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Published: January 14th 2009
1 Dec - World AIDS Day.
Liam has heard, via his sister in Cork, of an Irish-based charity called the Hope Foundation set up in 1999 to help restore basic human rights to the street children of Calcutta.
"Born on the streets, they are denied such needs as food, shelter, healthcare, education, love, safety and support. The streets offer little protection and dangerous predators abuse these vulnerable children emotionally, physically, mentally and sexually. Street children experience the cruelty and inhumanity of mankind on a daily basis. HOPE aims to protect these children from exploitation and danger and give them back their right to a childhood.
The Hope Foundation provides formal and non-formal education, a nutrition programme and health care for the street children. HOPE and its Indian NGO partners' main objective is to continue to remove thousands of children off the streets and improve their quality of life."
Having contacted Maureen Forrest, the Founder & Director of the Hope Foundation, Liam has offered his professional photography expertise, for the next two days, to the charity for free, to assist in taking professional shots which can be used for future fundraising purposes, promotional material, web-site use, etc. The
Foundation kindly agree to show both of us around various projects throughout the city.
Anne-Marie from the Foundation meets us at the hotel are we're driven to the charity's HQ and hospice to meet Maureen. Both women, originally from Cork, are now based in Calcutta for a large majority of the year, and are extremely passionate about their work. It is a pleasure to talk with them as well as Geeta Venkadakrishnan, one of the Foundation's directors based permanently in Calcutta.
We're shown round a creche which looks after some kids while their parents are working. The kids are adorable with huge smiles and despite their living standards are happy wee things. We then walk up the street to listen to an AIDS awareness talk that the Foundation arranged with local NGO's to tie in with World AIDS Day.
The most harrowing scenes of the day however are when we visit a rubbish dump in the Shalimar area of the city. It is extremely difficult to put into words the scenes we saw and how I felt about witnessing such a disturbing experience. Imagine an open landfill rubbish site... the smell was unbearable, there were pigs, flies
and crows everywhere surrounding the men, women and children who go to the dump every day to sift through the rubbish looking for plastic. They are able to sell 1kg of plastic to earn 10-15 rupees. 1 KILOGRAM is a lot of plastic and all for approximately 20 pence.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
India is known as the country of contrasts but Calcutta is most definitely a city of huge contrasts. As we drive from the rubbish dump, a mere 1 or 2 kilometers along the road we reach huge shopping malls, fancy hotels, lavish jewellery shops and Western-style billboards. I spot a Next store which not only makes me think about home, but more importantly makes me stop and think just how lucky I am with my comfortable, western-style life. NEVER again will I complain about a bad day at work without thinking about these West Bengalese men, women and children who endure that rubbish dump EVERY day to make a pittance to survive. It was a real eye-opener which neither of us ever expected to witness first hand. We were shocked and haunted by these scenes.
Anne-Marie attempts to lift our
spirits by then showing us some of the positive work achieved by the Hope Foundation. We visit a slum beside the railway line. It may be cramped, dark and filthy but the kids (and adults) are friendly, curious but smiling and pose for lots of photos as well as being enthusiastic about guiding us round their homes, hand in hand. The Foundation, working with local NGO's facilitates the provision of health, dietary and education programs as well as counselling and child protection to this community and numerous other projects across the city to ensure a better quality of life for the most vulnerable section of the society.
We also visit the Home for Girls which provides a shelter to traumatized children especially those without families. Liam takes some lovely group shots of the girls on the roof of the home using his unique technique of shouting "1,2,3...hee, hee, hee" to make them all smile at the same time 😊 The girls also sing for us and introduce themselves. A truly special moment.
An extremely emotional but educational day. However, the attached photos can't begin to explain the reality...
Source of photos: Liam Kidney Photography
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