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Small hands, huge help

The street children, who have been helped by Nesakkaram, in turn, identify others like themselves and draw them into the NGO's fold.

NESAKKARAM STRETCHES out its hands to street children. But the hands are not always big, muscled and calloused. Sometimes they are slender and small and belong to street children who have already felt the loving embrace of the organisation.

Some of the street children who have benefited from Nesakkaram, are made leaders and entrusted with the mission of ridding society of street children. The little leaders identify and bring street children into the organisation. They talk to the children and their parents, trying to drive home their point that school is the best place for a child.

"Nesakkaram has 21 centres for street children across the city. Here, they are provided non-formal education and vocational training. In each of these centres functions a Children's Club. The leaders are selected from these clubs," says Martin, coordinator, training, Nesakkaram."The organisation was registered as SEEDS (Street Elfins Education and Development Society). That's its official name. But the children named it Nesakkaram. And the name has stuck," laughs Martin.

Last week, at a two-day cultural fete-cum-leadership training programme organised for these little leaders, at the Holy Angels Higher Secondary School in T. Nagar, some of them shared their experiences.

"I had to drop out of school when I was in class III. I attended a 10-day camp organised by Nesakkaram. Volunteers of Nesakkaram urged my parents to put me in a school. They provided money for books. Now I am graduating to class X. They have now helped me get admission into a different school. They have also paid for my fees and books," says Saradha. "I, in turn, do my best to ensure that many street children like myself get the assistance that I was lucky to receive. I talk to street children and bring them to the evening classes conducted at my centre. I also explain to the parents of such children the importance of education."

She concludes with a flourish: "I am what I am because of Nesakkaram. Earlier, I used to be shy and retiring. Now I have the confidence to face people and go out alone."

"I ran away from my home when I was 10 years old," says Mohan. Asked why, he explains,

"I wanted to study, but my parents wanted me to work."

"I am now in class IX, thanks to Nesakkaram. The organisation has sent me to a number of cultural programmes. It has helped me join many self-development courses, too. For instance, I am attending a dance course at the Salesian Institute of Graphic Arts (SIGA). I am also training in street theatre under Suresh Dharma of Black Theatre."

Mohan says that Fr. Jesu, who founded the organisation, arranges vacation tours for runaway children like himself.

"Other kids have parents who take them out. Since we are alone, Nesakkaram arranges tours for us. Forty-five of us will soon be going on a trip to Bangalore, he says excitedly.

"There is a facility called CHILDLINK. By dialling 1098, the public can inform us about street children they come across," says Mohan. For a second you think a grown-up is talking to you.

At the end of the interactive session it was evident that if self-assurance and confidence were leadership qualities, then these children had them in abundance.

The city's street children are indeed in able hands. Little, but very able hands.

PRINCE FREDERICK

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