The past eight years, 14-year-old Sasidharan spent most of his days picking waste at the Kodungaiyur dumping yard in north Chennai.
The streets of Kodungaiyur have been his home, giving him sleepless nights, what with having to cope with the cold/heat, mosquitoes and dogs sniffing at his ankles.
But the past three days have been different for a handful of boys like Sasidharan as they now have a place to live in.
A newly-inaugurated shelter — supported by the Chennai Corporation and run by Arunodhaya, a centre for street and working children — in R.R. Nagar, Kodungaiyur, has opened its doors to boys involved in ragpicking at the yard.
“We conducted a study on children picking waste at the dumping yard and identified 25 boys. Most of them had no education, suffered from poor health, addiction to alcohol and also drug abuse,” said Virgil D’Sami, executive director of Arunodhaya.
The shelter, according to her, was the first step towards intervention for the boys. “This is a transit place where they can stay. We will motivate them to study and trace their families. If they do not have a family, we can send them to institutions. We are working on linking with nearby Chennai schools and vocational training centres,” she said.
Inaugurated on December 13, the shelter now has eight boys. “These boys, aged between 12 and 18, are mostly orphans or have single parents or have run away from home. Some of them said they had slept in gunny bags, unable to tolerate the chill at night,” said Santhana Mary, thematic facilitator, Arunodhaya.
Sasidharan, who ran away from his home in Andhra Pradesh, allegedly due to ill-treatment, said, “I collect waste from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the yard and earn at least Rs. 300 per day. I have been sleeping peacefully after coming to the shelter.”
Fourteen-year-old Kumar is also happy at the shelter. “I had been living alone after my parents died a year ago. When it rained, I slept inside share autos. Now, I have a place to stay at and sleep in. The shelter has fans and mats for us,” he said.
P. Kuganantham, health officer of the Corporation, said this was part of their initiative to set up night shelters for the homeless. “The purpose of this home is to provide food, accommodation, education and rehabilitation for boys involved in ragpicking,” he said.
(The names of the children have been changed.)