Day 3 was eventful and showed the first, faint traces of a routine as the kids sat down to paint with us under the sun again. We were joined by a host of strangers today too and we realized that contrary to what the widely held belief about people being selfish and apathetic is, they do want to be part of something good.
I later wrote an article about this in the newspaper for which I work, which may be read here:
We discovered an artist among us today! (drum rolls) All hail Rajkumar, who displays incredible creativity and neatness in his paintings. Rajkumar is a very important part of our project since at 15, he is older than most other kids and therefore can influence them on our behalf to study and attend Street Smart regularly. He is also homeless and has a younger sister, Sunita to look after. He staunchly refused to visit the shelter and did not let his sister go there either. Among this bunch of kids, all of whom have super brains, Rajkumar is among the brightest and this fact added to his age is going to make it enormously difficult for us to engage him. However, watching (with considerable amazement, I might add) his natural talents with water-colours, I feel we just may be able to paint our way over to his side!
Today’s time at Street Smart made it clearer that we need to stay here at Astley Hall for a while so that we can get across to our kids, become part of their tight-knit group, make them understand that we are here to stay, and (this one’s the toughie!) get them used to the idea of us being in-charge!
The thing with Astley Hall is that to the kids, it is their place- known and secure. Secure, because they have lived and survived here for years now and have strong bonds with not just the physical space but with each other. Second, at Astley Hall the kids do not feel like they are committing some time away from their work and earning routine because they do not leave the place and are free to walk off when they please. This, we find makes them comfortable and they get right down to painting, as soon as we have finished lunch!
Speaking of, must mention here the good gentleman who runs a dhaba across from Astley Hall and who, along with his swan-tattoo-on-neck-son serve us over-priced platters of kadi-chawal and chola-chawal everyday. These guys are also our suppliers of samosas- our bribe to other kids and their mothers- who beg or work around Astley Hall but are not familiar with us yet.
The thing that we are learning is that lack of trust in us is not what makes it so difficult to work with street children. The children do not trust that they can be taught. It is important to understand the difference between the two. As people, we are liked by these kids. They shower immense love on us but what shows their comfort is the fact that they choose to take offence at small and different things but then come right back in a few minutes with the widest smile on their dirty, adorable faces! But do they believe we will be able to teach them or do anything to cut through the very strong walls that they have built around them? No.
As one of our guys- Gudakesh- rightly points out, there have been innumerable attempts by people to educate them, and the duration of these good-hearted but poor-willed initiatives last anything between one day and one year. And the kids have no reason to believe we are any different.
So the daily afternoon Street Smart art classes on Astley Hall’s pavement will be, we realize, a way of our laying the foundation and telling them that we are here and more importantly, we are not going anywhere!