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Saving Street Kids

I’ve spent the last few days at our drop-in centre for working and street children. It’s an amazing place. Children are free to come and go as they please – take a shower, talk to counsellors, get a hot meal. Especially the hot meal! There’s a large recreation-cum-meeting room filled with light where they eat, read, play or talk to one another. The other room doubles as the kitchen, office and counselling centre. The centre is only a small apartment – but big things happen in there. For example, our staff decides whether a kid can be given a new Ger.

Ger is the local word for Yurt. Yurts are the famous round, mobile tented homes of Mongolia. Oddly, it’s almost the same word in India. “Ghar” means “house” in Hindi. Kids living on the streets can get a new Ger if their parents cannot afford one.

It helps to keep the family together and the kids to get a chance to go to school, lead a more settled life. There aren’t many donors want to provide Gers, so there are hard choices to be made.

Our staff must decide which kids are the most vulnerable. And which kids to say no to, till we can raise the funds to put them back on the list of beneficiaries.

I met Timuujin, 18, at the centre. That’s the same name the mighty Chinggis Khan had as a boy. Timuujin used to live on the streets where his biggest problem was how to conquer the cold. He slept in manholes, where it was warm, or broke into heated apartment buildings in Ulaan Baatar, to sleep in the stairwells. We helped reunite him with his mother and four brothers. We’re also helping him train for a construction job in the city. But every day is a struggle, with rising prices. Yet, Timuujin comes into the centre quite often, to counsel other street kids such as Batbold.

Batbold grew up on the streets. He knows where a free, hot meal is available and takes full advantage of it! He listened to Sunjee, our cousellor for a little bit through his meal, but didn’t say to much. When Timuujin talked, he was riveted! Timuujin had been a street kid, just like him, so he could tell it like it is. “Get a job cleaning cars” I heard him telling Batbold. “That way you can sleep at night instead of minding cars at the Irish Pub till the morning and also use the daytime to study. Plus, washing cars pays much better.” It took Batbold about a nanosecond to ask, “How can I get a job washing cars?”

I interviewed Odonchimeg, 41, with Oyut’s help, about the difficulties of bringing up her children alone. She said, “When I heard that my son had run away. I wanted to kill myself.” Oyut hesitated just a little before she interpreted that for me. Then, Odonchimeg began to cry, so we stopped the interview. Oyut was not sure what to do. Neither was I. Then, I knew. I just held her. Later, we all went out to lunch together, and I talked to Odonchimeg in sign language for a bit, because Oyut, I could see, really needed a break.

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