Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) was established in 1988 with the proceeds from Salaam Bombay! (1988, directed by Mira Nair), a much celebrated film of its time depicting the day-to-day lives of children eking it out on the streets of Bombay (Mumbai). Originally intended to rehabilitate the actual street children who appeared in the film, the NGO grew to provide support for street and working children in the inner cities of New Delhi and Mumbai, providing schooling, full care facilities for the young (up to 12 years), drop-in shelters for older children, healthcare, and counselling in HIV/AIDS and TB awareness. From a staff of three in its first year of operation to more than 100 full-time staff who now look after some 5,000 children a year through its shelters, contact points, and mobile classrooms, the journey of SBT is one of those heartening stories that tell us something of the spirit to live and to live with dignity.
In New Delhi, SBT started its operations with 25 children in the open-air balcony at the police station at New Delhi Railway Station, when three trustees, inspired by the film, started caring for them. Since 2007, SBT Delhi has been conducting the Salaam Baalak City Walk – New Delhi, a guided tour through Paharganj and the New Delhi Railway Station area. The guides are former street children from the trust. The walk aims to sensitise society about street life, street children, and related problems. During the walk, the guides share their personal story of survival with the participants, show them the contact points and shelter homes SBT provides, and help them become conscious of the turnaround possible in their lives when given an opportunity. All proceeds go directly to the trust to enable it to create more opportunities for street children. In 2009–2010, 407 walks were organised with the participation strength reaching over 2,000 people and Rs 1,002,940 earned thereby.
Today, SBT runs five 24-hour full-care shelters for children and five outreach contact points in Delhi, and a 24-hour toll-free helpline service catering to children in distress all over India. SBT’s latest home, Arushi, built exclusively for girls, threw open its doors in New Delhi in August 2008, and provides shelter to over 70 girls. The Arushi centre at Gurgaon, also opened in 2008, houses around 45 girls, aged between 5 and 18.
In Mumbai, SBT has centres in Kalyan (night shelter for boys), Sholapur (boarding school), Dongri (day centre), and Chowpatty (day resource centre). SBT has full-time tutors on its rolls, though the sheer number of children and their varying levels of education demand a lot of additional helping hands. That is why committed volunteers form an integral part of SBT’s programmes. It is constantly on the lookout for teachers and social workers to support as well as interact with the children.
Starting 1999, Family Health International (FHI), with funding from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), started working with SBT on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and to supply street children aged between 4 and 13 with food, medical aid, education, and essential supplies. SBT is also a project ‘H71 partner NGO’ of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with whom its runs its Kishalaya centre in Delhi and an awareness programme at YMCA, Mumbai. In 2006, SBT won the Civil Society Award from the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and UNAIDS.
The trust employs various schemes of educational intervention, both formal and non-formal. Wherever possible, the objective is to bring children into mainstream education. The trust engages with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), formal schools, non-formal education (NFE), and bridge courses. NIOS is a national scheme for open learning to which SBT was accredited in September 2000. SBT has developed syllabi for levels A, B, and C (equivalent to grades 3rd, 5th, and 8th) with the help of NIOS.
Non-formal education at SBT takes care of children’s individual educational needs. The primary goal of this programme is to motivate and prepare children to gain admission into formal school. Also, it imparts life skills to cope with their circumstances. NFE focuses on interactive learning through a participatory approach. A wide range of techniques are employed under the programme, including painting, games, storytelling, paper-mache, songs, quizzes, and bachhon ki adalat (children’s court).
SBT also provides bridge courses to those children who have suffered breaks in their formal education. The programme provides intensive coaching to such children, aiming to help them rejoin formal schooling.
SBT contact points (located at railway stations and crowded places) act as bases where new arrivals are met and are also used by working children as day-care centres that provide proper nutrition, clothing, medical aid, and recreational facilities. In their role as counselling centres, SBT contact points attempt to either repatriate runaway children to their families or rehabilitate them in full-care shelters run by the agency or by other appropriate NGOs. One important feature of the contact points is the peer education programme, whereby children who have a long association with SBT reach out to new arrivals, sharing their own stories and building trust. Since many children coming to the contact points have high-risk behaviour, these centres also seek to inform children about health and hygiene, substance abuse issues, HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment of STDs, and reproductive health.
Contact points in Delhi include General Reserve Police centre, New Delhi Railway Station; the New Delhi Railway Station platform; and Kishalaya at Hanuman Mandir. SBT also runs an outreach programme called Akanksha in slums neighbouring its area of operation. Established in 1993, the programme aims at preventing young residents of the area from becoming street children. A major component of the outreach is education, both formal and remedial. At present, over 80 boys and girls aged between 6 and 18 are educated under the programme. A critical value addition here is that SBT also helps empower the women of these areas in order to improve the overall quality of family life. Some of the interventions in this area include adult education, community development, and health and awareness programmes covering family planning, HIV/AIDS, and personal hygiene.
In the last twenty-two years, the trust has helped thousands of children come off the streets and settle into a nurturing environment. Throughout, the focus has been to address the entire area of child development, from physical and medical needs to educational, creative, cognitive, social, and vocational needs of children. Today, SBT children who have been trained in theatre, dance, and puppetry are giving performances all over the world.
As is rightly put across on the SBT website, with more than 200,000 children living on the streets of Mumbai and children arriving weekly at the doorsteps of the Salaam Baalak centers asking for assistance in some form, Salaam Baalak is as relevant today as it was in 1989.
SBT city walks
Salaam Baalak Trust’s guided city walks take place six days a week (Monday to Saturday), from 10 am. Duration is about two hours. To book your walk, telephone +91 9910099348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.