About 15 of us gather at 10 am by the New Delhi train reservation office for the Salaam Walk. We are a medley group consisting of ex-pats, backpackers, locals, and a family. Our guide is Satender, a 19 year old former street kid who now leads these two hour walks around the city to share what his life used to be like. Right away, he clears up several misconceptions. #1. [Street kids need money for food.] Food is usually available for free at temples and especially during festivals. Instead, money is used for drugs, playing in the video arcade, or to go to a movie theatre (often to sleep). Whatever money is gained that day needs to be spent, as there is the risk of being robbed. #2. [Street kids are runaways.] Some do leave abusive homes, but others simply get lost in a crowd. There are also those who are attracted to the street life, living by survival and not having to go to school. #3. [Street kids are all from the same area.] We met kids at the shelter who were from Bangalore. After hopping on trains after trains without any destination, sometimes street kids will end up quite far from their home.
During our walk, we make several stops- to the recycling area where bringing kilos of empty PET bottles can earn cash; a small video arcade with two machines; and a day shelter where street kids can drop-in for games, TV, and health care. Our last stop is at an overnight shelter where we can spend time meeting the residents there (some as young as 8 years old) and hearing success stories of street kids reunited with their families or finding a job. Toward the end of our tour, Satender shares with us his own horrific life story. It's remarkable and inspiring that he changed his life and has big dreams ahead of him. With his easy smile and gentle manner, I am sure that Satender will make the most of his talents.