Team India

Posted on the 16th November 2012

Street Child World Cup founder and Amos Trust Director Chris Rose recently visited a street child project in Chennai, ambulance India. Now Karunalaya from Chennai are on the Road to Rio…

When the world conspires with you – a return to serendipity

I was lost in Chennai, doctor Tamil Nadu, capsule India. The person driving could not have been more helpful, but he didn’t know this part of town and he was trying to get directions from an answer-phone.

We were still hoping to get to an appointment at Karunalaya – a meeting that had been arranged online with a project no one knew anything about. At this point, I wasn’t even hoping this might be our SCWC India team (India has 1.5million NGOs so there is no shortage of choice), but I just wanted to ask about the issues facing street children in Chennai and India. I’d been up all the night before and, as we became more disoriented, I began to feel I was only doing this because I thought I ought to – and because I was too tired to think clearly.

Finally, we arrived at the project, where we were greeted with smiles and high fives by children playing volleyball. It all began to feel worthwhile and wonderfully familiar. Sheeba, the assistant director, was apologetic: ‘Paul is not here yet. He has been out all day running a cricket tournament for street working children from across Chennai.’

As she started to talk to me about the project’s work with children living and working on the streets, and with prostitutes, her enthusiasm shone through. Sheeba explained that 31 children were staying at the centre, but that the number rose and fell depending on whether there had been an influx of children at the railway station. I found myself getting more interested in the project. Then Paul told me more about their work: the area they had chosen was the city’s poorest and housed the main railway station, where street children gathered. They came either from local slums or had arrived on trains.

Over time, the project has worked with police at the station and set up a training system that allows early identification of these children, and an effective response to them. The project undertakes preventative work locally so that fewer children leave their homes. As a result, the large groups of street children have shrunk to a steady trickle of children, many of whom have befriended their outreach workers.

A qualified lawyer, Paul completed a PHD in responding to the abuse of children and now focuses on promoting sexual health and HIV awareness among sex workers. The project is grounded but under-resourced and needs the staff to clearly put themselves on the line for their work. After I had finished talking about SCWC, there was a moment of silence before Paul asked if I knew that he ran a national youth football tournament. ‘We can definitely get a team, identify a clear campaign and equip and support the children,’ he said. ‘We have very strong local contacts and Chennai is the home to two national papers.’

He finished by saying: ‘Sponsorship will be hard, but that’s OK. The really hard bit will be getting birth certificates, IDs and visas. That’s the challenge if these children are going to be able to take part.’

It was at that moment that I knew this was the project and that the world was again conspiring with us. In a county of 1.5 million NGOs, we had stumbled upon one in Chennai that not only ticks all our boxes but can influence and inspire us with its commitment, professionalism and creativity.

Serendipity was the word we had used on every occasion when a similar event had occurred in Durban in the run-up to the 2010 event. It might just be happening again.

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