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In 14 Photos: The Dreams Of Street Children That No One Will Tell You About

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STC logoEditor’s Note: With #TheInvisibles, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save the Children India have joined hands to advocate for the rights of children in street situations in India. Share your stories of what you learned while interacting with street children, what authorities can do to ensure their rights are met, and how we can together fight child labour. Add a post today!

By Vicky Roy:

I ran away from home at a very young age. I had nowhere to go and landed up crying on a railway platform in New Delhi. It was then that my story really began. I befriended some ragpicker children and took up rag picking to make a meagre living. Back then, my life was just about trying to survive the harsh reality of making the railway tracks my home.

From there, I moved on to work at a small eatery, where work hours were inhumane and the pay negligible. It was some time before I found a home in Apna Ghar, run by the Salaam Baalak Trust. Life became easier there. I enrolled in school, but wasn’t great with studies. But I found a way – I developed a passion for photography.

Since then, I have grown and learned plenty, under the mentorship of a British photographer visiting the Trust – Dixie Benjamin. Today, I’m an award-winning, internationally renowned photographer. But the memories of living on the streets, trying to survive that harsh reality, stick with me.

I still spend a lot of time working on photographing children on the streets. My work with Save the Children India’s projects has brought me in close contact with several children who struggle with the same realities that I once struggled through. I completely relate to their difficult lives. I’m often reminded of my parents’ one-room home, where I would be squeezed in with them and my seven siblings, during these photo shoots.

I feel my work with them matters a lot. Children in street situations survive situations beyond imagination. But they have their aspirations and dreams too. What’s standing in their way? Let my photo stories tell you:

“I want to live with my parents, they love and support me, but I do want a better house to live in, and I will make that happen when I grow up.” – Nusrat*, 11, goes to school every day and is very motivated to bring herself out of her family’s current situation in a slum in Kolkata.
You’ve got to understand the trials and tribulations of the people in street situation, everyone on the street was the way they were because of some reason, the same as I was. I can’t punish myself for the things I did because I had no other option but to survive.” – Biswajeet, 17, lives in a shelter home in Sealdah. He ran away from home to escape being forced into child labour. Today, he’s studying so he can get into a good college and finish his higher studies.
“An identity gets you things, like school and a job. I don’t want to live on the street forever.” – Sarita*, lives on a dumping ground with her family. They were forced to move there after her grandmother lost their home to crippling financial debt.
“Living here next to this big dumping ground there are a lot of bad people in the community. The trash business is very big and controlled by many Gundas.” – Payal*, 17, lives with her family near a dumping ground. She’s missed out on a few years of education but is working hard with the support of her school so she can help change her family’s situation.
“People will trust me if I show them my identity card, that helps in so many ways.” – Vinod*, lives with his parents and spends his time roaming the streets, forced to engage in child labour. He has a passion for video games, but has unfortunately mixed with bad company and is possibly addicted to drugs.
“It would be nice to have a washroom here. I do not feel safe outside but I go everywhere either with dad or brother or my classmates, I am safe only when I am with them.” – Nalini*, lives with her family on the streets. She regularly attends school and takes tuitions on the side as well, so she can leave behind her current unsafe, unsanitary home.
“I like going to school, I just started, I like my studies and playing with people my age.” – Neha*, 8, only gets to attend school sometimes, even though she likes attending.
“Now my I-card will be made, it’s a badge that you hang. I will be able to go to college and everywhere.” – Vaishali*, 8, lives in a slum in Agra. She loves to eat cheese and play ‘ghar ghar’ with her friends, but she is unable to find children to play with in her community. So, she is forced to sit at home all day, doing nothing.
“They used to trouble me in school, but now I will have an identity with the ID card. You can get money for the books with that.” – Sneha*, 9, attends school. She loves to study and play with her friends, but in her community, young men drink and get violent, which scares her.
“My life is very bad. I would like to get out of this garbage and go to school and do something in life.” – Saleem*, 14, says he would love to go to school, but is unable to afford books. He spends his days working with his father, cleaning and mending shoes.
“I will go to school and get a job.” – Mukul*, is unsure of his age, but is getting an ID card, which states he’s 8 years old. Fairly weak and undernourished, Mukul nevertheless attends school and enjoys playing with his friends.
“There are people who do drugs under the flyover and I feel scared of them. Once there was a guy who seemed dead but we later found out he was drunk.” – Naresh*, 8, lives in a temporary home in a park with his mother and younger brother. He goes to an interim school run by the Salaam Baalak Trust, otherwise spends his time playing with children in the area.
“Even though I live on the street I want to go for higher studies and get a scholarship, with the ID card I can get help from the government.” – Arvind*, 12, lives in a temporary home with his grandmother and aunt. His greatest wish is to finish his schooling and have a successful career.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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