instead of giving in to taking alms like their parents.
- Organise Health Camps
Awareness and access to healthcare is the primary concern for children living on the streets. Opening their eyes to small things like washing hands before a meal, or not defecating in the open, can help improve their life on the streets. When it comes to access, government hospitals don’t make their lives any easier. What could help them immensely is helping to organise regular health check ups in their vicinity so they can learn to take better care of their health.
- Protect Maternal Health
The moment a girl on the streets is 14, she’s at the risk of getting pregnant. She lacks the knowledge and guidance on what to do when this happens. Older, married women have no knowledge about birth control and as a result they keep getting pregnant producing a domino effect of more mouths to feed and inadequate means to raise them. Health camps that focus on maternal health and teenagers could go a long way supporting them in their hour of need.
- Build Skills
Most street children are put to work soliciting money from the tender age of 8. By the time they are teenagers, they do not have enough willpower to seize opportunities that come their way which could allow them to break free from their adversity. They just cannot imagine a better future for themselves. If we could encourage their strengths through skill-building activities like dancing, art, sports or computer training, from a young age, this may help prepare them for a job as they grow older.
- Counsel them
Street children face a lot of hardships on the street, like abuse, bullying and negligence from a very young age. They need help to deal with it. If we could organise periodic counselling sessions for them, it may teach them to deal with these hardships and overcome the impact of these actions.
These are just some ways that we can help. We understand that each of these actions may come with their own challenges to execute. We hope that it won’t stop you. Reach out to organisations like Hamara Footpath (hamarafootpath.org) and together with them, we can find ways to make the lives of street children a little better and more promising.