Kalpana, 12, a street child who stays under the Teen Haat Naka flyover in Mumbai, could have died of malaria last month had it not been for the help arranged by Signal Shala.
There are an estimated 37,059 children living on the brutal streets of Mumbai, reveals the first ever census of street children conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and voluntary organization Action Aid India. Besides being extremely poor they are vulnerable too – two out of five have witnessed physical, verbal or sexual abuse or forced starvation at some point in their lives. Despite the government’s Right to Education Act, nearly one out of every four kids in the school-going age remains illiterate.
One out of four of these street children also admitted to not having regular meals due to lack of money, illness, injury, or dependence on others.
Street children in India face even greater challenges because of lack of access to nutritious food, sanitation, and medical care. Many are dependent on leftovers from small restaurants or hotels, food stalls, or garbage bins. In a study of street children in Mumbai, 62.5% of the children obtained food from such places.
Lack of sanitation and hygiene due to extremely limited access to toilets and water also contributes to poor health. Approximately 26.4% of the children use the roadside or railway line for going to the toilet. For water, the children either beg restaurants and hotels to provide them with some, or use outdoor pipes and water taps.
Most of the street children also do not have access to medical care, which is especially detrimental during times of illness or injury.
The study of street children in Mumbai found that 34.9% had an injury and 18.9% had a fever in the past three months. Only about one-third of the children received any help with the illness or injury.
Kalpana is one of these children too.
Her father, Satish Pawar, came to Mumbai from Beed district in Maharashtra in the year 1997. He hoped to find work in the big city and build a better future for his family here. But little did he know that he’d have to survive with his family on the streets for years on end. Kalpana stays with her parents and four other siblings under the Teen Haat Signal flyover in Thane.
Until four months ago, all Kalpana did was sell flowers at the signal and think about how she would fill her stomach if she did not earn enough. But now she attends Signal Shala, India’s first registered Signal School meant for children living and working near traffic signals in Mumbai.
Thanks to this school, when Kalpana was down with a fever last month, she was taken to the hospital by volunteers working at Signal Shala. She was diagnosed with malaria and the school took care of all her medical requirements.
“Education is very important but how will these kids study if they are sick all the time? We have spent the first few months teaching them basic hygiene like taking a bath every day and washing hands before meals. These kids stay in the open, so most of the time they suffer due to the cold. They have various skin diseases that become chronic. Their immunity is very low as they hardly ever eat freshly cooked food. They either have leftovers from the nearby restaurants and hotels or just eat a vada pav and go to sleep,” says Aarti Parab, one of the teachers at Signal Shala.
Kalpana is fine now and loves to come to school every day.
She sells gajras (flower garlands) after school is over. But her little eyes are full of wonder and hope now. Since the day her teacher taught her about different modes of transport, her only dream is to fly an aeroplane. She wants to become a pilot when she grows up.
Please donate to Signal Shala so that every Kalpana gets medical and educational support to grow up happy and healthy. Donate to India’s first registered ‘Signal School’ today, and help Kalpana and 35 other kids living on Mumbai’s streets get a shot at a better life through education.
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Read about Signal Shala here: India’s First Signal School, Where Street Kids Study in a Shipment Container Under a Flyover!