Friday, December 15, 2006

India's Street Kids Find New Lives as Tour Guides - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

A neat and fantastic story from Der Spiegel's daily international news bulletin.
Children living on the streets of Delhi, the Indian capital, are trying their luck as tour guides. By giving Westerners a closer look at the life of street kids, they are also helping themselves to escape from an existence of crime and poverty.

The train station's iron cupola towers above the huts, houses and bazaars of Delhi's Paharganj neighborhood. Cloth dealers from southern India step off the trains -- families carrying suitcases and jute bags. Tourists from the Far East and from distant Europe throng to the exit like everyone else. In the midst of the crowd stands 20-year-old Shekhar Saini. He's slim, with parted hair slicked to the sides with gel. He talks about his second life. It began right here, by track number 12.

Eight years ago he came to Delhi. A freight train took him from his village of Kalyanpur to the Indian capital on a journey that lasted one day and one night. He had run away from home, fleeing his parents who were poor and unhappy that their second son was already playing cards and drinking at the age of 12. Saini hoped for greater freedom in the big city. That's why he closed the books on his first life. He had dreams of a movie career and a life free of cares. But instead of becoming a star, he became a petty criminal and a glue-sniffer. He was one of the many street children who were always to be seen around the train station in Paharganj -- and who can still be seen there today.

The men and women from the Salaam Baalak Trust led him out of that life. The charitable association was founded by Indian director Mira Nair, who achieved wealth and fame thanks to her film "Salaam Bombay," which tells the story of children living on the streets of India's cities.

The trust runs a hostel not far from the train station. There, Saini found a place to sleep, eat and learn. He also found a job as a tour guide: He gives people from Europe, Japan and the United States -- but also from India -- tours that give them a better idea of the kind of life he used to lead.

No comments: