Performing Arts Program
Home to more than 1.2 billion people, only China exceeds the Republic of India in the world’s population rankings. Spanning an area of nearly 1.3 million square miles, India’s geography ranges from the snow-capped Himalayans to tropical rain forests. The country’s ethnic makeup is also diverse. And, although there are more than 1,500 languages and dialects, Hindi and English are the official languages.
The arts and culture have deep roots in India, reflecting the country’s rich heritage. There are numerous notable archaeological landmarks; among them are the Buddhist remains at Sarnath, cave temples, and various temple sites. India’s music system is one of the most ancient in the world. And, present-day performing, visual, and literary arts, including theater and film, as well as colorful and festive celebrations, embrace historic traditions. Tribal and folk music and dance link to the past, while informing and enriching India’s classical art forms.
Given this abundance of creative expression, it’s no surprise that Salaam Baalak Trust turned to the performing arts to help transform New Delhi’s at-risk street children into self-confident, productive, and talented young adults.
We are grateful to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and Save the Children for their assistance in selecting and supporting this year’s International Spotlight Award winner.
Salaam Baalak translates to “Salute the child.” And, the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) is a New Delhi-based organization dedicated to addressing the needs of the large numbers of such children, who live, sleep, work, and scavenge on the streets of India’s capital city. In Surviving the Streets, a study by Save the Children, researchers estimate that some 50,000 young people call the city’s streets their home. As SBT carries out its mission of “transforming injured souls into soaring lives,” one of the main tools it employs is the performing arts.
Several times a month, SBT’s theater troupe—whose actors are children of the street—incorporate various theater techniques to present “street plays” that focus on social issues. Their “stages” are such sites as the railroad stations and crowded urban areas, where street kids are likely to congregate when they first enter the city. These young people are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, forced labor, HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, and substance use. The plays are designed to educate them about these risks, while drawing them into the organization’s “contact programs,” where they can receive help reconnecting with their families or referrals to SBT’s full-care shelters.
Once they arrive at a shelter, street kids not only gain access to medical, nutritional, educational, and vocational services, but they also have the chance to take classes or workshops in theater, dance, puppetry, music, film, photography, and the visual arts. SBT also offers a focused training and development program for budding choreographers and dancers.
The performing arts help young people connect with their “inner child,” experiencing the feelings of joy, freedom, and accomplishment that are often missing in lives focused on survival. SBT Founding Trustee Sanjoy Roy adds that drama and arts classes play a “cathartic and therapeutic” role. Such training provides traumatized young people with a way to express and explore the “pain, insecurity, and broken dreams” that they experienced while living on the streets. In addition, it helps them integrate into mainstream life.
As these street kids develop their artistic skills and confidence, they have opportunities to showcase their talents to wider audiences. Every year, young people from SBT’s sites come together to produce a play that they present to audiences of their peers, SBT supporters, and local dignitaries. The productions have included musicals and comedies, as well as explorations of social issues.
SBT estimates that each year, about 1,500 street children participate in the organization’s Performing Arts Program.“Through the experience of performing arts, SBT has successfully instilled a sense of self-confidence and dignity in the lives of these children,” comments SBT Chairperson and Founding Trustee Praveen Nair.
For children with no home, life is a fast train to nowhere. Salaam Baalak Trust works to restore them to the world of childhood and take them from a lonely dead end to bonding, learning, and the joy of a professional life.From the Salaam Baalak Trust’s vision statement