They’re known on television as the Property Brothers. Good-looking and confident, they stride into millions of Canadian living rooms each week, proving that with great real estate advice and the right renovation and design help, we can all have our dream homes without breaking our budgets.
But when World Vision’s brand new Anti-Child Labour Ambassadors, Vancouver-born twins Drew and Jonathan Scott, stepped into the filthy one-room hut in Delhi, India, they were clearly treading new ground.
“I can touch both walls,” breathed Drew, measuring the length of the cramped shack just by raising his arms. Trying to lie down, there was no room for the brothers to even lower their heads to the ground. Yet this is where an entire family sleeps, cooks and eats. In one corner of the tiny room was a bucket on a fetid mat. The toilet.
The picture of desperation
There was nothing that Jonathan – the renovation and design expert – could have done for this little shack. And there was no way that Drew – the real estate advisor – could have helped the family sell the house for a great price.
The brothers had come to a place where life is about scrounging enough coins to appease the slum landlord. In Indian culture, these families are considered the lowest of the low. Parents, desperate for oblivion, rely on street drugs to get through the day.
Perhaps worst of all, some 5,000 children are forced to contribute by working. The precious years of childhood are spent picking through garbage, selling cheap trinkets, or begging. The emotional pain is intense, as is the shame. Some children turn to drugs themselves.
The dream of education
Drew and Jonathan Scott, along with older brother, JD, came to India to see for themselves how poverty and desperation prompt parents to send their own children out to work. And they came to meet children for whom the dream is very different than an open-concept playroom or a renovated basement.
“I wanted to go to school,” said Bittoo, a 12-year-old boy who used to sell plastic flowers on the street. “Sometimes I felt like running away. But then I reminded myself that my mother had to take a loan, just to eat food. This made me feel bad.”
Thanks to the World Vision “Rights on the Street” project, the door to education for child labourers in his community is opening. World Vision workers crisscross the slum on foot, convincing parents that education can break the cycle of poverty forever. They invite children to a tiny building – rented by World Vision – where trained volunteers teach children the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. Once they have a basic education, children are permitted to enter India’s official school system.
Hope through pain
The Scott Brothers got an education of their own on this trip, one that at times was almost too painful to bear. “I’ve gone through pretty much every range of emotion,” said Jonathan in a video recorded while there. His voice broke off and the tears welled up. “I can’t even think of the words to express how much it hurts and how much it pains my heart and what these kids are going through. I cannot understand how these kids are so strong.”
But there was also great joy to be found in the slum. Children’s lives are changing here, thanks to their own determination, the support of parents who are increasingly open to the importance of education, and the World Vision program.
“I love studying”, said ten-year-old Arti with a broad grin. She used to spend her days sorting garbage, but now goes to school each morning. “Children should study because they can aspire to become anything – a teacher, a police officer – they can do anything.”
It was through children like Arti that the Scott Brothers found more than enough inspiration to share with Canadians now that they’re back. The heartbreak is real, but so is the promise.
“She has so much excitement in her life, because of her education,” reports Drew of Arti, his own face alive with hope. “It touched the deepest depths of my heart talking to her because she has a future now.”