| Governor Viren J. Shah at the inauguration of Asha Nayan. Picture by Aranya Sen
Asha Nayan, a new home for streetchildren on Linton Street, in Park Circus, was opened last Saturday by Governor Viren J. Shah. It has clean rooms with mattresses for the children, a sick bay and facilities for vocational guidance, training and counselling. It is a project of Don Bosco Ashalayam, an NGO that looks after 500 destitute children at its 19 homes on the outskirts of the city.
Ashalayam also offers services such as informal schools, emergency booths, healthcare and a toll-free Childline (dial 1098) to more than 2,000 children, for whom the street or the railway station is their only home. Social rehabilitation is provided through innovative educational programmes that encourage the children to work in a homely atmosphere and where they have the freedom of choice. Asha Nayan is the first multi-purpose centre for them in the heart of the city.
Unlike the children who live in railway stations, streetchildren seem to have a strong bonding with their hostile surroundings and if provided shelter elsewhere, often do not integrate with it. So, Asha Nayan was opened close to the areas where they live at their request.
Don Bosco Ashalayam opened in 1985 on the platforms of Howrah station, where hundreds of little children survived by begging, rag-picking, petty crimes and worse.
Whatever little they save is stolen. Often victimised by their seniors and even policemen, they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. What makes things more difficult is that they don't trust people who come from backgrounds better than theirs. In January 1986, the NGO opened in a Pilkhana slum of Howrah a street contact that became a night shelter. Eventually, it turned into a home in the true sense of the term.
The new home has two apartments for boys of the Park Street and Sudder Street areas who have been in Ashalayam for a long time.
The vocational training Ashalayam provides for residents is quite invaluable. Seventy-five boys and girls are being trained in several trades. Training is provided in candle-making, baking, plastic moulding, carpentry, vegetable-drying, radio and TV repairing, among others.
Its work in railway stations is also significant. The points of contact are Howrah, Sealdah, Burdwan, Kharagpur, Krishnagar and others. It has an assistance booth in Howrah station to help children in problematic situations. Ashalayam is part of the collaborative Childline, which receives emergency phone calls from children in distress. Perhaps what they do is a drop in the ocean. But it does raise hopes for the children who have nowhere to go, nowhere to run.