Greetings from Surenpur on the banks of the Ganges. I'm in jute territory working with our main jute products supplier Mr Chatterjee. This is what I call real India, and probably one of the poorest area's we do business. It is a long way from the nearest five star hotel, so you don't get many NGO's here, or at least I have never seen any. But if ever a place needed help it's here.
The people are gentle and thoughtful, not in any sense pushy. I once was taken to meet the local chief of police, a muscular guy and a keen Manchester united fan, he told me that as areas go there was virtually no crime, and his biggest problem was crashes in the narrow streets. Other than that they often had problems with homeless children. A combination of high mortality amongst the poorer people and domestic fall outs often leave young children on the streets. He told me there were gangster types who tour rural areas offering money to "take care" of homeless children.
These unfortunates can end up in the big cities tapping on your taxi window begging for coin. He told me they take them to Mr and Mrs Kundo who look after about twenty five children in a small shack that had been donated by a local businessman. The police guy told me that the Kundo's were really good hearted people, and as honest and decent as they come. They give the children a sense of family and ensure they attend school.
That afternoon Mr Chatterjee and me went to see.. Mr Kundo was truly a kind hearted guy and the kids seemed clean and cared for. On first glance all seemed good, a nice location on the edge of town overlooking a tranquil lake. But on closer inspection the shack was barely standing, the only running water through the leaky roof, food cooked on an open fire and no toilet facilities. Washing and ablutions performed in the lake. All they asked for was the roof fixed up because in the monsoon, nowhere was dry.
Two years on and we have fixed the place up a bit. A complete new roof, a proper kitchen, shower and toilets. Running water was a challenge they said it couldn't be done, but Mr Chatterjee found a way.
There is lots more to do, next step is to employ an English teacher, the local school don't offer more than very rudimentary English. And spoken English is one of the best routes to a decent job in India..
The kids are always excited and delighted to see me, and now it is mandatory that the first job on arriving in town is to visit the children's home, shake hands, see how they are doing, inspect the latest works and take pictures.
This time I was interested in taking stock of the kids. There is a hardcore of about twenty children and always someone being repatriated with family and new ones, eyes still untrusting, learning to fit in.
I wanted to know just five things, their names, how old they were, how long they had been there, if they had a parent where they were and what they did and finally and most importantly I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I'll tell you why later.
Great excitement, there is a bit of jostling for position. Mr Kundo finds an exercise book and sitting on a stool by the lake we start taking stock.
If parents existed, they were in far off towns, all were from broken homes, parents jobs were the like of rickshaw puller or street vendors.
Ages from five to fourteen, they have been living in the shack between one week and seven years.
We have ten budding policemen, probably because of the kindly cops who rescued them and brought them here. Six prospective teachers (like Mr and Mrs Kundo), three army types, two engineers, two cricketers, an electrician and one doctor.
Not bad, not one kid wanted to be a rickshaw puller, and some excellent choice of careers. But now we have a stock figure of expectations and dreams. I wanted to know if anyone wanted to be a businessman like Mr Chatterjee, no-one had thought of that.. I'm feeling a bit put out :(
Next year, we will see if we can raise dreams and expectations, because as I always say; "If you don't have a dream how can you have a dream come true?".
If you want to help.. it's easy just stock some Freedom product lines.. see below.
Until next week.