Over the past two decades, Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) has established itself as among the most effective organisations working for the welfare of street children in New Delhi. Thanks to SBT, thousands of boys and girls have escaped an uncertain, bleak and probably brutal life and instead found a genuinely caring and nurturing environment that gave them hope and a real shot at life—something the rest of us take for granted.

The Tree of Life by Anjum Siddiqui in collaboration with Akash Mishra, Faizaan, Jasleen, Rajkumar, Raj Jaiswal, Sabit Lal, Santosh and Taleem. Bulbul Sharma

Tell us about your association with the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT)?

I have been working with SBT on and off for 20 years. Right from the earliest days, when they used to collect kids from railway platforms and run an educational and medical centre for them at the New Delhi railway station. I used to paint with the children in an informal setting. They had never seen crayons or colours before so they would do whatever they wanted. Slowly they would become more confident. I work with many NGO’s and SBT is one of the best run. It is not top heavy (administratively) and the funds are concentrated on the children’s welfare.

Do you find the children attentive and receptive. Since they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, does that make them poor learners?

Not at all. On the contrary, since they don’t have any other avenues, they put their heart and soul into whatever they do—whether it is art, or theatre or a dance workshop. Initially they tend to lack confidence as they don’t know what is required of them. But once you establish a rapport with them, it is fine.

Do they show any noticeable improvement as a result of art training?

Yes, they become very confident. Last December with the girls from SBT, we put up 20 paintings at a show at the India Habitat Centre. When they saw their own work hanging on the walls, they felt very proud. It also teaches them concentration. Initially they find it hard to concentrate and often their behaviour is destructive too. But gradually their concentration and hand-eye coordination improves. Theatre is usually their greatest love as they see a lot of films.

The Garden of Healing by Bulbul Sharma. Bulbul Sharma

Painting, theatre and dance are good as hobbies but wouldn’t the children be better off with greater emphasis on sciences and mathematics?

Two of the children at SBT have become professional photographers. Every child has a right to explore (art, theatre etc.)—not just as a career but for self-improvement and for a richer childhood. All the children at SBT attend schools and the older ones get vocational training. I don’t agree with the theory that only affluent children should be able to draw and paint, while the poorer children should learn typing.

How has working with children affected you over the years?

In a lot of ways. I take away a lot more than I give. As a painter and writer it keeps me sane and my point of view stays real and grounded. And I learn a lot from them; I steal from their images and paintings for my own works!