JK is a 12-years old street-connected girl who lives with her parents and 4 siblings in Kolkata, India. They all live in a temporary shack in the city’s New Market area, because renting a home would cost too much for the family. JK’s mom is a domestic helper, while her father is a daily wage worker. While JK’s parents work hard every day to make ends meet, she takes care of her siblings at home and also sells bags on the streets to support the family financially.
Lonely, mistreated and in pain: JK’s story
JK was born and raised on the street, but it was only after meeting with CINI Street Worker that she started talking about the mental and physical challenges that this life poses her. Thanks to regular street visits, JK became gradually more comfortable to tell her story to the Street Worker: it is a story of abuse, loneliness, mental and physical suffering. “Physically she was getting weak since she was not being treated for health issues and emotionally due to abuse and not being able to attend online classes made her feel worse.”
“Pedestrians walking by the streets often use abusive language or touch her inappropriately, which makes her feel bad about herself”, tells JK’s Street Worker.
Since JK’s parents were not around during the daytime, it was easier for other adults to abuse her physically and mentally. “Her dependency on street makes her situation more vulnerable as anyone can invade her privacy while she is taking bath in the open areas or touch her inappropriately while she is spending time on streets.”
Violence was not the only issue compromising JK’s health – Having to survive on street food, JK had developed stomach-related disorders over her life.
“Her parents were working so that they can survive each day and investing on health wasn’t a priority”. Although healthcare services are available for free to everyone in Kolkata through the Urban Primary Health Centres (UPHC), JK was not receiving treatment for her health issues. Her parents were not aware that a UPHC existed in their area, and without the possibility to pay for private care, they could not see any solution for addressing their child’s needs. Moreover, by spending most of her time alone, JK did not have any trusted adult to talk to, or fall back on, to ask for help or advice. “Since the child was left alone at home she didn’t have anyone to share her feelings with or if she is facing any problem, she didn’t have adequate information on how to address the issues”.
JK is in fourth grade and loves studying, but when CINI Street Worker engaged with her, the child was about to drop out of school. After her school closed during the lockdown last year and shifted to online teaching, JK could not attend classes anymore. “Both her parents go out to work and she looks after her siblings, due to poor economic conditions her parents cannot afford a smartphone and she was not able to attend an online class for this reason.” The situation took a toll on JK’s mental health, and she was on the verge of breaking down.
Re-building trust: the impact of Street Work in changing JK’s story
The child didn’t receive any support before the intervention of CINI Street Worker.
JK already knew CINI Street Worker and with regular street visits, they gradually became closer until the child began speaking about her issues. “The child saw that our street worker was trying to listen to her and would check on her frequently that trust and bond were established”, says Shrilekha.
The first, and main challenge, was to draw JK’s parents’ attention to the serious issues facing their child and find a sustainable solution that could positively impact the child’s life. As a first step, the Street Worker engaged with them to inform them on what was happening to their child while they were away and how this was affecting her mentally and physically.
The Street Worker informed the parents that JK needed urgent treatment and informed them of a UPHC in their area, where health services could be accessed free of cost. JK was immediately taken to the UPHC for a health check-up.
The parents also agreed to send JK to their relatives’ homes during the daytime, a safe place for the girl to stay while they were away.
Finally, the street worker persuaded JK’s mother to let her child continue education, making her realise the importance of it and the role it can play in taking them out of poverty. “Her mother was not convinced in a day but every day our street worker had put effort and finally she realized“. After a while, JK’s mother started regularly getting notes of online classes for her daughter from the child classmates. She also arranged a smartphone through a relative for JK to attend classes herself.
It took a few months to see a change in JK’s situation, but the impact of the Street Worker’s relationship with the child, which continues to date, endures. Today, JK does not spend time on the streets alone anymore, she continues her education, and her health issues are being taken care of.
CINI is a frontline organisation supporting street-connected children and young people in Kolkata since 1989 and has been StreetInvest’s partner since 2012. With StreetInvest’s support, CINI has been developing a local network of agencies and institutions to ensure the inclusion of street-connected children and young people in the government’s protection policy and programmes. In 2017, CINI formally became a member and Regional Coordinating Partner for Asia, of the Global Alliance for Street Work hosted by StreetInvest. CINI ensures the delivery of our Street Work programme at a local level through a network of adult Street Workers and Street Champions (children and young people trained to advocate for themselves and their peers).
CINI Most Recent Achievements
In 2019, StreetInvest and CINI, with funding from Wellcome Trust, embarked on a ground-breaking participatory research project, training and supporting 30 Street Champions to be researchers and advocates with a focus on improving access to health and wellbeing support among their peers. Read our new blog post (HYPERLINK) to know more about the participation of street-connected children as researchers for this project.
Over the past 6 months, and despite the challenges posed by the lockdown imposed by the government to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, CINI network of 23 trained street workers has supported more than 600 street-connected children across 5 different wards in Kolkata and has reached 355 new children.
In April this year, CINI has initiated with the support of StreetInvest a COVID-19 emergency response plan, distributing food and hygiene kits to 100 identified families across 5 wards. To date, 80 children per month have been reached by the programme.”