Friday, June 20, 2008

Running away...

Yesterday our worst nightmare came true, as four of our boys ran away from school. After having their lunch -- and then very conscientiously washing their lunch boxes and putting them back in their book bags -- they each walked out of the school grounds, heading for the city.

That Venkatesh, Lokesh, and Nanjunda ran away was actually a real surprise, as these three were in boarding school last year and they never ran away from there. Venkatesh and Lokesh have sisters staying at KM with them, and the three boys are good students and good kids.

It turns out that the other boy, little Manikanta -- really our riskiest kid in terms of the running away factor (just because he's had absolutely no guidance and support during his nine short years and because he's lived freely on the street during that time, going wherever he wants, doing whatever he wants) -- was the instigator, encouraging the other boys to "come with me, let's go see a movie!"

Manikanta is having the hardest time adjusting to KM and to school, as he's never gone to school before, even though he is nine. His mother would beat him and put chili powder in his eyes whenever he went home without enough money for her from his begging. He'd then run away to the street to hang with his friends for a while, until he gathered some money to take home. This continued for years for Manikanta.

This year, while we were moving our kids -- many of them his friends -- into Karunya Mane, Manikanta insisted on coming with them. We told him that he has to go to school if he stays at KM, and he agreed. But of course, he could not know how drastic a change that would be for him. So he's struggling a bit, and we are doing what we can to support and guide him as he goes through this transition.

We went to the city to where the boy's moms work to look for them, but they weren't at their old stomping grounds. Then we went to the railway station, since that's an obvious place they'd go. Even though they may have had no money, they are street smart and know how to get onto trains without a ticket. And, yes, there they were, sitting together on the sidewalk outside the train station. Just sitting, and waiting ...for what nobody knows... They looked embarrassed, sheepish, and like the guilty little boys they were when we walked up to them.

Our kids have lived for so long on the street without much guidance or support that, in some ways, they are mature for their age, as they know how to survive with very little. Yesterday, while on their little adventure, the boys bought a pen for 30 rupees from someone, then turned around and sold it for 50 rupees, netting a 20 rupee profit. So although they know that being at Karunya Mane and in school is better for them than living on the street, their old habits and ways of life remain. It'll take time for that to dissipate from their thoughts, and in the healthy, supportive environment of Karunya Mane, we are sure this will happen. They have come such a long way since when we first met them on the street three years ago. The next step will just take time -- years for some of them -- and patience and understanding on our side before they realize and believe in their hearts that they are no longer street kids.

We hauled them back to KM and had a good long talk with all of them. They were all very apologetic and said they won't do it again. They know what they did was wrong, that is certain. Whether they'll do it again, only the future will reveal... we sure hope not.