Street educator Rajkumar Tripathi wants to deconstruct the myth that poverty drives children to the street. "It's lack of love that makes them run away from home, they are not homeless and they are not always poor," he says. Rajkumar should know, he is 22 years old, and became a street child himself.
He was only four when his mother left him after a row with her husband and in-laws. "I always wanted my mother to love me but she was never there," he says. Rajkumar was neglected by his father, and wasn't sent to school. One day, he ended up in front of Panch Kanya secondary school in his village Ratomati (30km from Banepa), where he was lying on the floor crying, with a book in hand. After hearing his story, the school principal took pity and sponsored his education.
Four years later, his mother returned but showed no love for her son. Rajkumar was so heartbroken he left home and ended up on the streets of Kathmandu alone and cold. Thus began his street life: begging in Thamel, sleeping in the cold, exploited by carpet factories and small hotels, getting beaten up by employers. The children's organisation Bal Kendra, took him off the street and gave Rajkumar and several others like him food, shelter and most importantly love and care.
"Some of us decided that instead of going back to the streets, we should be helping each other," says Rajkumar who set up Bal Chetna Samuha when he was 14. Just when he started getting bored, Rajkumar met Sunil Pokharel, the street theatre director of Parivartan, and started organising street plays.
Today, Rajkumar is back on the streets-this time with the group Saath Saath to counsel children on the streets, helping to find sponsors for their education and medical aid. He started his own theatre called Andhero Bato (Dark Road) and says the negative connotation is deliberate. "Life on the streets is still bleak and the children there are living in trauma everyday," he says.
Rajkumar is married and has a two-year-old daughter, and his main message to the children on the streets is to hope and aspire for something better. But for Rajkumar, personally, there is still a hole in his heart that his mother's love should have filled. He hopes he will get it one day. (Naresh Newar)