“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
These famous words by Nelson Mandela highlight the fundamental elements of our society that are more often than not severely compromised during the course of our insatiable pursuit of material development and advancement. Child poverty and exploitation can be eliminated if the social, economic and political will is translated into a cohesive and determined effort.
Through The Explorations Company’s philanthropic arm, travellers can support local charitable projects that make a real difference to communities as an integral part of their journey. One of our partners in India – the Salaam Baalak Trust – is a perfect example of an initiative that helps communities by supporting children who are suffering from poverty and exploitation. They create a sensitive and caring environment for street and working children of Delhi, so that they have access to safe and secure space, education, and health and nutrition.
Moved by her daughter’s award-winning film Salaam Bombay, which depicted the plight of the street children in Mumbai, Dr. Praveen Nair founded the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) in 1988 with her close friend Mr. Sanjoy Roy with a desire to make a difference to the lives of these underprivileged and mostly forgotten children.
India has the highest concentration of children living on the streets in the world. There are approximately 18 million children without shelter or care facing the risks of trafficking, child prostitution, and drug trafficking or begging for their exploiters. These children often suffer from malnutrition, have no formal education and no access to medical treatment.
Based on a 2018 report published by the Delhi Commission for Protection for Child Rights, Delhi has more than 70,000 homeless children living on its streets and of this number, more than 46,000 are aged between six and 14 years.
What began with a team of just three members, Salaam Baalak Trust has grown into a powerful force of more than 250 members. Over more than three decades, the organisation has successfully rescued and rehabilitated almost 10,000 children with a number of inspiring success stories of kids who have gone on to study at top universities in India and abroad, and many others who have built promising careers and are now helping others in need. It is truly remarkable what children are capable of achieving simply by having access to a safe and nurturing environment.
In New Delhi, Salaam Baalak Trust has seven residential care homes, providing full-time and short-stay shelter to children in need of care and protection. Here, everything from medical and personal hygiene, food and nutrition, basic education and skill development, as well as mental health related programs is provided for the children.
Most of the street children are exposed to violence, fear and anxiety in some form or another, especially the ones who are being exploited for economic gains. Their fear coupled with a false sense of stability by way of food, money and/or temporary shelter forces them to accept their harsh reality and it is not uncommon for some of the rescued kids to end up back on the street even after they have been rescued.
Therefore, one of the primary goals of the trust is to focus on creating a safety net and a support system that enable these children to discover life’s wider possibilities and use them to realise their full potential. Thanks to Mr. Sanjoy Roy’s background in creative and performing arts, the trust is committed to incorporating creative disciplines such as music, theatre, dance and photography to engage with and empower the children through non-intrusive and positive media, which has been hugely successful.
In addition, Salaam Baalak Trust is renowned for its innovative initiative that uses tourism to allow these vulnerable children an opportunity to engage with India’s educated urban youth and travellers from foreign countries. The children find it hugely motivating and are thrilled to learn about different cultures and societies, and use the opportunity to hone their English language skills.
You can support the Trust by taking part in a two-hour city walk during your holiday to India. The walk takes you through the areas of Paharganj and New Delhi station and is led by former street children. For travellers, it is a great opportunity to support a genuine cause and also to discover an area and a side of Delhi that is completely overlooked by the majority of tourists.
Although it isn’t the prettiest part of the city, it certainly is very interesting and you wouldn’t find a more authentic chance to get under the skin of Delhi and witness the local life. It’s like reading a chapter from Shantaram or being in a scene from Slumdog Millionnaire!
I went on the city walk last year and visited one of SBT’s care homes. Feeling curious, I asked one of the boys accompanying me, Rahul, how his life had changed after he was rescued by the trust. His simple yet eye-opening answer was that when he was living on the street, he was just focused on survival and did not have any long-term view in relation to his life. He now had a dream and hoped to become a flight attendant one day.
I was moved beyond words for most of us enjoying the more fortunate spectrum of the society take such basic emotions so lightly. Just to realise that something as elementary as thinking of the future was beyond imagination for some, especially for kids who are usually full of hope, creativity and vivid imagination, was truly poignant. The fact that the support system created by Salaam Baalak Trust had succeeded in creating a sense of hope and wellbeing in Rahul is in my view its greatest achievement.
The walk was very interesting, covering the inner city of Paharganj and the area around New Delhi railway station, exploring narrow streets, old mansions, small local temples and street side shops. More than the place, the walk is about the interesting stories and discovering local life through the eyes of a former street child.
I was so impressed by how engaging my guides were and how enthusiastic they were about sharing their fond memories with me and showcasing the best of their area. To be honest, I was quite apprehensive about the whole experience in the beginning, as I had expected it to be harsh and depressing, but the reality was a total contrast and I came back feeling genuinely hopeful, cheerful and encouraged.
Later on, I also visited one of SBT’s care homes and I was in for a real treat as some volunteers from a local college had organised a Bollywood evening for the kids. The atmosphere was ecstatic with all the kids singing, dancing and showing off their best impressions of famous movie stars. I was able to spend time with the staff and some of the children and learn more about the ongoing programmes at the centre.
Delhi is one of the primary gateways to India for international travellers and owing to its rich history, majestic Mughal as well as colonial architecture and buzzing art and culinary scenes, it is a must-visit destination for majority of travellers. I would highly recommend the city walk conducted by Salaam Baalak Trust to anyone interested in a genuinely off-the-beaten-track and meaningful local experience.
For those who wish to learn more about the trust’s ongoing activities, a visit to one of the care homes could be really interesting. However, this is only offered to those who are seriously interested in supporting the initiative so that the privacy and sanctity of the place are preserved:
As we all continue to recognise the benefits of conscious, sustainable and regenerative travel, much like the initiatives enabling us to offset our carbon footprint, it is equally important to support the efforts that reduce the human cost of modern living. Tourism provides convenient and innovative opportunities to make a tangible difference at grassroots level.
If you would like any more information about how you can support vulnerable communities as a part of your holiday, please do feel free to get in touch with me! I’d be delighted to discuss this further with you.
Images by kind courtesy of the Salaam Baalak Trust.