No child’s play: A bank run by and for street children

No child’s play: A bank run by and for street children
Monday, 31 March , 2008, 15:11

New Delhi: The cashier counts the currency notes carefully, makes an entry in the passbook and hands it over to the waiting customer through a tiny window. But this is no ordinary bank — as both the cashier and consumer are actually street children.

The Bal Vikas Bank, or Children’s Development Bank (CDB), is a unique initiative by a Delhi-based NGO Butterflies, whose primary aim is to inculcate a sense of saving money in street children, who otherwise end up wasting whatever little they have on gambling or drugs.

Suman Sachdeva, project development manager of Butterflies, said the programme, which began in 2001 and runs from 11 night shelters spread across the city, does more than just help children save money.

"The Children’s Development Bank is not a stand alone programme. Since it’s run by and for children, it inculcates in them a sense of responsibility. And it also brings them on the path of education since one can’t be expected to maintain ledgers and passbooks without being literate," Sachdeva told IANS.

Trained by volunteers of the HSBC bank, the young officials of CDB, mostly in the age group of 12-14, are as professional as they get. The members are either rag pickers or work in teashops and dhabas.

Since its inception, CDB has grown from 20 members to 1,700 in Delhi alone.

Rakesh Kumar, all of 12 and a runaway from his home in Bihar, is manager of the bank’s Nizamuddin branch.

Sharp at 6.30 in the evening, when the bank opens after the children return from "work", Kumar walks in. Dressed in a chocolate brown pair of trousers, a white printed shirt and hair neatly combed, he enters his cubicle painted bright yellow and pink.

Soon a number of young customers queue up in front of the cashier’s window with their earnings of the day, anything between Rs 20 and Rs 50. Members get a 3.5 per cent interest return on their savings.

"It feels good to be able to handle such a responsibility," Kumar said as he made an entry in the passbook and handed over Rs 50 to a customer, as young as him.

"It’s a matter of pride to be the bank manager. We have regular meetings and choose a different bank manager every six months," he added.

Apart from the bank timings, there are other rules that the children have made.

For instance, it’s unanimously decided that kids selling pornographic material or indulging in stealing, pick-pocketing and substance abuse will not be given membership of the bank.

Like any other bank, CDB, whose overall functioning is seen by the volunteers of the NGO, has two types of accounts — the jama khata or savings account where a minimum of Re 1 can be saved, and the chalta phirta account or the current account.

"One can also take loans from the bank. The request is, however, carefully reviewed by a panel of nine members comprising NGO volunteers and children. These loans are more often than not for business propositions," Sachdeva said.

"So, for instance, if someone wants to start a teashop or a video CD shop, one can take a loan. It specially helps girls to empower themselves, by setting up tailoring or embroidery shops, and protects them from being pushed into prostitution."

The membership of CDB comes to an end when a child turns 18. He or she then has the option of seeking membership in other affiliated banks like ICICI or Andhra Bank.

"As an offshoot of this programme, we are now planning to get some of the children who have turned 18 to get trained by institutes such as the Pusa Institute of Hotel Management so that they can be absorbed by catering agencies later," Sachdeva said.

"Hopefully, we should start the programme by June this year," Sachdeva said.

CDB has its branches in Kolkata (West Bengal), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and Srinagar and Leh (Jammu and Kashmir), besides the 11 locations in Delhi.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also have branches of CDB, which are run by partner organisations. For instance in Afghanistan, Aschiana is the key organisation that runs CDB there.

On popular request, there might be a few other countries that could join the list. In South Asia, CDB has over 8,000 members.

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