Significant numbers of children live in street-connected situations in India, often without adult care. The reasons for this are varied, but can include running away from abuse and violence, the loss of parental care, and family poverty.
Irrespective of the reason, children living on the street are highly vulnerable to many risks. Again, violence and abuse can be a factor; as can a lack of food, medical care, education and money. All of these can mean that children are left at risk of illness, physical danger, mental health issues, illiteracy and an ongoing poverty.
But change can happen – and people like Rita are making it a reality. A social worker from India herself, Rita used to see these children living on the streets as she commuted to teach at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. She set out to listen to their stories, and spent time getting to know them. Inspired by their inquisitive spirit, generosity and resilience, she decided to dedicate her life to helping them.
After moving to Delhi with her husband, Rita decided to set up her own organisation to do just that. Today, her organisation Butterflies has worked with over 71,000 children, using the wisdom they have gained locally through a deep understanding of their community to change lives through local action. Now, Butterflies then joined other locally-led organisations around the world to create the Family for Every Child global alliance.
Rita and her team provides vulnerable and street-connected children with a wide range of support programmes. These include a team of educators that run classes in places like bus terminals, railway stations and parks for over 1,000 children a day, a life skills programme that enables children to participate in the banking system and save for the future, an emergency helpline, and a health and sports programme. Butterflies uses the cooperative concept as an approach to work with children.
A key difference in the way Rita and her team work is through a democratic and participatory approach.
Being a locally-grown organisation is also vitally important to Rita and her team.
Since joining Family for Every Child, Rita now has more opportunities to speak out at a global level for children in her community and beyond.