THE SHARMA FAMILY GIRLS' HOSTEL, NEW DELHI
In the early 1990s a charity called Salaam Baalak Trust started working at the New Delhi railway colony. They rented a jhuggi where they gave nursery education to infants
and coached schoolchildren. When the organisation wanted to open a hostel for girls, one of the teachers, Aruna Shah, offered her own home in a middle class Delhi suburb. Her mother-in-law and father-in law then occupied the ground
floor and Aruna, her husband, and four daughters shared the first floor with 30 to 40 girls referred by 'Childline' or the Railway Police. When the Salaam Balak Trust decided not to keep any girls who were over 14 or had a parent
living, Aruna was very upset at the idea of sending vulnerable girls back onto the Delhi streets. When she talked to Jane and Ashley, she told them she needed more money than the charity paid her for hospital treatments for her
daughter Tashu, who is epileptic. After long discussions with Aruna and her husband, Jane and Ashley agreed to pay for six girls who did not qualify for help from SBT to live with them. To accommodate the enlarged family the
Butterfields paid for the building of an extra floor on the house, with kitchen, bathroom, and three bedrooms. This project if fully funded by BEJT.
The Sharmas are remarkable. Aruna is devoted to these girls and treats them exactly as she does her own. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law act as honorary grandparents, her husband as a
substitute father, and most remarkably, her four daughters seem to accept their foster sisters as equals.
Aruna took 6 girls from the railway colony, mostly of single parents working in menial jobs and unable to look after them, or
to keep them safe. She placed them in the same small private school which her own daughters attended, and they lived as part of her own family. Later we increased the number to ten, then twelve, then fifteen and now 26 resident girls.
Aruna is fully supported in her work by her husband, children and parents
in law, and employs a minimal staff of cook, washer-woman, and part time tutor. Her home provides girls with a homely, loving family atmosphere in which they can develop a proper sense of self-worth and receive a good
education. Her goal is to make them self-sufficient in a world where they would otherwise be severely disadvantaged.
Aruna calls her fosterchildren 'my girls', and they all adore her. She
respects and inspires confidence in their parents, even though she does not always agree with their views, and understands the importance of retaining and encouraging family links. Aruna's work with her
fosterchildren often brought her into conflict with SBT, and in June 2005 she lost her job. She is now paid a salary from BEJT funds.
Meet some of Aruna's girls here.