Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 5, 2009

Kolkata’s Street Kids

Kolkata's Street Kids   You can’t avoid them as you navigate through Kolkata’s sea of traffic. They are everywhere. And, the moment you stop to tread water they will surround you like a pack of land sharks. They are Kolkata’s street kids. They are scantily clad, covered in filth, and have no fear. They dart in and out of traffic and surface at the windows of slow-moving and stopped vehicles. They will tap on your window and motion to you to give them something because they are hungry. And, they are young. Most are preschool-aged kids, in some cases carrying naked babies on their hips.

Street kids are among the most vulnerable of the least of these. As the world learned from the popular movie “Slum Dog Millionaire,” many poor and orphaned kids are conscripted to work the streets by the most unscrupulous of humanity. They are abused and, in many cases, maimed in order to solicit more money for their pimps. But, when they are tapping on your window and reaching their dirty little hands into your cab and you are looking into their longing eyes, you don’t have time to discern motives or judge intentions. You don’t have time to wonder if they are working for some brutal task master or if they live in the slums adjacent to the roadways. You could easily get it wrong!

Over the years of traveling in South Asia I have heard all sorts of advice about what to do when approached by street kids. I have been told to not give them money or to not make eye contact with them. I have been taught local phrases to facilitate shooing them away. But, my heart always tells me something different. My heart tells me to care and to look for Jesus in the distressing disguises of these barefoot children who spend their days dodging traffic for a rupee. And, if I get it wrong some of the time, that’s ok. I would rather err on the side of helping. The answers are never black and white when you look into the eyes of these kids. I don’t live in their world and cannot comprehend the difference one rupee might make.

Life for our kids is much different. They live in a world of plenty, indeed a world of excess. When they extend their hands toward us it is not to ask for enough to survive another day. In many cases it is to ask for something to entertain them for another hour. We must intentionally talk to our kids about what life is like for kids in other countries and in the more impoverished parts of our own community. Parents today have the advantage of access to information on the internet that can equip them to talk with their own kids about how to help kids in need. And, it won’t hurt to tell our kids that they cannot have something they want in order to give those resources to someone in need. We must help our kids understand that life is not just about them and what they want but that we have a responsibility to care for the least of these.

Our kids can make a difference in the lives of kids in need around the world. Over the past year, several kids have come by my office to offer help for kids in need. Some have dropped off their birthday money, allowance money, and money collected by selling aluminum cans and more. They have asked me to send their funds to kids in need in our own inner city and kids in need in other countries. I am so grateful to these kids and never underestimate the difference their small offerings can make. A single rupee can make a difference. But perhaps the greatest difference is the one that quietly takes place in the life of a child who unselfishly gives and in the heart of a child that unexpectedly receives and benefits from this kind of love offering. So parents, talk to your own kids about Kolkata’s street kids and other kids in need. And then, lead your kids to make a difference. Do this often enough and you’ll be pleased with what God will do in and through the life of your own child.


  1. The situation for orphaned children in Kolkata is heart wrenching. I remember some very young boys making chai for travelers on Sudder St, only about 8 years old or younger. One night, after I had been entertained at a late night club, I saw these boys, sleeping on card board, on Sudder Street. Earlier, I hadn’t questioned where these boys lived or slept, expecting they had a home with other adults working at the street chai-making stall. This is just one area of child labor and homeless children in Kolkata. It is sickening that the Indian government does not take care of it’s children through welfare.

  2. Emily…

    Thanks for your comment. I too wish that the government would do more to care for the kids who live and hustle on the streets. It’s unnerving to see them darting in and out of traffic. I am however thankful for what people like Mother Teresa did to create safe places for some of these kids and for those who carry on her compassionate work. But, so much more needs to be done by folks in both the public and private sectors.


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