The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Problem children, but let them live
- Paris organisation in Howrah to help rail platform kids script and shoot a film

Though it is highly unlikely that a French girl would ever be kidnapped in Howrah, and children who are compelled to live in the railway station would go to her rescue, it is the script that some streetchildren have written themselves and are also shooting the film with video cameras. To help them with this project, two film technicians have come down from Paris to Howrah, where Ashalayam, an organisation that helps streetchildren find their feet, is headquartered.

At the same time, an 11-member team from the Paris-based organisation, Sport sans Frontier, is here to train these children, interact with them and distribute used sport equipment after repairs. Some of the team members, of ages between 20 and 50, had, at some point in life, faced problems integrating with society or were school drop-outs and are now part of the organisation founded four years ago.

It helps poor French people by employing them, and develops sport in an educational way that helps them to be self-confident. The interaction of people of two different countries has been a culturally enriching experience, for they learn more closely about each other.

In Howrah for three weeks, together with the Indian boys, they have broken the walls of three rooms to turn them into a hall where they can have their meals and exercise. Similar interaction had been tried and tested a year-and-a-half ago at Ashalayam's home in Batanagar. That experience had in some ways transformed the lives of the visitors. On that occasion, however, they did not work in tandem with Indian children. This time, those who live in Howrah and Sealdah stations have formed a club named Asha Youth Club, so that they can work together with the foreigners. Those who head the club are themselves so problem-prone that bearing the organisational responsibilities is itself a new experience for them. President Sanjay Das, 17, teaches woodwork at Ashalayam, and Raju Sheikh, a club member, works in a nearby plastic goods factory. Talking about his debut as a film-maker, Raju says: “We ourselves chose the best shots.”

Magalie Thiolieri, a young woman who is part of the French team, and is being trained to organise shows, says the Indian children are very good in theatre.

Jacky Salmaggi, who joined the French organisation in February and acts in the film, says in France there are many homeless children from Romania. Although they have problems of their own, their Indian counterparts are a lot more vulnerable, disease and starvation being very real threats.

Serge Glissant and Catherine Gauthier are enabling the film, Let me live, to be shot. Glissant is director and Gauthier is scriptwriter and both will be here for four weeks. They belong to an organisation named A.C.E. that specialises in working with problem children. They say the Indian children may not have acquired professional finesse, “but they have sense of image”. Children in Paris are shooting another half of the film. The two halves will be integrated later. At year-end, the film will be screened at a festival of young people in Paris. Last year, they had made a similar film in Morocco and they plan to do so in Senegal again. But how does the experience help Third World kids' Glissant says: “If one gets conscious of what he is, it helps him survive.”

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