Monday, November 30, 2009

AAA in Delhi - a positive story




Last Friday night, 27th November, we visited the AAA homeless shelter for men and boys in the heart of Delhi. It is an amazing place. We were all made feel very welcome – difficult to do when you feel like an intruder.

Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan is an organisation run by 34 year old Sanjay Kumar for homeless men and boys in Delhi. The city has a huge homeless problem, seen every day by us as we walk past men and women sleeping on the streets, under trees and very often in the centre isle of a road – anywhere they can lay their heads.
‘Triple A’ as it’s commonly known invited us to see one of their ten shelters that houses 400 pax in total. This includes 65 boys, all of whom have Sanjay as their legal guardian. There are currently approx 100,000 homeless in Delhi.

Across the city they can accommodate over 1000 men and boys in 15 shelters. They used to have one shelter for women, but that was torn down for development purposes. In addition, during the winter they put up many tents around the city in order to prevent people dying from the cold.

Sanjay gave up his well paid job as a government employee over 7 years ago and has achieved so much in the meantime. Through lobbying of the state and national government his tenants now have ID cards, a major achievement for the homeless, as it gives them the right to vote. He has even managed to get them ATM cards into which they can lodge their meagre earnings from driving rickshaws, carrying wedding procession lights, working on the many construction sites across Delhi in preparation for the Commonwealth Games next year.

The accommodation is very basic – a blanket on the floor, but they also have access to drinking water, a hot meal, a TV, a library and 24 hour medical care. All staff are volunteers and some of them were homeless once themselves. There is a menial charge for 12 hours in the shelter, 4 rupees for working men, 2 rupees for the older age group, but only if you can afford it.

The children get access to education every day and for them lights out is 10pm. So we were invited to see them first and received a great welcome. They were delighted to show us their books, in Hindi and English. They told us their names and ages and then asked us where we were from and why we were in India. Every time one of us said we were a volunteer we received a big round of applause. The biggest reception was for Evans from Kenya who told them he was is a football coach – in fact he’s an engineer.

A lot of the men were already in bed when we went into that section, but it was not as packed as it would be later that night. Sanjay was very proud to tell us that a lot of the residents were out working at the time. We met one man, aged 72, who had been there 7 years. He was very proud to show us his ID card and we were told it has allowed him vote in the last 2 elections, something he had never previously done due to lack of identity. It was wonderful to see the respect the younger men had for the older generation, always leaving them a particular section of the floor to sleep on no matter how crowded their own section may be.

A trip I’ll never forget.

If you’d like to learn more about this great organisation take a look at www.homelesspeople.in

Or www.actionaid.co.uk from whom they receive some sponsorship

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