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International Day of Charity: The Fight for Street Children

6 September 2018

International Day of Charity was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 and is now observed annually on September the 5th - fittingly the anniversary of the passing of Mother Teresa, an indefatigable humanitarian who devoted her life to caring for those less fortunate than herself. International Day of Charity serves to remind and encourage people to participate in altruistic behaviour, encouraging charitable acts such as monetary donations, fun local fundraising events, and volunteer work. In support of the occasion, we would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about the remarkable work of the Railway Children charity…

A child runs away from home approximately once every five minutes in the United Kingdom. In Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa, it is estimated that around five million children are orphaned. In India, over 11 million children live on the streets. Many are drawn to India's extensive rail network, living on railway platforms around the country where statistically a new child joins them, alone, once every five minutes. These children are running from abuse, running from neglect, and running from poverty, and unfortunately many will not find solace on the streets. The multitude of new threats posed to them as street children - horrors such as violence, sexual exploitation and substance abuse - can often pose a danger larger than that which they were escaping in the first place.

Railway Children is an international charity that has spent over 20 years working with and looking out for the welfare of vulnerable street children across the globe. In that time, they have reached hundreds of thousands of children across India, the United Kingdom and East Africa. The charity operates with the aim of reaching children as early as possible, providing much-needed care, support and protection to young people with nobody else to turn to before their situation can worsen. Working with supporters and donations from both the general public and corporate partnerships, Railway Children offer support at three levels. Firstly, they help street children directly, providing support and a safe place to stay with the aim of returning them home whenever possible. Secondly, Railway Children raise awareness and visibility within local communities, offering an insight into the issue and working to change negative preconceptions so that we can all begin to play a role in helping to protect children at risk. Thirdly, Railway Children work at a widespread, government level, fighting to make the issue of street children higher on the political agenda and pushing for new and improved policies that will ultimately protect those who are vulnerable.

Here at Great Rail Journeys, we fully support the important work carried out by Railway Children and have had an ongoing affiliation with the charity since 2014. We show our support in a number of ways; we partner with Railway Children for events, we contribute holiday prizes for fundraising events, and we make regular monetary donations to the charity based off the proceeds from our escorted rail tours to India. We are extremely proud to support the work of such a wonderful charity and do our part to help make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children around the world.

So, where does the money go? In India, Railway Children have worked to create 'child-friendly stations', working with station employees in order to teach them the skills to identify and help those at risk, as well as providing safe spaces for children in danger in the form of dedicated Child Protection Booths. From here, children are given access to nearby drop-in centres, where they can access food, medical care, clean clothes and support including counselling and vocational training. Where possible, children are reunited with their families, and where this is not a viable possibility, Railway Children strive to offer long-term care and support; helping them to secure jobs and work toward a better future. Children at railway stations in India often go unnoticed, or are even regarded as a nuisance; sadly, homelessness in children here has become a norm. Railway Children recognise the importance of changing that perception and help provide local communities with the tools necessary to deal with the issue directly. In 23 high-risk districts in India, the charity has set up Child Protection Committees, where volunteers are encouraged to engage with their local communities, encouraging and offering them the skills to help make a difference. Finally, as experts in the field of child protection, Railway Children work with the Indian government, sitting on the Ministry of Women and Children Development Panel and the Save the Children Research Advisory Committee. From these advisory positions, Railway Children are able to both advise and assist the government with decisions that will help protect children living on the streets. They were most recently involved in an initiative which joins social workers with Special Juvenile Police Units, where they can provide support to children in need while advising the police on how best to approach situations involving minors.

To learn more about the Railway Children and the incredible work they do across India, as well as the United Kingdom and East Africa, or to make a donation, click here to visit their website.