I met Vishal during my recent trip to India. As a representative of The Salaam Baalak Trust — a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping homeless orphans and street children — Vishal had the job of guiding me through the twists and turns of Delhi’s back streets.
I contacted The Salaam Baalak Trust after seeing the movie, Lion. It tells the story of a young man who traces his roots back to India prior to being adopted and raised in Australia. I was planning to make a donation but was pleased to discover they ran tours. Booking was effortless via their online form.
Vishal greeted me with a welcoming grin. After I introduced myself, he was quick to state that he’ll get to his story later. First he wanted to know what I knew about India’s street children. I told him I had seen Lion and he nodded with a smile.
I learned that there are many reasons a child finds themselves living on the street: from poverty, abuse, getting lost (like in Lion) and even boredom. The buzz of the cities draws many children to run away from their villages. And it goes without saying, the street is not a safe place for any child.
Vishal then started to tell me more about The Salaam Baalak Trust. Despite offering such an important service, funding from the government is sadly limited. In Delhi they operate two main shelters. Here the children are provided with shelter, nutrition and education. I followed Vishal to the boys shelter. I was shown the eating, living and classroom areas while the sound of laughter and footsteps echoed through the three level building.
Eventually I was taken to meet the rest of Vishal’s team. The staff room walls were decorated with awards that The Salaam Baalak Trust had received — and even better: their success stories. There were photos of various young adults who, with The Salaam Baalak Trust’s support, had been successful in accomplishing their dreams — becoming engineers, actors, photographers and more. They may not have ever reconnected with their birth families, but they still grew up with the love and support they needed to realise their potential.
This is when Vishal finally told me his story. After finding himself on the street from a young age, he came into contact with The Salaam Baalak Trust. His life changed forever. He’s had the opportunity to get a formal education, learn multiple languages, meet people from all around the world, and change the future of other street children. His story is remarkable, but not unique. Some of the other staff members had similarly inspiring stories.
It’s too easy to pass through as a tourist. I’ve believe an important part of traveling is understanding what life is like for the locals; not just ticking off the main attractions. Street children are a part of India and the more people who know about this issue, the more that can help. So thank you Vishal and The Salaam Baalak Trust for a truly humbling and heartfelt experience. You do such important work — which you also describe perfectly on your website:
“We help nurture their dreams and make them realize that their fate can be crafted by their own heart, their own hands and a firm resolve.”