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.
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
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