By Edward Scholl

Country Director, PCI India

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Less than a mile from Red Fort, an impressive 17th-century fort complex in the walled city of Old Delhi, lies a bustling commercial hub where truckers bring goods from around the country every day. Down the back alleys of this neighborhood is where PCI has operated a “drop-in center” for vulnerable children and youth since 2000.  The Red Fort Drop-in Center is a place for boys and girls ages 6-18 to drop in for the day and play, eat, learn, and practice skills that can help them in life.  Some of the children are orphans, or have run away from home and are living on the streets. Others live with their families, but are desperately poor and most are “rag pickers” – people who sort through garbage looking for recyclables or items to sell. Most of the children are not attending school, though the Red Fort Drop-in Center is helping to change that.

Run by a former volunteer outreach worker, Sandhaya, the drop-in center has two full-time staff and two volunteer outreach workers and provides help and support for 50-60 children and youth every day. Lunch is provided, as well as non-formal education in math, science, and English.  Computer training is also provided, as well as life skills training in areas like communication, leadership, and negotiation skills. Their education is also complemented by occasional field trips to public libraries and museums.  Finally, no youth center would last long without some fun and games, and these are also part of the daily routine.  From my observation, their dancing skills have been well developed!

Besides providing these services to children who come to the center, the volunteer outreach workers go out into the community and look for youth living on the streets and invite them to come to the center.  In addition, the outreach workers try, when possible, to reunify families that may have been unwillingly separated.  Since the program began, about 1,200 children and youth have been reunited with their families through PCI’s efforts.

In addition, the drop-in center has been successful in placing many of the youth in computer-related jobs. The center has also been able to enroll many children in school who were not previously attending.

The Red Fort Drop-in Center is part of PCI’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Project – a PCI “Legacy Project” that has continued through the generous support of many individual donors and volunteers.  In addition to Red Fort, PCI operates two additional drop-in/vocational training centers in Delhi, as well as a Shelter Home for homeless children.