Donna Laveriere (India)

Donna Laverdiere (Butterflies, India): Donna grew up in a small town in Maine and received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Tufts University. After college, she spent three years in the publishing industry, and then worked for AT&T and Cadillac. During this time Donna was heavily involved in political organizing on women’s issues and helped found a nonprofit privacy rights organization. At the time of her fellowship, Donna was pursuing her Master of Public Policy at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, with a focus in global policy.

Night Out On Friday

12 Jul

I was invited to join Butterflies staff on what they call a “Night Out.” Night Out is a night of field outreach conducted in one area of Delhi. Butterflies social workers go out in a group and try to locate children in need of help, whether that may be emergency medical help, repatriation with a family, or a safe place to sleep. The group spends the entire evening, from about 8 pm till 1 in the morning, walking around a designated area doing this outreach.

On Friday, I accompanied a group of Butterflies social workers to the Nizamuddin area. Nizamuddin is also the area where I am doing training for the tourism project. We set out a little after 8 pm from the Nizamuddin night shelter and walked through the crowded village. The streets were narrow and dark, and I tried to stay close to the others.

We first came upon two children sitting together near the roadway. The older boy appeared to be intoxicated. There was some confusion about whether the younger of the two was being held against his will. It was hard for me to understand what was going on due to the language barrier.

After leaving these boys, we walked out to the roadway and into a slum beneath the road. In a tunnel under the roadway were the homes of hundreds of people. It was much hotter below the road as compared to outside. Trash lay everywhere. I could only imagine what would happen if a fire started in that tunnel. I was speechless. Women and children were walking around, smiling at me. I tried to smile back but was so overwhelmed by the conditions in which they live that my smile was strained.

Later we traveled to the Nizamuddin Railway Station by rickshaw and began looking for children beyond the platforms. We met a small boy whose parents had died in a fire year before and he had been working in another city selling soap. He had just arrived in Delhi and needed help, and the group offered to take him to the night shelter. I was overwhelmed with the urge to just bend down and tell him everything would be ok. But of course, I couldn’t.

The final stop on our walk was to an area beside a rail bridge further along the train tracks, beyond the platform. We walked among sleeping cows, dodging mud and manure, and emerged on the bank overlooking the water. I was unsure if it was a stream or a sewer. The smell was terrible. We met a few boys who were sleeping on sacks beneath the bright light of an exposed light bulb suspended above. Two boys were sniffing glue from soaked rags. There I saw boys I had met and talked with at the cultural evening earlier in the week.

On the way home, sandwiched by Sheetul and Matthieu in a rickshaw, I stared blankly out into the darkness. I was numb with what I had seen, with exhaustion, with the desire to help but also the understanding of the magnitude of the problems street children face. After seeing what I did, and being welcomed on the Night Out by the Butterflies staff, I feel a certain responsibility to tell everyone I know about the conditions in which so many children live in Delhi. But I am conflicted because I am sure so many people before me have had the same reaction, felt the same things, and tried to express how they felt.

Posted By Donna Laveriere (India)

Posted Jul 12th, 2006

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