Red Fort, Agra.
When foreigners come to India the vast majority come to seek out the undeniable beauty, which can be found here. Many come to see the magnificent architectural heritage, such as this amazing pillared hall of audience at the Red Fort in Agra. Others come beauty of the nature and wildlife, hoping to see tigers, rhinos, lions, leopards or elephants in the wild. Others still come to revel in the spiritualism of a country which has given birth to at least four major world religions. Many expatriates such as myself come to live the dream of India's incredible economic boom, which produces new malls, cinema halls and designer stores on a daily basis. We seek out beauty, as we individually define it - there is something for everyone.
But there is another India, which I rarely deal with on this blog. It is the India of hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor, who see little of the extraordinary wealth which falls upon the middle and upper class. It is the India of those who have little education, little opportunity and no marketable skills. There is still extreme poverty here. After a while here, you almost stop noticing the people sleeping on the sidewalk as you drive home from parties late at night. The dirty children, which pulls at your clothes when you visit the market, become simply a small nuisance, rather than the earth shattering experience it should be. You simple become numb to the misery. You can't help everyone - not even close. So why even start?
Well, fortunately not everyone has accepted that attitude. There are people working tirelessly to improve conditions for those who are too weak to take care of themselves. This post is a tribute to them. I have visited various social projects before, and when Margrethe and her group of Danish managers came it was of course planned that they should be exposed not only to beautiful buildings, good restaurants and successful Indian corporations. They had to see the other side of the coin. So we visited an boys home run by the charitable organization Don Bosco. We had a chance to talk to the boys, see how they live and hear just a few of their still short but dramatic life stories.
Most of the boys have been rescued from train stations, where they typically arrive from their villages. It is important to get to them quickly, before they get approached by pimps, drug dealers are other sorts of lowlife keen to exploit them. There are also homes for girls, but the majority of children in such institutions are boys. This is not because girls are more fortunate in general, but because boys are much more likely to run away if conditions at home are bad. Some of the children are orphans, but a substantial number have parents, but are not able or willing to live with them, for instance because of an abusive father. Many of the kids are emotionally damaged by the time they are found by Don Bosco's rescue staff, so it often takes time for the boys to regain their trust in adults. Tragically, a few are so damaged that they cannot be reached. In that case it may be necessary to send them away, because the sparse resources have to be used where they are likely to make some difference. There are thousands of children in need of help and very few resources available.
The kids are living spartan lives. The dorms are filled to the brink. The picture above shows the big boy's dorm, where three boys share two beds. The picture below shows the small boy's dorm.
All boys have a busy schedule with school, homework time and chores, including cleaning and cooking. But these boys consider themselves the lucky ones. They know that - unlike so many kids left on the streets - if they apply themselves they have the chance of building a good future for themselves. Many of these kids do very well in school, and public schools, which were earlier reluctant to let these kids in, now happily take them in because they have a positive impact on the educational level. Many of these boys have gone on to get university educations and solid jobs. A few have even attained high paying jobs abroad.
My favourite picture from the visit is this one, where a few boys stand on the roof of their hostel looking out at the apartment buildings and malls shooting up in the area of Dwarka. I can imagine many boy shave been standing here through the years looking out at the busily developing world around them and wondering what place they would take in this world. For many their dreams have become reality due to the work of Don Bosco.
Should anyone be interested in contributing to the work of Don Bosco, please write me and I will be more than happy to establish contact.
Update 5/2: Today I was in contact with one of the local Don Bosco-leaders and he gave me their Internet-address. You can donate directly on the site if you please. I can vouch for the legitimacy of their operations. The money goes directly to the boys, and Don Bosco's project of building a whole village for street kids outside Delhi.