Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

How street chil­dren are cash­ing in on their dreams of a brighter fu­ture thanks to an award-win­ning bank run by their peers.

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Deepak Kumar stands in an or­derly line at a kiosk in the busy Fateh­puri area near the Old Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion, In­dia. In­side, a teenager is busy jot­ting down num­bers in a large log­book.

Deepak, 16, clutches his sav­ings book in one hand and chats with the boy in front of him. “How much did you make to­day?’’ he asks.

“Just 50 ru­pees [Dh3],’’ says his friend, a rag picker who is also 16. “And you?’’

“Eighty ru­pees,’’ replies Deepak, who col­lects re­cy­clable trash from dumps and sells it to scrap deal­ers.

When he reaches the front of the queue, Deepak hands over his sav­ings book and money to the boy be­hind the counter, who metic­u­lously notes down the amount in the book, puts the money in a me­tal box, up­dates the book and re­turns it.

Deepak smiles as he looks at the bal­ance: a healthy Rs5,000. His dream of buy­ing a cam­era seems to be within reach now. “Once I am old enough to take up a proper job, I want to be a news pho­tog­ra­pher,’’ he says. “For that I need to prac­tise with a rea­son­ably good cam­era.’’

Deepak is one of more than 1,200 street chil­dren who main­tain a sav­ings ac­count in the Old Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion branch of the Chil­dren’s De­vel­op­ment Khaz­ana (CDK) – a bank op­er­ated and used only by chil­dren. It was de­vel­oped in 2001 by a char­ity called But­ter­flies, which works to help street chil­dren in Delhi.

Work­ing on es­tab­lished bank­ing and co­op­er­a­tive prin­ci­ples, CDK em­pow­ers kids from the street. It is man­aged and staffed by chil­dren, who are su­per­vised by vol­un­teers of But­ter­flies. An award-win­ning ini­tia­tive – CDK re­ceived the Global De­vel­op­ment Net­work Ja­panese Award for the Most In­no­va­tive De­vel­op­ment Pro­ject in 2006 – the bank has branches across In­dia, in states in­clud­ing Ma­ha­rash­tra, Tamil Nadu, Ker­ala, West Ben­gal and Bi­har.

“The bank’s ob­jec­tive is to utilise street chil­dren’s skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to help them gain more con­trol over their own fu­tures,’’ says Ra­jni, 28, co­or­di­na­tor of CDK.

Chil­dren earn around 5 per cent in­ter­est on money de­posited, while ado­les­cent cus­tomers are pro­vided with loans at rea­son­able rates of in­ter­est for start­ing small busi­nesses.

So pop­u­lar has the model be­come, it now boasts 120 branches across Asia in­clud­ing in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and has 14,068 street chil­dren (5,760 girls and 8,308 boys) as its mem­bers, all of whom are also its stake­hold­ers. There are more than 120 child vol­un­teer man­agers and tell­ers who help to col­lect the money and main­tain books at the var­i­ous branches in In­dia alone.

“The bank aims to pro­vide chil­dren with

lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and teaches them how to save money in a safe and sim­ple way,’’ says Ra­jni. “It’s owned and man­aged by chil­dren, who are pro­vided with train­ing by vol­un­teer ex­perts on money man­age­ment. Also, talks by busi­ness­men on how to plan busi­ness en­ter­prises are given reg­u­larly.”

While ac­cu­rate fig­ures are dif­fi­cult to come by in In­dia, a 2011 Unicef re­port said the num­ber of child work­ers in the coun­try could be as high as 28 mil­lion.

Last year the In­dian govern­ment banned the em­ploy­ment of chil­dren un­der the age of 14. Hir­ing a child is now a pun­ish­able of­fence, with up to two years in prison, a fine of Rs50,000 or both. How­ever, there are thou­sands of chil­dren

Chil­dren earn around 5 per cent in­ter­est on the money de­posited, while ado­les­cent mem­bers are pro­vided with loans

who con­tinue to work in scrap­yards and do sundry jobs af­ter school hours to earn money to sup­ple­ment the fam­ily in­come.

Deepak is happy his hard-earned money is now safe at the bank. A boy who knows the value of money and hard work, he was barely 11 when he de­cided to run away from home, fear­ing his fa­ther would beat him for a mi­nor mis­de­meanour he com­mit­ted. “I don’t re­mem­ber what it was for, but I was so scared that I fled my home.’’ That was in 2008.

Scared, shiv­er­ing and alone

The boy from Raipur vil­lage in Mad­hya Pradesh jumped on a train and 15 hours later, scared and shiv­er­ing, found him­self on the Old Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion plat­form.

He had no money or food so he sought refuge near a tea shop, where some home­less men had built a fire to keep them­selves warm.

“I begged for food. Later, see­ing some chil­dren col­lect re­cy­clable garbage, I joined them,” he says. “I picked up alu­minium cans and bot­tle caps, which I sold at a scrap shop for 20 ru­pees, which helped me buy some food. I strug­gled like this for two days.”

Moved by his plight, the tea shop owner of­fered him a job wash­ing dishes. “The owner would pay me on a daily ba­sis, but I had no place to keep my earn­ings as I had no shel­ter and slept in the open. Men and grown-up street boys would of­ten snatch all my money,” he says. “I must have lost hun­dreds of ru­pees this way.’’

Af­ter a cou­ple of years of hard work with­out mak­ing any sav­ings, Deepak was spot­ted by But­ter­flies vol­un­teers, who go to im­pov­er­ished

ar­eas of the city and of­fer lessons in maths, science and hy­giene. They in­vited him to at­tend their classes and, dis­cov­er­ing he was a good stu­dent, en­rolled him in a school – Govern­ment Boys Se­nior Sec­ondary School, Jama Masjid, Delhi – where he now stud­ies in grade nine.

The char­ity pays for his books and study ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing rent for a small room that he shares with three other boys.

In his free time he col­lects and sells re­cy­clables. “I’m sav­ing up to buy a cam­era,” he says. “I’m de­ter­mined to be a pho­tog­ra­pher.’’

Deepak has no plans to go home af­ter find­ing out his mother died and his fa­ther doesn’t want to see him. But he has no re­grets.

“I need to stand on my own feet,’’ he says. “The money I saved in the bank came in handy when I broke my arm in an ac­ci­dent and had to go to a doc­tor. I can’t imag­ine what I would have done if I didn’t have my sav­ings.’’

The sig­nif­i­cance of sav­ing

Deepak is not the only street child to re­alise the sig­nif­i­cance of sav­ing. Hav­ing strug­gled through early life, many have re­alised the im­por­tance of keep­ing money for a rainy day.

Walid Khan, a 16-year-old who also lives near the Old Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion, says, “I used to work in a tea stall and earn some money, but some bul­lies in the neigh­bour­hood snatched it all away. Now I de­posit it in the bank, they are un­able to ha­rass me for money. Also, when my sis­ter needed some money to buy a new sal­war kameez for a wed­ding, I was proud I could send her some from my sav­ings.’’

A sur­vey con­ducted among In­dian street chil­dren found that many of them were re­luc­tant to ap­proach a proper bank and save the few ru­pees they earned. The main rea­son was be­cause they were un­com­fort­able deal­ing with adults, who they felt were judge­men­tal and looked down on them. This led the char­ity to start a bank op­er­ated by chil­dren.

More than 1,000 chil­dren on the streets of Delhi who were splurg­ing all their earn­ings on gam­bling, movies, al­co­hol and drugs have now been taught the im­por­tance of sav­ing. “It was im­por­tant that the chil­dren learn the value of money,’’ says a But­ter­flies vol­un­teer.

To be a mem­ber of CDK, chil­dren have to be be­tween nine and 18. Ev­ery trans­ac­tion is reg­is­tered in a pass­book. The bank also pro­vides loans to the mem­bers in case of emer­gency or to start a busi­ness. For a loan, the ap­pli­cant needs to pro­vide two guar­an­tors, who are mem­bers of the bank, to vouch for the ap­pli­cant. A com­mit­tee of chil­dren will ex­am­ine the ap­pli­cant’s record and weigh up their chances of suc­cess in a new busi­ness be­fore ap­prov­ing the loan.

Adult fa­cil­i­ta­tors over­see the de­ci­sions taken by the chil­dren and of­fer ad­vice when re­quired.

“Chil­dren of­ten seek loans for ed­u­ca­tion – school uni­form, books, bags, sta­tionery, school fees, vo­ca­tional train­ing fee – and for health needs like buy­ing medicines, doc­tor’s fees, and check-ups,’’ says Ra­jni.

Sheru, 13, who runs errands such as pay­ing bills and fetch­ing gro­ceries for neigh­bours, earns around Rs100 a month, which he dili­gently de­posits in his ac­count. He says he once took a loan of Rs600 to pur­chase medicine when his fa­ther fell ill a few years ago. “That was the time I learnt the value of sav­ing for emer­gen­cies,” he says. “To­day I buy my school uni­form from my sav­ings. I want to con­tinue my stud­ies to be­come a com­puter en­gi­neer and am pre­pared to fund my own ed­u­ca­tion.”

Sheru and five other chil­dren take turns to man­age the bank, which opens at around

‘I want to be­come a com­puter en­gi­neer and am pre­pared to fund my own ed­u­ca­tion’

6.30pm – a time when most of the chil­dren are back from school and those who have jobs have re­ceived their daily wages.

Sheru takes his po­si­tion in the kiosk and opens a book, which has all the de­tails of the ac­count hold­ers. In no time, chil­dren be­gin troop­ing in ei­ther to de­posit money or seek loans for var­i­ous pur­poses.

Most chil­dren have clear sav­ings goals. While many aspire to be­come po­lice of­fi­cers, a few plan to open road­side cafés, while some would like to open their own branches of the bank.

Study­ing in class 10, San­deep wants to be­come a bank man­ager. As­so­ci­ated with But­ter­flies for the past four years, he runs the NGO’s bank for chil­dren at Okhla Mandi.

Ef­fi­cient in skills man­age­ment, he mo­ti­vates other chil­dren to un­der­stand their strong points and hone their skills. “I did not know much about the op­er­a­tions of a bank or about sav­ing un­til a few years ago,” he says. “But the vol­un­teers of But­ter­flies taught me a lot and now I am pretty con­fi­dent run­ning this bank and help­ing other chil­dren. This bank can cer­tainly help us re­alise our small dreams.’’

Deepak is sav­ing money to buy a cam­era. His dream is to be­come a news pho­tog­ra­pher

MAK­ING A DIF­FER­ENCE What: Chil­dren’s De­vel­op­ment Khaz­ana (CDK) Where: Across Asia How: Op­er­at­ing a bank run by street chil­dren for chil­dren

Salaud­din, above, saves his pocket money and is study­ing to be­come an en­gi­neer. San­deep, above left, runs the bank at Okhla Mandi and hopes to be­come a bank man­ager

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