The last part of the tour brings us to the orphanage where Siba and his two friends were taken when they were only 14. After a few minutes of negotiations, they agree to show us the place where they’ve spent part of their teenagehood.
The orphanage is located a few hundred meters down the road, along a high speed road. When we enter into the centre, our attention turns immediately to a series of photos pinned to the wall.
On one of them, the founder of the orphanage, who decided 40 years ago to bring help to the most vulnerable kids of Delhi, receives an award from the Indian Prime Minister. On another one, Michelle Obama in person congratulates the founder during a ceremony at the White House in Washington.
Siba asks us to follow him.
We make our way inside. The lights blink as we walk through the orphanage, go out and come back on again. A group of kids hurtles down the corridor. They swap out jokes and laugh out loud. A teacher comes out of a classroom to bring back calm. The kids slow down and keep quiet.
We take a quick look around. Dormitories, classrooms, kitchen, library. The building is not new, for sure. The painting has faded away, some of the doors are loose, their handles are hanging down, and the hot and humid air from outside blows in through cracked windows. But everything is there to ensure children’s basic needs are met.
We keep going. A few meters down the aisle, another group of children is seated around the table where they are revising their lessons. That’s the compulsory step to a better future, Siba tells us.
Siba is proud to show us this place.
He says he no longer lives here. At the age of 18 – the legal civil majority in India – the young adults must stand on their own feet. The orphanage, due to a lack of funding, can’t take care of them anymore.
For Siba, life changed for the better. He can now assume himself. But not everyone has had the same chance and many kids, as soon as they left the orphanage, found themselves sucked back into the danger of the outside world.
Throughout our visit, Siba counts us the story of those children. Some have been abandoned at birth. Others, with heavy mental and physical disabilities, were brought in by their own parents who were no longer able to assume their responsibility.
But the majority is here for another reason, Siba says. Just like him, they tried to break free of their abusing parents and found refuge in the streets of Delhi. Spotted by aid workers, they were given the option to join the orphanage. While some accepted the offer, many, unfortunately, preferred to stay in the streets and later died from drug addictions, Siba says.
A heavy silence descends on us. Siba looks away for a few seconds, shamefully.
As we proceed with our visit, Siba starts to confess. He, himself, started to sniff glue when he was 11 and carried on for many years before he was found by aid workers. Taking drugs was the only way to escape from the hardness of life. But that’s an old story, he says.
He is fine now and he is making plans for the future. He wants to work in the film industry and was recently granted a fellowship to study movie making and production. His first job? Directing a short film on street children.
We smile. Who better than him could talk about his own story?
As for his parents, Siba lost contact with them. He only wishes them the best, though. Siba now wants to focus on his own future. « The rest doesn’t matter, » he continues. « I could live in resentment until the very last day of my life but that wouldn’t take me anywhere. The only thing to do now is to forgive. »
It’s time to go. By the time we ask our last questions, take photos and thank our three guides, the goodbyes last more than half an hour.
We leave the orphanage in silence. As I look back on today’s encounter, I wonder how many kids in Delhi live without the help and support of their parents. And how many of them will have the chance to be sheltered from the danger of the street by an orphanage?
On our way back to the hotel, we will see many children left on their own and living under the most precarious and vulnerable conditions. It looks like the road to saving all those children is still long. But the work provided by the dozen of orphanages in Delhi is surely helping.
As for Siba, I don’t know whether he will achieve his dream. I hope so, anyway. Nobody would question his commitment and courage. He has already achieved a lot.