Last week saw Sue return to Kolkata, the “City of Joy”, in the final episode of her documentary series “The Ganges” – navigating the holy river from the highs of the Himalayas, through India and out into the Indian Ocean at the Bay of Bengal.
Sue previously visited Kolkata and The Hope Foundation two years ago for her first documentary on India. Sue met with Geeta and joined HOPE’s Night Watch team one evening where she was introduced to Rakhi, a ten year-old girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor and lived on the street with her dad and her sister, Rekha.
With filming of the documentary passing through Kolkata for “The Ganges”, it provided Sue with an opportunity to meet Rakhi again and see how she has developed with support from HOPE over the last two years.
As Sue is reunited with Rakhi, the narrative quickly switches focus from rather it being an uplifting reunion, to recognising that Rakhi’s joyful personality is not what it once was.
Delving a little deeper in conversation with Geeta afterwards, it becomes clear that Rakhi’s life has not yet evolved in a way Sue had envisaged, which hits hard.
We thought we’d use this piece to review and assess this situation, as often such interactions can pose many questions about how to build the best possible future for vulnerable children like Rakhi.
Firstly, it should be acknowledged and accepted that slum and street-connected children have the same rights as any other child. This year the UN was moved to add a General Comment to the rights of children to include those either living on the streets or in street-connected communities. One major element to take away from this was that street-connected children should be listened to and be respected, ensuring they are central in making decisions about their own future – and not taking such decisions away from them.
In the case of Rakhi, although HOPE is in a position to enrol her in a local boarding school, her wishes also need to be considered. Sue’s conversation with Rakhi shows that she doesn’t not want to attend boarding school, for fear of going there coupled with leaving her father on the street.
One could argue that a boarding school environment would almost certainly offer more physical comfort and remove a number of the challenges posed by living on the street, however it is evident that the potential emotional distress of leaving her father would be greater and therefore needs to be recognised.
With HOPE’s local Indian team working within such communities, full and constructive conversations can be held with vulnerable families about solutions to their situation. This ensures a holistic approach is taken to breaking the cycle of poverty – addressing the physiological needs of those living on streets or in slums as well as addressing emotional needs and developing mental capacities to cope living in such challenging environments.
We wish for all vulnerable children’s voices to be heard so that they can forge their own pathway out of poverty. HOPE aims to support children along this path through education, with healthcare and counselling services ensuring their well-being is not compromised when bringing children into protective care or enrolling into a long-term programme.
We believe that Sue’s experience this time in Kolkata may have acted as an eye-opener for many. We dearly wish that all children can retain their joy, energy and enthusiasm for learning and life as they grow up.
Unfortunately, the persistent challenges of the street environment means that many children remain vulnerable throughout their childhood, leaving it a long path to tread before we are sharing the success stories and reflecting on fairy-tale endings…