I spotted the colours first. A red, a green, a yellow: illuminating the darkness of early evening. Balloons! Being held by a girl no older than my own daughters…
Sitting in the back of a cab, heading back to my hotel after an exhilarating few hours in Old Delhi, I spotted this Balloon Girl whilst we waited at a busy road junction. She was several cars away from me, but our eyes briefly met before my car continued on its way.
I had been getting increasingly frustrated at how long the journey was taking because of heavy traffic. Yet, there I was in the calmness and safety of a vehicle, reflecting on the fact I would be soon in the sanctuary of a room, eating a good meal and sleeping in a comfortable bed, whilst there she was on the side of a dangerous road, trying to sell a balloon or two to passers-by in the hope she could make some money that night to make life a little easier.
Of course, Balloon Girl isn’t alone. There are countless children like her in the sprawling supercity of Delhi, which has a population of 20 million people – and counting. That afternoon, I had caught glimpses of other children, and adults of all ages too: begging, crouched in alleyways and scavenging through rubbish tips.
My guide for the quick drop-in to the heart of India’s capital city was Gary Kamaal. As we rode the clean, efficient metro train, he showed me on Google maps how the area we were heading – Old Delhi – was now surrounded by newer parts, which once were villages and towns but had all amalgamated. In the sense of development and affluence, Old Delhi had been left behind, but it was still extremely popular, as I was about to find out.
The explosion of colour, noise, smells and movement was quite overwhelming as we left the metro station, squeezed down a passage containing small fabric shops and sari-makers, and entered the main road. People and vehicles – all jostling for space where there was none. Horns honking. Spice and oil aromas filling the air. We walked for some time before hopping into a rickshaw to move (a little) quicker through the masses. There was time to stop by the roadside once more, as the afternoon sun became more orange, to reflect on what was before me – the ‘assault on the senses’ that I’ve heard other visitors to Delhi talk about.
In this city which is almost too big to comprehend, how does Viva even start trying to meet the enormous needs of children? In particular, and considering a strategic aim for Viva in India: how can we help marginalised, uneducated and disempowered girls – like Balloon Girl?
There are a number of ways, Gary explained to me. It is about focusing the efforts of Viva and its partner network CYM on targeting a small but significant portion of Delhi, perhaps where only 50,000 people live. To do a programme well here, it is important to build on the foundations of other crucial initiatives – such as the Celebrating Children Course, annual Christmas Parties, a Sunday school programme and quality improvement systems training – and enthusing and resourcing churches to do more.
It is about raising up Christians (which only make up one per cent of Delhi’s population) across the city to advocate more effectively on behalf for children at risk. Furthermore, it is about partnering with influencers, including corporate groups, trusts, foundations and the government, and we’re praying that Viva is successful in getting approved for a charity status, which will help to make that happen.
This is of course a challenge. But having listened to Gary’s enthusiasm and vision for the work, and seen for myself all that they are doing in Delhi, I’m excited by what is possible in the future.
Possible even for the girl I saw amidst the traffic to let go of her balloons and find freedom.
Andrew Dubock is Viva’s Communications Manager and is spending a week in India to see the work we’re doing in three cities: Delhi, Dehradun and Patna.