Soon after the train stations had become operational again following the devastating floods, I made a trip to the slums in Chennai, spending the majority of time in Suryanagar and Vysarpadi.
The stories of lives lost, and homes destroyed were heartbreaking. Whatever little they had in terms of material possessions, was placed in the sun to dry, or being washed with bleaching powder. However, along with the devastation, I, as always, clung to the stories of hope, and the heroes that present themselves in such trying circumstances.
Almost a decade ago, CRY partnered with Slum Children Sports Talent Education Development Society (SCSTEDS), an NGO that reached out through football to children in the slums of Vysarpadi. These children were earning paltry sums through polishing steel vessels, cleaning fish, and the like, with the supposed joke being the fact that police stations outnumbered schools in the slum. After all, there was a lot more to be earned by being junior muscle men. I don’t know for certain how far the children would go, but definitely a lot was being done against the law.
Slowly and surely, the group of children that SCSTEDS reached out to expanded, and from a mere 6% of children passing the 10th standard, it increased to a whopping 98%! More and more children were getting their childhood back, but even more amazing were the stories of how they played a key role in saving lives.
The flooding in Vysarpadi was so bad that anyone living on the ground floor, were completely inundated with water. Some families had to make the unimaginable decision of leaving a parent behind, who was just too old to walk, leave alone wade the waters. However, the youth of Vysarpadi knowing the area well, kept an eye on homes where people were struggling to get out. They stepped in and escorted those in need to drier places, or carried them on plastic chairs to safer zones. These youth saved countless lives. The same youth who, if denied of a second chance, would have ended up living out their lives in some jail, or entering murkier waters than those of the Chennai floods.
By the end of my visit, my faith in second chances and day to day role models had increased exponentially. It has demonstrated the potential for building lives and identities very different from that which was prescribed, and to be able to push past assumed constraints, and strive to ensure that everyone has the opportunity for a second chance.
The author is the Director- Southern Region at CRY- Child Rights and You.