When The Twains Meet

There is a deep chasm between the street children and children from affluent families. This is obvious to all. What might not be as obvious is the similarities between the two groups. This was brought out in an interactive session between the children of Ummeed – an ashram for homeless and street children near Gurgaon, and the students of Shriram School – an elite institution also in Gurgaon.

While the rich students were shocked and appalled at the stories of the street children, who came from extremely poor families, and had undergone several atrocities including sexual abuse, they were better able to understand the lot of these unfortunate children who they pass regularly on the streets outside their homes. At the same time, lives of the rich are not always enviable, and 5 days of being together brought out stories from the children from Shriram School as well that melted the hearts of the inmates of Ummeed Ashram. Harsh Mander writes more in The Hindu about this initiative and the noble thought behind it:

The purpose was to try to open a dialogue between children who were of exceptional affluence, and those who were the most deprived in the city, children who survive without adult protection on the mean and rough streets of the metropolis. We hoped that the conversations would lead to mutual understanding, empathy and maybe even — if nurtured over time — to friendships across vast chasms of class.

It was a humbling experience for the affluent kids to know that they could have very well been in the shoes of these poor children, and it was just a thin line of fate that separated the two.

A child was talking of how he lost his home and ended up on the streets. He was travelling with his parents in a crowded train when he was very young. He got off the compartment at a station, and the train left with his mother and father. He never found his parents again. For most of his childhood years, he grew up on railway platforms with other homeless children as his only family, earning his food through selling water bottles or picking rags, battling sexual abuse and police batons, seeking solace in drugs and the comradeship of his street friends.

A teenaged girl his age was listening intently to him. Her parents were wealthy, and she studied in one of the most privileged schools in Delhi’s capital region. She recounted, as the boy spoke of his life, that she also got lost once and was separated from her parents. She recalled her enormous fear and helplessness at that time.

However, soon similarities began to emerge, camaraderie was established, and friendships began to forge. And in the entire process, there were many lessons to be learnt all round.

The initial dialogues in small mixed groups of children were about their joys and hates; and their dreams. It took only a morning together for many of them to discover how much was common between them: they all loved cricket, films, songs, and were quickly debating their favourite cricketers and actors. They also discovered profound differences, but on unexpected lines. The Shriram children often included “studies” among their pet hates, but for the children of Ummeed, education was almost unanimously chosen as their most precious acquisition. Many boys were unlettered when they joined Ummeed a year ago, and they have studied hard and surprised most people by even qualifying recently for entry into a formal middle school. Reflecting together on this difference, the Shriram children recognised that they took education for granted as it came to them so easily, whereas for the Ummeed teenagers, it was invaluable precisely because they were always barred from it.

Sharing experiences, joys, sorrows, chores and moments of life brought the children of an elite school and a home for street children together. The hope is that the lessons learnt and the impressions made over five days carry on for the rest of their lives, benefiting both sections of the society in untold ways. We do wish for all schools to undertake such initiatives and bring their students into contact with the other half that is present every where, and yet invisible, so that they can learn to empathize at a young and receptive age.

Read more about the results of the interaction in the article here.
Image Courtesy: The Hindu

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