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Day 7: And God Created Street Smart!

We have officially arrived! Today was the inauguration of Street Smart at Rein Basera and it was a beautiful, personal, no-frill program attended by all friends and supporters of Street Smart, besides us and the kids, of course. We missed a lot of people associated with the project since they are not in town.

Shaila, Gudakesh and I were at Astley Hall at 9:30 a.m., while Neelu waited for us at the night shelter. Neelu had acquired permission to use the shelter many months prior to the launch of Street Smart.    We ate breakfast- very nutritious and very delicious khichdi that we served out of the boot of Shaila’s car. We were outside Orient cinema hall, where we had plenty of sunny space to beat the chill as the kids ate.

We sat around and chatted as kids came in intervals and were given khichdi so it was a mini form of picnic! A few pictures from this morning are here:

Later, we piled in Shaila’s car, my scooter and Gudakesh’s motorcycle to arrive at the shelter and once there, the kids washed their faces, hands and hair while the rest of us helped with the washing and with displaying the art work of the kids from the past week. I was not happy with the kids washing their hair with cold water (since the little kettle would not have been able to rise the task of hot water for so many kids!) and  had a sadistic pleasure of saying “I told you so” to the little brats as they squealed when their shampooed heads were thrust under the cold water from the taps!

Shaila’s car came handy as our mirror during the cleaning up and we finished up quickly using the following routine for each child:

Scrub Hands- Wash Face- Wipe hands and face dry- take off sweater or jacket- shampoo hair- rinse- squeal under cold tap water- dry hair with towel- put oil in hair- comb hair to exasperating lengths until I scream “enough”- check hair-do against Shaila’s car window, be dragged back to the wash-basin to clean nose- run to sit under the sun, before the TV.

Since the kids were starting to get fidgety, we got them started on painting while we waited for all our guests to arrive. The program started with Shaila talking to all guests about street children, the enormous task ahead of us, the plans and the ideas, and I remember thinking “Man, her oratory skills would give Obama a run for his money”. Powerful, no-nonsense words that I will try to get the transcripts of.

Especially worth highlighting: THE NO-FLINCH RULE (this will later be converted into a link when I have written the details of the said Rule, and this text in parenthesis too will go but for now all my sleepy fingers will allow me to type is that the No-Flinch Rule means you cannot take a step back when you see the reality of these children but continue to work with them with the same spirit and passion.

Friends and supporters of Street Smart gave forward to promise all support, resources and tools that we would need for our work and for that, we are immensely grateful. Resources are always a problem in any endeavor such as this but with the wonderful people supporting us, we can surge ahead to address the crucial issues that need immediate attention: nutrition and health.

We discussed and realized important points about our kids- that we are not here to merely educate them but to look at their situation from a bird’s eye view to include all problems that came in the way of them being able to access opportunities and amenities. These include family, community, society, their own health, habits, peer group, lifestyle and several others that must all be seen in totality to be able to help these children build their lives.

There is a enormous task ahead of us. It is going to be difficult and it is going to be complex. We don’t have most answers and we don’t, at this time even have all the questions. What we do have, however, is a great group of people working together and several starting points that will surely lead us to a greater understanding about our kids and their lives beyond Astley Hall.

The crucial issue that we must immediately address is nutrition and health of these kids. They are all addicted to tobacco, masala and solution. Sunita, our little lady has rashes all over her body and suffers from body pain. Her appetite is negligible and she is prone to shivering when she has not had access to solution or masala for a while. She is frighteningly frail. Others have bad throats, skin infections and a host of other problems that have not come to our notice yet. We have to begin working on this immediately while also developing creative but strong messages to tell them how their addictions are slowly rotting their bodies from within.

Our kids, as I have written earlier live on instant gratification. They do not care what will be, tomorrow or a week, month and year from now. They live only in the today. But another fact that I am very sure of is that the first step away from addiction will be to tell the children exactly what they are headed towards, in no soft words too. However, too scary a message and their brains will block the picture thereby rendering our efforts futile.

The Street Smart team will be meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, i.e. January 11 and we will discuss this and other matters in greater detail then.

PS- How could I  forget to mention that we sold a painting today too!!! The art work that the kids, especially Rajkumar had done and that we had put on display was liked by one of our guests immensely and it was sold off for rupees 600 (I need to check this figure and confirm). Shaila rightly decided to give half of this money to Rajkumar and it is a brilliant move since it made them all realize that art too is serious work and not just time-pass. Afterwards, the kids got into a frenzy to paint a beautiful sale-able painting!

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