A return trip to where it all began

  • Date: 30/03/2017

Earlier in the year Railway Children founder David Maidment visited India, where the story of our charity began back in 1989. Passing through on a business trip, David had seen children struggling to survive in and around India’s railway network and vowed to do something about it.

By 1996 he had launched Railway Children and we’ve spent the last 20 years fighting to change the future for children at risk there, in East Africa and here in the UK. Now aged 78, David talked to Kate Speedie about returning to the country for the first time in five years and seeing how much has changed.

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“I used to go over once or twice a year until I retired. Once I decided to take a step back I didn’t want to be looking over the shoulders of those in charge but after five years I thought it was about time I got an update."

David spent two weeks visiting Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai and met up with Railway Children teams at various projects.

He said: “The biggest difference to see from when I last visited was that Railway Children India is very much established as an organisation in its own right now. This means it can access funding from within the country and work more closely with the government to help put rail operating procedures for assisting lone vulnerable children in place."

Influence at government level

“Railway Children has been fundamental in establishing those processes, which includes the need for creating Child Friendly Stations, which we are in the process of increasing to 25 locations across India. I was lucky enough to be present for the opening of a new Child Help Desk and that was great to see."

These desks give children who find themselves in distress, lost or in danger a focus – somewhere they can go to access both immediate support and long term help.

It takes them away from the immediate risks of violence, exploitation and abuse that are such a part of street life.

David explained: “Everyone at these stations now has been trained by Railway Children – from the cleaners and vendors to the train managers – in how to look out for vulnerable children and to take some responsibility for them as a society rather than seeing them as a nuisance. That work is really paying off now and people are starting to notice these children.”

Supporting the whole family

David also went to Chennai where he saw how Railway Children is working with government children’s homes to find the best outcomes for the children they are caring for.

He said: “We met a little lad who had been returned home and I went with the team to do some follow up work with him. His mum had been ill and had to give up her job so hadn’t been able to look after the family which is why he had ended up in the home.

“But we bought her a sewing machine and helped her set up her own business, making dresses and clothes from home, which meant she could look after herself and her son.

“It had changed her life and she had tears in her eyes when she thanked the team for their help.”

“We’ve come a long way in India since we first launched Railway Children. You certainly just don’t see anything like as many children around the railways and we’ve changed the mind-sets of a lot of people. 

“Not just individuals, or even communities, but government departments are starting to listen to what we are saying and trying to work with us to change things.

“That makes me feel quite proud and the opportunities now for children we’re helping are considerably better than they were 20 years ago.”