CHILDREN WHO HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING BUT A HOME
Back to Life’s journey started in the mid-1990s with a leprosy street clinic in Benares. In 1998 the organisation extended its programmes towards 36 street children, most of which were sons, daughters, or foster children of men and women affected by leprosy. Initially, the children were supported to go to school and provided with a daycare programme. In 2003, Back to Life opened its first Children’s Home for about 50 boys and girls. Over the next years, the number of children in our care would rise up to 120. They lived in three different facilities, two for boys and one for girls. In addition, we also ran a Daycare Centre for children who could stay with their families, yet needed care and supervision to help shaping a positive future for them.
In the Children’s Homes many of them first experienced sleeping under a proper roof, having a mattress, as well as sufficient clothing and shoes. They also enjoyed healthy meals and clean drinking water. Most importantly, the children appreciated the sense of safety and community in their new homes, where all children were treated with respect and grew-up in a violence-free environment. Many of the children’s families have also been supported through Back to Life on different occasions.
The group of children we looked after grew-up in the extreme vulnerable settings of the leprosy colonies, Sankt Mocan und Bhadohi, the slums of Benares, or with no permanent shelter at all. Their health was in a very poor state. Many of them suffered from severe infections, such as tuberculosis. Conditions, such as diarrhea, ear and skin infections, lice and worm infestation, as well as hunger had almost become normal over the years. Both physical and emotional violence was part of their daily lives. To feed themselves, they had to beg, work, or steel.
Their parents or caretakers were not able to lead them out of this misery and the children were stuck in poverty, disease, and violence. Yet, through the support of Back to Life the children’s lives have been turned around completely.
A second chance to education
In order to make up for the late school enrolment of the former street children, Back to Life provided a phase of intensive and tailored tutoring. These bridge courses allowed children to catch up with their peers within a short timeframe. As a result of this enormous effort, most of them were able to join formal classes together with children the same age. The children visited good schools and some even went to university or enrolled in vocational training.
In addition to formal education, Back to Life also focused on fostering soft skills, such as self-esteem, problem solving, team work, career planning, and creativity. This was realised through workshops, social events, and bilateral or group dialogue. Each child was supported according to its own ideas, preferences, and talents. The long-term goals were for them to be educated, earn a school degree, and hopefully start a viable career.
Learning how to handle the pressures of life
Already at school age children are exposed to a high degree of pressure. Especially so our Back to Life children who still felt the consequences of their often traumatic experiences they have had living on the street. Such memories have the potential to turn into behavioural or psychological problems, even much later in life. In the worst case, they can negatively impact on decision-making and performance in school and at work. Therefore, we were committed to also address these issues and help the children working through some of their emotional scars. To do so, they were given the opportunity to engage in yoga, meditation, dance and drama classes, music, cooking, and life-skills seminars. The demand for these activities was always high. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were excited to discover new horizons.