Amin ran away from home when he was just five. Today he owns a car rental company, has written a book, and wants to change the lives of street kids.
“Iwas a street kid. Like thousands of other kids who don’t have homes, I begged, I stole, I polished shoes. I did everything that came my way to get at least one meal a day,” says Amin Sheikh, a 32-year old man who now has his own travel company, has penned a book, and will soon start a café.
Amin’s childhood was miserable. At the tender age of five, he was working as a child labourer in a tea shop in Mumbai where he would often face grumpy customers who would mistreat him. Going back home after a long day of work was of no relief, as his stepfather would beat him up for petty reasons. One day, he broke two glasses at work and, scared to face the wrath of the shop owner followed by a beating at home, Amin decided to run away.
He is 35 now and is doing everything he can to ensure that other homeless kids don’t have to go through what he did.
So how did a homeless kid achieve all that Amin has? His is a story of passion and dedication that not only changed his own life but is changing the lives of other street children around him today.
Photo credit: Anne-laure boveron
After spending a few years in poverty, eating food out of garbage dumps, doing petty jobs, and sleeping on park benches, Amin was taken in by Snehasadan, an NGO for homeless children. He was eight years old at the time and spent the rest of his childhood and youth there.
Snehsadan educated him and helped him get a driver’s license. He then went off to work as a chauffeur and Man Friday to a close friend of Snehasadan’s, Eustace. Amin’s life changed after that. His honest hard work and dedication so impressed Eustace that the latter helped him set up his up his own car company called Sneha Travels.
Amin has penned down his story in a book called “Bombay/Mumbai Life is Life: I am Because of You”, which he self-published.
The book, he says, has been translated into seven languages, including Italian and Catalan, by people around the world who eventually became his friends. He says he has sold over 10,000 copies of the book and even has an e-book available for the readers.
Now a self-made entrepreneur, Amin has not forgotten his tough childhood on the streets. Since he wants to effect a change in the lives of other street children now, Amin is presently giving shape to a project called Bombay to Barcelona, which focuses on meeting the basic needs of street kids.
Why Barcelona? “Because that was the first city abroad I visited with my employer. I have a special connection with it and I have made some wonderful friends there,” he says. Ever since, he has been saving up his money and going on a trip once a year to Barcelona to visit his friends and interact with his volunteers there. “This time, I also took three of my (street) kids there. They were so excited,” he recalls.
But taking responsibility of the street kids was not easy, especially when he himself was struggling to make ends meet. This is when he came up with the idea of setting up a café which would not only help him earn some money to support his cause but would also double up as accommodation for the children.
Amin is now all geared up to start his dream café in Mumbai, called Bombay to Barcelona Library Café, for street children.
The profits, he says, will be used to help the young children get an education and also give them employment after they turn 18.
All the funds he raised from the sale of his book are being used to give shape to his ambitious project, he says.
Currently taking care of eight kids — four girls and four boys — Amin wants to provide them with a safe living environment and a good education. These children will stay in the cafe, those who are eligible to work will join him, and the rest will simultaneously complete their education.
“Being a street kid was my fate. But I didn’t want to be just that. I wanted to achieve a lot more in life. I have always tried to do my best to succeed and earn a reputation. I am still a street person but I am working to make life easier for other kids. I don’t want them to experience the same things that I did,” he says.
Amin has ambitious plans for his café. He would, for instance, like it to be a platform for young artists to showcase their art and/or conduct performances too.
“I want my shop to make a statement. I’m also concerned about the environment. My customers will enjoy their coffee and snacks, and their books from the library, in the midst of flowers and plants. There will also be a donation box for Snehasadan, because when the kids leave there, I don’t want them to go back on the street. They need support and help to start a new life,” he adds.
There will also be a special board at the coffee shop with contact details of street children turned professionals – carpenters and electricians, for instance, so his customers could give them employment opportunities.
Amin is now raising funds to give shape to his cafe. He is open to the idea of having a partnership. Amin also wants to start an NGO and all the profits that he will earn from his cafe will go to that NGO which will further support street kids to pursue their education.