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
sensitize 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 organized
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.

Education
intervention
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.

Contact
points
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
salaamwalk@yahoo.com.