‘Reaching for the stars’ with the ‘Salaam Baalak Trust’ – Saving the street children in Delhi

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Today turns out to be a humbling day for me. I have met a new friend. I still feel a little ill, however I am fighting through it so I can join the Salaam Baalak Trust on a trip to the slums of Delhi. The level of poverty here shocks me, I think in truth it would shock anyone who sees it for the first time. The poor live in slums, there are millions of people, living on top of each other in a maze of broken down shelters. Many of the homes are walls with a slab of corrugated iron as a roof. How they survive in the heat, I will never understand. It has been a difficult day.

My new friend is Vishal, aged 18. He was rescued from life as a street child by the Salaam Baalak Trust and now, as well as studying, he works as a volunteer for the trust. His aim is to help more of the two million New Delhi street children to find a voice, hope, education, and better lives. His father died young due to alcohol abuse, and as a child, he slept rough in order to try and beg/scavenge money to support his mother and family.

Vishal and his colleagues have met me this morning and have taken me on an extremely informative, mentally, and visually challenging tour of some of the New Delhi slum areas and child refuges established and run by the Trust. I feel incredibly fortunate today to be meeting with some of the courageous and gorgeous children saved from street life. What stirs me the most is the positivity of everyone I meet, their smiles and their passion to aspire to better lives, to be off the streets and to take others with them, to be sure this was truly inspirational.
As I interact with some of the 6-8 year olds, keen to practice their English, I notice that one of the volunteers has painted a simple mural in order to brighten the shelter – a white rocket on a blue background with the words: Reach for the stars.

It jolts me, I can’t help but think of all the billions we spend building space stations, rockets, landing on the moon. Of course, I understand it is progression but what about sorting out our Earth first, what about making child destitution, poverty, prostitution, and trafficking a thing of the past?

Today has helped me to see my trip in a completely new light. I am here searching for my myself and happiness and trying to figure out what that means to me, yet I look around at these smiling faces and realize these children have almost nothing yet look at the aura they have surrounding them, they make the best of what they have. Perhaps this is something we all need to do, instead of being depressed when something is truly out of reach.

And some interesting facts:

  • 13,40,000 children below 5 die in a year, that is 3671 under 5 child deaths per day
  • Nearly half of all child deaths under 5 in India are attributed to undernutrition
  • 1 in every 11 children in India is working, when they should be at school
  • More than half (56%) of the under 5 deaths occur within the first 28 days of life, we work to prevent these lives
  • India accounts for more than 3 out of 10 stunted children in the world
  • 47% of the women in India are married when they are a child (before the age of 18), and 30% bear a child when they are a child (adolescent mothers)
  • 17.7 million children and adolescents are out of school in India, this is 14% of world’s population of children out of school
  • 20% of grade 2 children in India cannot recognize numbers 1-9; 53% of children drop out of school at elementary level
  • 49.5% of grade 5 children cannot do subtraction and 55% of grade 8 children cannot solve 3 digits by 1 digit division problem; 51.09% of grade 5 children cannot read grade 2 English and 25.4% children of grade 8 cannot read grade 2 text