In one day in Delhi it is possible, and almost inevitable, to feel and experience a multitude of emotions. The first adventure of the day is always crawling through the noise-polluted traffic. The road signs indicate to stay in your lane, but it seems that Indians have figured out a more unique way to navigate the roads by honking and hoping that the oncoming traffic gets out of the way! Whether this be in a taxi or cycle rickshaw, Indian roads certainly test one’s nerves and danger tolerance.
The fear quickly turned to relief as we met our guide Noor on the relative safety of the streets. Noor works for the Salaam Baalak Trust Shelter Home, an organisation that provides shelter for children who have run away from their homes and families. The phenomenon of street kids is unfortunately not uncommon in India, as household abuse, poverty and lack of opportunities instils a need to escape. In 2011 Salaam Baalak Trust was honoured with the National Award for Child Welfare.
Noor, 24 years of age, left his home when he was 11, a victim of abuse from his father and brother. He courageously got on a train, and when he discovered its destination would be Delhi, that is where he decided to go. Luckily he was found by a member of Salaam Baalak and through their support successfully completed his secondary education and went on to study tourism management at a tertiary level. After hearing Noor’s story I was saddened that a young child would leave what should be the secure environment of a family, but then filled with optimism as Noor proudly recounted the achievements of the shelter home and clearly what he has been able to achieve via its support. It is encouraging to see social developments and programs within India that enables its people to help one another and seek a better future for its youth.
We went and visited the children currently using the facilities of the shelter, and were greeted with an unexpectedly enthusiastic chorus of Namaste. The language barrier was far from sufficient to stop the children from interacting with us, playing hand-clapping games and sharing with us their most simplest joys, yet what so effortlessly brought a beautiful smile to their faces. I tried to play a game with one of the children, but an older boy, using simple gestures, motioned that the child couldn’t speak nor hear. He gently brought the younger child over, and simply held him on his lap. Knowing the chaotic environment outside of the shelter, this peaceful moment reinforced how you can find compassion and gentleness amidst the harshness of the India’s dusty exterior.
Being in India has highlighted the importance of survival – whether on the roads, on the streets or in the market. Markets in India are a vibrant amalgamation of colour, smells and noise. Every item is “cheap just for you” and you quickly feel lost in the sea of goods that fill the narrow street as each vendor desperately tries to sell to you. Frustration and exasperation slaps you like the constant shoving of belts and watches in your face.
Writing this blog on the train to Amritsar after day 5 of our study tour, I finally get the chance to catch my breath whilst looking at the glorious burnt orange sunset. India guarantees a rollercoaster of emotions, and it is important to experience and be open-minded to its many facets, social struggles and cultural idiosyncrasies.
Melissa Liberatore, Melbourne