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India: Delhi, Day 2

Wow what a day!! First off we visited the street children project in the centre of Delhi. The “business district” was a ramshackle, dirty, potholed area, and the Head office of Save the Children India was there, in a very inconspicuous building. It was in stark comparison to the UK London office!

The project was just along the street, a room in one of the commercial buildings. I was worried that I was going to be very emotional, even tearful, but the wonderful greeting we got from the children was fantastic, and you couldn’t do anything but smile. They so wanted to have their photos taken and were excited to see the images, shake our hands, say hello and meet us.  They came over as being cheerful and excited. We completely disrupted their lesson with our arrival.

It’s a safe haven for about 70 local children, on and off, some of whom weren’t there as they were in school. Shockingly, many families had been shipped out of the area for the duration of the commonwealth games, and families are only just returning. A real success of the project, is that they are giving children a basic education — enough to get them into a local private school. They provide them with a uniform and transport. The centre also provides all the visiting children with a meal twice a day, counselling and, of course, a safe haven off the streets. The children all get a monthly health check and Save the Children will get them medical attention if needed. The usual injuries they suffer from are cuts and infected sores picked up on the streets, but also in their role as rag pickers, collecting refuse and recyling from the tips. This is usually carried out very early in the morning to avoid attention. Apparently a kilo of bottle tops will fetch about 50 rupees (75p) (I must find out how many bottle tops are needed to make a kilo). Also, dog bites are a problem from the many local strays.

Save the Children has met a lot of local resistance to the project, because of the stigma street children bring, and the shop keepers were worried it might affect trade.

But the project has been so successful they hope to open a similar centre in a neighbouring shopping centre later this year.

This afternoon we visited a mobile health project in a slum; a mobile van caters for a whole slum district, complete with a female doctor, nurse and pharmacist, including a mobile X-ray machine. All provided free. They had a queue of people seeking attention. There were flies everywhere, and food in the open and being cooked and eaten next to waste dumps. We also saw our first cow!

The homes here were apparently better than in other areas, as it was a legal slum and families could erect permanent structures. All had a stand pipe with running water (not necessarily clean water), but no toilets. That waste is dumped in the open field.

We were mobbed by children as soon as we got out of the car, all wanting to be friendly and shake our hands, and wanting to see what we were doing and have their pictures taken. I felt a little like the pied piper or a celebrity, and it was difficult to step back and take it all in.

Further down the street, the local outreach worker was doing a talk on malaria to a group of mothers, educating them about how it is caught, the symptoms, prevention and the need for treatment. By educating the mothers, you educate the whole community.

There was a small boy wearing a black arm band, and the doctor told us this was a tradition — it was thought the band would ward off disease and, like a charm, would keep the child from getting ill. This sounds absurd to us, but they have to re-educate the mothers that the child actually needs immunisation and medicine if he becomes ill, the band will not do it! So Save the Children is not just fighting poverty, but also tradition. It needs to provide health care, but also education and sanitation. The problems seem overwhelming, but the clinic and outreach worker is simple, and very effective.

And although to us we can see the need and the benefits so clearly, even from such a short visit and small insight into their work, they meet resistance. The people need to trust the clinic, be reassured it is free and that it will benefit them and make them well. Local quacks, who charge for their services, spread rumours to the contrary.

Again the people were welcoming and the ladies wanted to give us henna tattoos on our palms, which they did, so we could be part of their festival, Karwa Chauth, which wishes for the long life for their husbands. You will notice there is no such male festival to wish the wives well!

I need to sleep. Its nearly midnight and I’m up at 4am to catch the train to Jaipur.

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