A dark-skinned boy chased after a small tire up and down the walkway. Eleven-year-old Asha wore his signature blue denim hat and long blue and white cotton shirt, many sizes too big that covered white pants, dirtied from weeks of play in the streets. His eight-year-old sister, Umed, followed after her big brother as they both giggled. She bumped into Asha when he stopped to catch a breath. Their laughter filled the open air market. When they saw me they came running and then stopped, suddenly shy.
They stood awkwardly, a translator beside them, and I, the tall, blonde foreigner, sat on the ground equipped with a camera and notebook.
I fell in love with these two children. For days I watched them play. They got used to my presence and even accepted candy I held in my hand. This little boy and girl captured my heart. No one else took the time to even look at them. They were just two of many that ran the streets of Mumbai, India. And this was the day God obviously had set up for me to talk to them.
“Your name is Asha? What does that mean?” I asked the young boy as his sister hid behind him.
“It means expectation. My little sister’s name is Umed. That means wish. My papa had big dreams for me and Umed but my mama and papa died and left us alone.”
His big brown eyes melted my heart. I wanted to scoop them both into my arms and run away - back to the United States. I would take them and I would be their papa. But what of the rest of the millions left on the streets?
“How do you find food to eat?” I all but ignored the translator beside us. Instead, I listened to a universal language, a child language, full of lilts and pauses and funny faces.
“We go through the garbage. Many days we find good treats. If we find enough, we share with others.”
Umed edged up closer. I held my breath, not wanting to scare her away. She took her tiny hand and put it in my pocket, the pocket I drew candy from. She wasn’t disappointed. I had a full stash. Umed looked at me and I nodded and smiled. Then she really surprised me. She sat on my lap. I couldn’t have been prouder of this little beauty if she had been my own flesh and blood. Soon, hard candy drool fell from her mouth onto my bare ankles and tickled me. Flies gathered but I didn’t care. I enjoyed this small moment of time.
I handed Asha candy of his own as I pelted him with more questions.
“Asha, do you go to school?”
He shook his head. “Mama wanted us to but we never did. I want to. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”
I was surprised at this and asked him why.
Asha said, “If I had been a doctor, maybe Papa and Mama would still be alive.” Tears dripped from his eyes. He wiped them away, embarrassed that he showed emotion.
Tears dripped from my eyes, too. I repositioned Umed and invited Asha to sit with us. I wanted to hold him, shield him from all the bad in the world, but he shook his head no. The translator explained to me that he had to keep a tough appearance while on the street. He would be considered a baby if he sat on this stranger’s lap.
Asha volunteered information, “Before Papa died, he made me promise to watch over Umed. He told me that men do bad things to little girls. So I keep my promise to Papa. Umed is never far away from me.” Asha, the eleven-year-old man of the family, stood straight and proud. “I find her food. I teach her what I know. I tell her to stay away from strangers.”
The next day I talked to Asha, man-to-man. I asked him to visit a place that would be willing to take them in and care for their needs and maybe even make their wishes come true. It was called the Hamara Foundation.
Asha and Umed’s eyes bulged when they saw others like them, only with full bellies. They looked through the school window and this sold it for Asha. Maybe his papa’s wishes and expectations would be fulfilled.
Asha jumped into my arms and hugged tight. A happy little boy he was.
The goal of the Hamara Foundation is: To empower children on the street, so they can have alternatives for a better quality of life. The major objective includes reaching out to street and homeless children, providing them the need based services for their growth and development. And this is just one foundation of many that reach out to these children.
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