Malti is one of our many kids at Street Smart who regularly attends the program. She is always dressed in a salwar-kameez and arrives everyday with a sack of garbage slung over her shoulder. She dumps the sack near to where we sit in the park, picks up a slate with a sheet of paper over it, finds a pencil and starts writing. Everyday. She giggles loudly whenever somebody says something funny or even when two people get into an argument, and nabs me impatiently about 8 times daily to give her words to spell in Hindi or questions of addition and subtraction in Maths.Malti is about thirteen years old and is an orphan. She lives in Khurbura with an older sister and two younger brothers. Her older sister Shanti earns rupees 2000 a month working in a house as domestic help. The older among the brothers, Ganesh studies in class III and also takes tuition at rupees 100 a month. The youngest sibling Anil studies at Muskaan School near to where we are up to 12:30 p.m. after which he changes into his usual rags and sets out to collect garbage with Malti.Malti begins work at 10 in the morning and with her brother Anil, wrap up by 5 p.m. They sell what they collect for anything between rupees 100-150 and spend it all on rations- rice, pulses, vegetables, sugar, tea-leaves and milk- for the day and for next morning. Malti cooks dinner in the rented room where the siblings live (that costs them rupees 650 a month) and her sister Shanti, who returns from work at around 8:30 p.m. cooks the morning meal for the family.
Malti loves to study and is the only child at Street Smart who draws only for the last ten odd minutes, once she has had her fill of alphabets, spellings, words and numbers. She has studied up to class V and would love to study more but her daily wages as a rag-picker are what buy the rations to cook the meal everyday.
We are looking at ways to make it possible for Malti to return school and until then we will do everything possible to teach her within the two-hour span of Street Smart.
It is incredible to see children as young as Malti taking on so much responsibility on their little shoulders. Think of a 13 year old child from a regular, middle-class family. S/he is but a child who needs the care and attention of the elders in the family. At Street Smart, children as young as 7 or 8 are so wise and worldly that at times one forgets they are children.