By Vidya Pradhan
When your car stops at a traffic light in India, invariably a swarm of street kids collects around it. Maybe you are an IT professional. Maybe you are a tourist. Either way, your pockets are jingling with change from your last meal or chai; change that is, for all practical purposes, useless to you.
It is so tempting to hand over that change to one of the raggedy street urchins. Maybe it will buy them their next meal, save them from having to hold their hand out for an hour or two. You get the warm glow that doing a good deed creates; they get a reprieve from their unhappy lives, even if it is for a short while.
What is wrong with this picture?
“The first impression people have,” says Navin Gulia, “is that these are kids from families who have migrated from poverty stricken suburbs and that begging on the streets is their first step to making a life for themselves in the city. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Navin Gulia knows something about helplessness. Paralyzed from the waist down after a freak accident, Navin could have chosen to fall back on the support of his family and live out his life as a dependent, thankful that the familial fabric is still strong in India. Instead, Navin turned his disability into a life-affirming force, modifying a car to suit his hands and conducting expeditions to the remotest places on the country.
His amazing talent and drive led him to raise funds through such expeditions for several organizations till one day the plight of street kids in his hometown of Delhi caught his attention. At first he started donating clothes and food out of his own pocket. Often he would give a sweater to a street kid, only to find the child shivering next day in the cold in the same old rags ( the more pathetic the child, the better its prospects).
“It is a terrible form of exploitation,” says Navin. He began to spend time with the kids, trying to coax some real information about their situation. He found that many of them earned Rs.250-300 a day, way more than their parents would have been able to make as day laborers. “It is easy money, and by contributing to it, you are perpetuating child abuse.”
"How have our children ended up as begging machines? Managed by an elder, these children are kept looking pathetic deliberately to increase their begging potential. If you want to help, give them something to eat, not your coins."
Navin does not discount the good that many NGOs do for the street kids. But he feels that the approach needs to change on a societal level to make a difference. “Some NGO’s try to teach the child a skill so that he or she does not need to beg, but why should a child have to work at all?” He wants to tackle to eradicate the problem by tackling it on two fronts.
One is to create awareness among the givers that their generosity, however well-meaning, is only exacerbating the problem. “I want to create a campaign that discourages people from donating to street kids.”
The second is to advocate for the rights of these kids and provide them with food and schooling. For the extreme cases like orphans and handicapped children, Navin has a dream of setting up a shelter which would be a safe haven for the kids and provide a place to organize activities for them.
This dream took the form of ADAA( Apni Duniya, Apna Ashiana) in December 2007. The fledgling organization is actively looking for rented housing in Delhi or contributions to make it possible. “Being relatively new, I am not in a position to accept foreign contributions so checks in Indian rupees is what ADAA accepts.” Without enough exposure and publicity, ADAA will not receive the requisite permissions from the government without having to pay a hefty bribe to the officials concerned.
Navin hopes that his efforts (and ADAA is largely run by him and his wonderful wife) will slowly bring fruit. Apart from his fundraising appeal, he also plans expeditions in the fall to generate the money for the proposed shelter.
Do check out ADAA and its activities at its website.