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Salaam Baalak Trust - One story

INDIA | Sunday, 29 December 2013 | Views [2147] | Comments [2]

Of all the interactions I've had with children at Salaam Balaak Trust perhaps the most powerful has been with Raju, a young Polio sufferer. Raju was born sometime around 1990 on the streets around New Delhi. He developed Polio at a young age which caused his feet to become deformed. He is also mildly mentally impaired.

It is hard to know exactly how old Raju was when he contracted Polio but he remembers a time when he could walk and even run. He says his parents lived rough on the streets around New Delhi train station. His father was a rickshaw driver and in his early years he was taught to beg to bring money to the family. Anyone who has travelled on Indian trains will attest to the number of poor children begging or selling while the carriages wait on the platform. Raju was one of those disabled children dragging himself along the aisle of trains each day begging for change. Whether accidentally or by design he boarded a train south which saw him wind up on the streets of Karnataka; several thousand kilometres away from Delhi near the southern tip of the country. After some time he was located by social workers who took him off the streets and into Bangalore Boy’s home. Earlier this year he was transferred to Salaam Baalak Trust in Delhi in the hope that his parents could be located in the city.

Raju is now 14 years old, his parents have not been located and he is living at the temporary shelter home for street children that Salaam Baalak run in New Delhi. When I met him his feet were completely turned back on themselves, facing each other at an angle of around 45 degrees from the norm. As you can imagine he had a very difficult time moving freely but he was able to get around by putting weight on what should have been his heel but in effect functioned like the balls of his feet. Sometimes he would drag himself along the floor using the strength of this arms.

I'll admit I was shocked by his deformity. I had never seen this condition before and it took some time to see him as the same as the other boys and realize I didn’t have to treat him any differently because of his condition. As I got to spend more time with him I realised he was a lovely kid with a real spark about him.

The first time I really got to know him was in my second week at the Trust. I was working at the time with a group of older boys who aspired to attend university but I tried each day to put some time aside to visit the class of fifty or so younger residents of the shelter. That day I entered the room and said hi to the exubherant boys, shaking their hands and giving high fives, ‘how are yous’ and ‘Namastes’. I came to Raju and noticed he wasn’t his usual cheerful self. It seemed something had happened he was crying and angry. He began to hit his head against the locker… again and again. I spoke to him and calmed him down and gave him a bit of a hug which to my surprise worked. It seemed he had been getting picked on by another boy. Amongst the controlled chaos of the room I tracked down his hardworking teacher. Stern words were spoken.

It really dawned on me that day that Raju’s life must be very difficult indeed. Even more difficult than those other disadvantaged children who had grown up on the streets. Having an abnormality meant he sometimes couldn’t join in fully with the fifty or so other boys he lived with. And how would it ever get better, I thought. Raju’s life was going to be a battle. If he can't walk what future does this little man have, I wondered. Will he be institutionalised his whole life? Could he ever work or be independent? Will he return to the streets like so many other disabled people in India? It seemed a grim future and I resolved to speak to the senior staff about him and get some answers to my questions. In the meantime I decided to take time out everyday to visit him, to try to make him feel special while I was here and that's how our friendship started.

So I went to see him each day to play the clap games the boys here are so fond of, or just to chat. Even if he couldn't understand the words, he could really understand the meaning. Raju has a really bright smile and as the weeks went by it became a real pleasure to be able to see it light up his face each day.

One day I went to see the boys and spend time with Raju as usual, but something was wrong. He was nowhere to be found. I asked some of the boys where he was. They just said 'gone'. It turned he had been in hospital. When he returned one of the Trust’s social workers took me to visit him in the sick room. He was lying on the bed looking very small and fragile. Noticing his legs were in plaster I feared the worst. 'He had ...operation' the staff member said. I started to feel my heart pounding. I gathered after a while that he had had some treatment for his deformity. They told me there was a boy at the trust several years back who was treated with the same technique and he was now walking again.

I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. I didn't even realise treatment was possible. It was amazing to think this little boy is going to walk again, or perhaps for the first time. It will take a series of corrective procedures over the course of 8 months. Each week the ligaments, joint capsules, and tendons are stretched and his feet put in a cast to hold the change. Finally he will have surgery to put the feet back in their correct position. The staff are optimistic but even if he is never a dancer even basic functionality will allow him to work and possibly gain independence. I can’t tell you how grim his life would be without the intervention of the trust.

India is still some way behind with its care of the disabled. Often the only option for the disabled poor is begging on the streets. Raju would likely have ended up like so many others rolling around on a wheeled board asking strangers for help. Now his life is going to be completely changed. In the future there will need to be a decision on whether to educate him further or whether to train him in a vocational trade - like handicrafts. This will depend on his aptitude and what he wants. The staff note he very much enjoys art and is particularly and has a knack for making crafts like candles and pottery - both of which are sought after products in India. Salaam Baalak work with other organizations in Delhi that help to upskill poor people so that they can have a livlihood in vocational crafts. He could be sent there and trained. This could be a serious option for Raju and give him independence and a good living.

That is what charities like Salaam Baalak can do in India: effect people's lives in a profound way. The cost of this procedure is around 1000 Rupee ($20NZD) per week and over the course of treatment will run to 100,000 Rupee or at the present exchange rate around $2000 NZD. A substantial amount of money and a very large amount here but perhaps not a huge amount to change a life.

In terms of funding, Salaam Baalak receives just ten percent of its costs through local government financing. In many ways this is because the need is so great that public funds are stretched between a number of NGOs. Forty percent is received from international charities like Save the Children and Give to Asia. And the remaining fifty percent comes in through private and corporate donations.

The philosophy of the charity is that if they keep doing good things people will support them and the money needed will be raised. After 25 years of successfully helping the children of Delhi it seems their faith in the goodness of people is justified. Raju is a living example of their good work and a testament to their objective of doing the best for these children. If you are interested in finding out more about Salaam Baalak Trust and how you could support them please go to salaambaalaktrust.com for more information.


Tags: beggars, delhi, disability, disabled, education, india, street children, volunteering



This is really heart touching work that Salaam Baalak trust doing for street children in India. Thank you for sharing with us your real experience. It is really appreciating your work, your time with Raju and Salaam Baalak trust.

  Shahadutt Dec 30, 2013 4:01 PM


Thanks a lot Shahadutt, it was my pleasure.

  tjrossi Feb 15, 2014 8:27 AM

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