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Dec 04, 2004
Children’s own bank

An effort pioneered in India to organise a formal bank for street children and run by children themselves is now spreading across India and the world. For just over 3 years, Children’s Development Bank [CDB] aka Bal Vikas Bank, has been running in Delhi. It serves 300 street children through 2 branches and 4 collection centres.

CDB is an innovation of Butterflies, an organisation that works with children living by their wits, on their own. Rita Panicker who heads Butterflies, was first struck by the pluck and fortitude of these kids making a fist of life on Mumbai’s commuter trains. She fell in love with them and when she moved to Delhi in the late eighties, she was automatically drawn to Delhi’s own street children. Butterflies began its work in 1988.

Their strategy is to have trained volunteers patrol the streets and look for street children in trouble. There are many hazards these children are subject to. Their horrors come in the form of drugs, sex, police and thugs. Befriending them and getting them to trust is hard, but once they are won over, it is always heartbreaking to see the optimism and zest they have for life despite hardships. They rarely ask for handouts and are ready to face the odds.

Over the years Butterflies, has intervened in the case of 25,000 children. Relationships have been for varying lengths of time. “Our first endeavour is always to help them go back home,” says Rita. There has even been a case of a lad sent back, with an escort, to his family in Bangladesh. But quite often, children’s memory of unhappiness and physical abuse is so extreme that they opt for a life on the streets. For these, Butterflies provides a focal point. They induct them into education by whatever means that is appropriate— casual, formal and distance. Children have counselors they can turn to, a place where they can get a subsidised meal and a shelter for the night.

Efforts are paying off. Today Butterflies has 4 shelters in Delhi. Hundreds of children are getting some education and six have enrolled in the Indira Gandhi National Open University. 48 of them are true alumni, having spent most of their first 18 years of life with Butterflies. Two of them are also street educators. A few are married and content with life.

In April, 2001 when funding became available for starting a Youth Bank modeled after the one in the UK, Rita discussed it with children at the shelter. They showed they had a mind of their own: they wanted to start and run a bank exclusively for children. Thus began the exciting new adventure with backing from various donor agencies—Comic Relief, UK, the Ford Foundation, USA and Misereor, Germany and the Ministry of Social Justice, India. 

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