Finding A Homeless Girl In Indias 1.25 Billion Population By An Australian Couple

Finding A Homeless Girl In India's 1.25 Billion Population By An Australian Couple

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Source: Chris Bray's Timeline

This is a kind of mission impossible story made possible by a couple heart-filled with compassion and humanity.
A traveler Dick Smith from Australia came to India as a tourist and traveled in India Trails. During such a journey he came across a homeless family who had a girl wearing nothing but a pick bracelet. He immediately took picture and noted down GPS coordinates and show it to his friend and asked if they can do something for the family.
They came back to India to find the girl with the pink bracelet.

Here is the whole story, how they found her:


Dick Smith showing us the photos he snapped on his iPhone of the homeless family (including a girl wearing nothing but a pink bracelet) that he spotted living under a train bridge in India a few weeks ago. He really wanted to see if there was any way he could help the family into some accommodation, perhaps see if he could fund the girl's education etc. Well aware they might not be there anymore, that they might not need or want help, and the complexities of attempting to, he still wanted us to try…


This distant photo of the family and the Google Map location is all we had to go off – and to make it worse, as you can see, the girl and all the main people in the photo were looking the other way – we couldn't even see anyone's face! In a country of 1.25 billion people, and no way of knowing if they'd still be there or not, trying to find let alone attempt to help this family was going to be quite the adventure…


So having only just got back from running another of our photo safaris around the world (, this time to Galapagos/Amazon a few days earlier, and looking forward (for the first time this yr!) to being home for more than 10 days in a row, we found ourselves back in the air again, off to India! Sydney -> Abu Dhabi -> Mumbai -> Vadodara…


3PM on Day 1, we landed in Vadodara, climbed into a crazy rickshaw and braved the traffic chaos to our hotel…


I'd emailed ahead and this receptionist girl, Jayati, was keen to try and help us, acting as our Hindi/English translator. She'd especially worked the morning shift so she was ready to go with us right away…


We made it to the bridge, known as 'Polytechnic Bridge' or 'Shastri Bridge', with the huge 'Study, Work & Settle in New Zealand' advert sign beside it…


Just as in Dick's photo from the train… — in Vadodara, Gujarat.


Jayati suggested before we try to find the family, we should first buy some gifts like sandles etc to make our good intentions clear. But by the time we'd made it to the markets and back, it was getting dark, and she misunderstood our intentions and wanted to give the gifts to random homeless people. She didn't understand why we needed to find this particular family…


Morning of Day 2 – Jess and I went alone to the bridge. There were various families around, but it was all rather awkward as we couldn't communicate, and we couldn't recognize anyone from the photos…


Getting desperate, we we walked into a bank to try and meet the manager Ratan who was the friend of a friend of a father of a friend of mine (Thanks so much for the contact Anna!). He (front left) introduced us to the wonderful Dr. Chellani (front right) from the university who agreed to help. He drove all all down to the railway bridge to try and find the family…


We started asking around if anyone recognized anyone in Dick's photos…


Everyone denied everything – telling Dr. Chellani that they'd never seen any of the people in the photos before…


But then we saw this man in red with the plastic leg (turns out a train cut it off!) who was also in our photo! He agreed it was him, and then others started to admit they recognized others too…


Passing around this photo, this woman recognized the girl with the pink bracelet and pointed to a woman she said was the girl's mum. The mum agreed that was her daughter in the photo, and she sent for her – she was playing out the back somewhere…


That's her! She's the girl in the photo! She still had the pink bracelets on too! Amazing! Her name is Divya, meaning 'divine light', and she's 8yrs old!


With all eyes on her, and these 2 weird foreigners and two men in suits here to see her, the young girl Divya thought she must have been in trouble, and was initially very shy and a little upset…


I handed Divya a copy of Dick's photo, and it was explained that my friend had passed by in a train a few weeks ago, and seen her & her family, and taken a photo, and we were just here to give her the photo…


Everyone warmed up then, and we met the whole family, she has two brothers, 7 and 2yrs old, both who were also in Dick's photo…


The parents had been living under the bridge for 12 years, and Divya had been born there just under the bridge without any nurse etc. As the father was away at work (a plasterer, earning $4-6/day, not enough to afford even a slum house while also caring for three kids) we decided it was best to wait until the dad came home from work to discuss with the whole family to see if there was a way we could help. Dr. Chellani told them to meet at the Bank that afternoon. We even had to per-warn the security guard to actually let them in…


We filled in time by exploring the city (we didn't see a single other tourist, and were surprised to in fact have many locals stop us and ask to have their photo taken with us on their phone cameras etc!). Feeling super optimistic having found the girl, our optimism even extended to eating local food from street vendors (something which virtually everyone at home warned us against due to the infamous 'Deli-Belly'), and it was great, even some monkeys came down out of the tree wanting some…


So on the afternoon of Day 2, the whole family filed shyly into the bank managers office and sat down…


We met the dad for the first time, and mercifully it turned out that he doesn't drink or smoke (The whole state of Gujarat is a 'dry state' and alcohol is illegal but there is of course a thriving black market). We believed them too, he certainly presented better than many of the other red-eyed, hungover men under the bridge – he seems like a genuine, hard working man, loves his family, and just struggling to get ahead. Thankfully it seems they weren't under the bridge because he has some hardcore addiction or something – they seem like the perfect family not only in need of some assistance, but able and willing to be helped…


We explained (via Dr. Chellani) that these were our friends Dick & Pip who'd passed by in a train a few weeks earlier who'd spotted them, and wanted to know how he could help the family, if they wanted…


It was a pretty special moment to be sitting there, as the messengers of such a generous, life-changing gift, and watching realization dawn on this family that we wanted to pay rent for them to move into a house, help Divya get a good education, help the father earn a better wage to help them start to help themselves etc…


Next morning, Day 3, we all met up again in the bank, and first things first, we wanted to open a bank account for the girl, with the mother as the guardian, so that Dick could deposit rent etc every month, which would then be automatically transferred to the rental account etc. However they didn't even have the most basic form of ID that identified them even as an Indian citizen, no fixed address, or anything. Amazingly though, Mr. Ratan found a way to help, opening them what's called a 'Smile' bank account, a new initiative for people with no ID…


As the mother (and Divya) are illiterate and can't even sign their own names, instead an ink-pad and fingerprint were used, and then witnessed & verified by Mr Ratan. But we still needed official passport photos for Divya and her mum…


So off we went to try and find somewhere that could do instant passport photos…


After several dead-ends we found a place! Mum quickly polished up Divya's face with her shawl…


And we got the passport photos…


While waiting for them to be printed, I took advantage of their beautiful studio background and took a few photos myself… — with Jess Bray.


So back at the bank, Mr Ratan attached the passport photos to the bank account form…


Stamped them as official, and the bank account was activated!


Dr. Chellani suggested we write up a formal contract linked to the account, specifying what the funds are allowed to be used for (Rent, and furthering the girls education), and to give them confidence that this was to be ongoing, a minimum guarantee of 2yrs of an agreed level of funding, after which it will be reviewed etc (although the plan is for it to be more than 10yrs). We later added a condition that Divya must attend school regularly else funding can be stopped (the principle will provide monthly attendance reports to Dr. Chellani, who is also a 2nd signatory on the account, to oversee & ensure the funds are spent correctly)…


With the account now open, we got all the account details so Dick can regularly deposit into it…


To kick things off, we deposited the equivalent of about 3 months rent into the account…


And then Jess and I then took the family shopping! Somehow we all fitted into the back of one tiny rickshaw…


As we couldn't speak Hindi, and it was just Jess and I taking them shopping, I'd previously screen-captured onto my iPhone some of the key items we wanted them to find and buy, like a school bag, clothes, shoes, socks, school equipment like pencils, pens, exercise books, tools for the dad's job etc…


So next we're looking for… iPhone photo… socks! Let's go…


It was so wonderful taking the family shopping! They were remarkably responsible about it too, we really had to force the mum to allow us to buy Clothes & Shoes etc for her too, and to allow us buy more than one set of clothes etc. And when she saw the price we were spending, several times she was horrified and tried to put everything back and walk away saying it was all too much… (it was like $25 each for a complete set of jeans, top, shoes etc), she haggled all the prices way down for us, walked out of several stores etc…


Christmas came early this year! We got several sets for each family member, let them choose what they wanted, mostly very practical stuff, but Divya did fall in love with this dress so we got that too!


A school bag! We asked if the dad needed a bag for his work tools, and he said no thanks.


School supplies! Pencils, books, pens, erasers, math sets…


and all the other things required for 3rd standard school and ready for 4th standard next year… (mind you she has some catching up to do, but Dick said he'll pay for a tutor if needs be, but first to see how she adapts to regular school etc)…


A fairy-floss seller walked past, and I saw the little brother's eyes following it, and to be honest I really wanted some too (haven't had any since I was a kid!) so I bought us a little bag of pink fairy floss to share! Yum-o!


And some tools for the dad's work to help him earn a better wage with his plastering work – he selected just a spirit level to start with, but when pressured enough, he added a bucket, a plumb-bob, a trawl, a measuring tape and a few other things. He was pretty chuffed…


That afternoon we went back to the bank, and while waiting outside the office, Divya was unable to stop playing with her sparkly new shoes and smiling! Walking in shoes clearly took a bit of getting used to though! But she was determined…


While waiting, I also tried to play O's and X's on a touch-drawing app on my phone. Divya was too shy, but the security guard was keen, but he kept signing his name instead of putting X or O's… Finally I at least got him putting O's, only problem being that I'd started with O's already… still, we had fun…


Next morning, day 4 (or last day, we flew home early arvo) we met back at the bank again, and Dr. Chellani suggested we should get this in the newspaper partly to give it more credibility for the family to truly believe this was happening, and partly to hopefully inspire others into doing similar acts of generosity.


What a wonderful Christmas story! Divya, all dressed up in her new clothes, holding up a photo of Dick and Pip.


We are so lucky to have been able to make this come true! Thanks so much to Dr. Chellani (left) and Mr Ratan (right) – without whose help I'm sure we'd have failed to even find the family.


The newspaper photographer took a couple of shots for us on our camera when he'd finished taking his photos… — with Jess Bray.


We then headed off to visit Divya's school… and check out some accommodation options nearby… The father had already found two suitable accommodation options but as they were too far way for Divya to walk to school and would mean the family would be isolated from their community of local friends etc, we opted instead to not rush anything and the dad is now looking for accommodation right close to the school. Dr. Chellani will check what he finds, and send us photos for us to verify this week, and they'll move in very soon!


It turns out she's an official student at this school, in 3rd standard, but she doesn't go regularly at all. Her parents promised that she'd be going every day from now on, and the principle agreed to send Dr. Chellani her attendance report each month so we can check. We also put a clause in the bank account contract saying if she doesn't attend regularly then the funding can stop (more an an incentive for the parents to encourage her to go to school). They were happy with this.


Not a bad school, and Dick said he"ll now make a significant donation to the whole school…


And here's us in a rickshaw speeding crazily through the traffic chaos one last time to the airport! What an amazing story to be a part of! India is such a wonderful country, so busy, so colourful, full of surprises and full of people with big hearts! — with Jess Bray.

Chris Bray added photos of the journey:

THE STORY IN PHOTOS: Traveling India by train few weeks ago, Dick Smith passed a homeless family living under a bridge,…

Posted by Chris Bray on Sunday, December 20, 2015


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