As I have shared at several instances before, the children at Street Smart come from three separate backgrounds and groups and until very recently, worked in their own separate areas within Astley Hall. Naina, our 11-year old stawlart who previously begged outside Mc Donalds here and adjoining shops has changed quite dramatically before our eyes in the short span of two months. Maybe it is the age she is at- pre-pubescent, with five or six brothers in her wake and a family that demands at least rupees 150 of her everyday, while the brothers have no pressure whatsoever to earn. Maybe it is the fact that she has nobody to talk to. She earlier had Sunita, who (if you recall) is the 7 year old orphan, living on the streets with her older brother Rajkumar. Sunita has been escaping to Haridwar and other places quite frequently now and we rarely see her at Astley Hall. So Naina is effectively alone now, with nobody to talk to. Her younger brothers, Adi and Bhola do stand by her but at home, she is again alone as the boys get treated like royalty while she is given hell for no apparent reasons.I took her to the doctor a few days back and that evening we got to talk a little bit. The little girl is very angry and very hurt. She said her folks treated her better until her little baby sister (still an infant) was born sometimes back. Now, no longer the “Laxmi” of her house (the girl child in the Hindu tradition is considered incarnation of the Goddess of wealth until she attains puberty) she feels abused, misunderstood and unloved- and all for good reasons, I would say.The all-female brigade from beyond the railway station, led by Tina, Meena and Ranjan are also treated as third-class citizens by the men in their family but since the girls are a very close-knit group until they return home, they have support from one-another. They stay together, each girl watches out for the others and are generally more secure in a group than Naina is, on her own. It is no wonder then that since the past week or ten days, Naina started talking like Tina and gang.
I don’t know if Street Smart made this interaction among the girls happen. I remember in the first week of our starting Street Smart, Naina would crib about how arrogant these girls are and how they “show attitude”. Over the two months, our little stalwart has started spending more time with the same girls. While she earlier wore jeans and trousers, she has now started dressing like the others in salwar kameez complete with their trademark jhola slung across her chest. The girls from near the railway station always wear salwar kameez and the older girls also cover their heads with shawls or dupattas.
No matter who or what caused this interaction among the separate groups, we do feel that Naina’s entry into the other group of girls is a positive thing in that she is safer with them than on her own. We have been targeting this group to train with us in bead-making and creating artificial jewelery, wind chimes and other things that will be sold through retail stores, so that the girls can earn money and be off the streets in a secure working environment. Hopefully, we can also get them to study for at least basic literacy while they work and earn. With Naina as part of this group, it will be easier for us to take her off the streets too.
Did I say easier? I mean less excruciatingly difficult than if she was on her own! It ain’t a 1000 miles of easy from any side, lemme tell you! Tina is the most difficult among the group to handle and she too has very legitimate reasons for running the hate campaign against us, as she is prone to doing on most days even as she is eating with us! As the oldest girl, she is the one who is beaten most at home if the money is not enough or if the men-folk find out that the girls have been painting and studying, rather than begging.
So it all comes down again to working with the families of these girls from beyond the railway station. If the parents OK the girls working with us, they will be more relaxed and without that even the girls who do want to be off the streets, cannot.