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Back on their feet

Saathi rehabilitates destitute children and deals with the problems of trafficked and runaway youth

In 1986, Altaf Shaikh was volunteering for an NGO. At that time, few institutions dealt with street children; working for adolescents living on the streets was unheard of. The plight of street-dwellers used to concern him but it took him nine years to get other workers concerned about the issue together and set up Saathi (in Mumbai), which became a friend for teenagers living on streets and railway stations.

Saathi now runs a shelter for destitute girls and another for adolescent boys at the Agripada Municipal School (Mumbai Central). It also deals with problems faced by trafficked and runaway children. Since there are few social workers who concern themselves with homeless adolescents or those who are past the age of staying at juvenile centres, Saathi provides educational and professional training as well as counselling so that these youths can be independent after they leave the shelters. “When we started, there was little awareness about the issue,” says Arif Kapadia, acting project coordinator of Saathi’s youth initiative programme. “People found it difficult to believe that someone can actually think of rehabilitating these youths. Our team had no experience about how to deal with them. We learnt and, now, we are much better equipped.”

The initial years, Mr Kapadia says, were stressful. Street-dwelling youths or trafficked children are viewed negatively in India; they are considered anti-social elements. “Even the law and police view such youth with suspicion. People were not willing to commit financially or otherwise. Now awareness has built up, and we find it easier to convince authorities and donors about our cause,” says Mr Kapadia.

He says, few common people and government officials (including policemen) are aware of the rights of these children. “We still meet a lot of people who do not know about the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act,” Mr Kapadia says.

Saathi has several programmes—the youth initiative, vocational training programme ‘Kria’, therapeutic programmes which help these children bond with each other and become more confident socially and psychologically. They have trained volunteers and field staff, who identify children on railway platforms or on streets. “The railway police have helped us in a lot of cases by identifying these children. We provide them with shelter. Sometimes, when we identify runaway children, we try to reunite them with their families, but that is not always successful,” Mr Kapadia says.

Many teenagers identified and rehabilitated by Saathi are today more confident about themselves. For example, the field staff came in contact with Santosh alias ‘Mama’ at CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in August 2008. After repeated counselling, he got involved with Saathi’s activities. Finally, Mama decided to move out of the street and, since the past four months, he is living in Sion-Koliwada (central Mumbai) and working as a labourer with a firm at Fort (south Mumbai).

There are also teenagers like Raju, from Tardeo (central Mumbai), who was living with his family on the streets. They could not access facilities because they lacked identity proof. Raju now holds a ration card; 50 other families living in that area have also got their identity cards. Raju is now working to organise these families into a group so that they can avail of government schemes and facilities for the urban poor.

The staff and volunteers at Saathi have to undergo special training programmes for dealing with these adolescents. Sometimes, counsellors and professionals are invited for providing specialised training. “The runaway kids, whom we are in contact with, now work with us and help other runaway kids get home,” says Mr Kapadia.

One can join Saathi as a volunteer or offer one’s professional expertise. Money can be donated via cheque or demand draft. All donations are exempt under Sec 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.

SAATHI
Agripada Municipal School
Room G-4, Ground Floor
Opp YMCA Swimming Pool, Mumbai Central (E)
Mumbai 400 011
Tel: +91 (22) 2300 9117
www.saathi.org
[email protected]

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