This description of Anselm Rosario's work was prepared when Anselm Rosario was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
Anselm Rosario has been working with runaway or abandoned street-dwelling children who survive as scavengers in the South Indian city of Bangalore since the mid-1980s. He is developing and demonstrating non-institutional ways of helping them adjust and grow by working with individual youngsters at the micro level, by encouraging cross-agency collaboration, and by developing new recycling programs that promise to provide both these young scavengers and the programs serving them a viable economic base.
The New Idea
Over the course of time he has worked with Bangalore's scavenging street children, Anselm has learned who they are, what they experience and feel, the economics of scavenging, approaches that work and others that do not, and who is doing what to help. Having penetrated the world of these children, he has developed and refined a series of non-institutional ways of penetrating their armor of suspicion and hostility and providing a sequence of opportunities and events that each boy or girl can in their own time use to grow. One element of his outreach is a fair-price shop that purchases the children's collected paper, plastic, boxes, etc. and markets these materials at wholesale. Not only does this lessen their dependence on the very tough commercial retail purchase shops, but also it gives Anselm and his colleagues a practical point of contact, once that respects these children's work and economic independence. At this same facility Anselm provides care, washing facilities, food and powdered mile, forty beds the children can use for a few days or longer, as they need, and access to basic medical care. This center is backed up by another that provides basic education and job training. Without such training these street children find it very difficult to make the jump from scavenging into the formal economy. When they try they are commonly frustrated because the only jobs available are boring, dead-end chores entailing hard physical labor and none of the freedom they enjoy scavenging. Anselm's work has helped 20 percent of those who have come to him to find new jobs and a further 15 percent cut their scavenging back to seasonal supplementation for what they earn in another new primary source of income. Such centers can only reach a limited number of children, and then only part of the time. (There are an estimated 25,000 scavengers in Bangalore, almost all young, probably one third of whom are entirely on their own.) Anselm's organization, the Ragpicker's Education and Development Scheme (REDS), consequently has developed new street contact and education programs that now regularly reach 2000 of the city's scavenger street children. Anselm is comfortable that these three prongs of the model approach he has been evolving now allow him and his co-workers to provide a significant number of the city's street children an environment in which they can develop. He plans over the next several years to further refine this approach, to supplement it by organizing at a higher social level, and to spread his work broadly. His work beyond the level of his model of direct service has several interrelated elements. First, he hopes to build the public's awareness of and engaged participation in helping the plight of the street children in the community's midst. This is important not only in terms of needed help but, probably at least as important, in order to lessen the fear and hostility that define much of these youngsters' interactions with society. Anselm also plans to try to encourage more economically productive recycling programs, programs designed to help the environment, to help the scavengers and their institutions, and to focus and engage the middle class on the problem. The first step is to encourage major sources of valuable wastes to give the young scavengers he organizes favored access to these wastes. There are, however, probably limits to how far he will be able to go with this approach since these firms typically now sell such wastes profitably to the highest bidder. Therefore he is planning to see if he can open a new source of high value wastes: middle class homes and the smaller institutions in these neighborhoods. REDS already maintains several cycle rickshaws which its kids use in their scavenging work and pays for the food at its centers in significant part through the current, narrow-marginal scavenging approaches. Anselm has one further, longer-term objective: to work out how to intervene to help families where children are at risk of falling into the street. As with his current remedial work, he hopes to demonstrate effective approaches and then encourage the government and others to follow up.
Although there are proportionally fewer street children in India than in Latin America-perhaps a function of the fact that India is still three quarters rural and has very strong family institutions-the problem is growing rapidly. Anselm thinks there are a number of forces at work that explain this disturbing growth. First, there are more and more children as India's already young population multiplies. Moreover, India is beginning to urbanize rapidly, one of several forces undermining the traditional extended family. Further, there are more opportunities for children to earn a living on the streets, and they are tempted by the growing number of age-mates who claim to enjoy their independent lifestyle, an alternative that provides escape from a stifling slum and/or difficult family conditions. In October 1988, Anselm traveled to a number of his state's smaller cities. By working down the scavenging chain to the retail purchase depots and on to the children, he documented that the problem is serious and growing even in such modest towns as Hubli, Darwra, and Shimoga. Although there are a number of organizations that offer some help, they usually deal with only part of the problem and a token number of children. Anselm is trying to help India find more systematic and sensitive ways of helping these children long before it faces the terrible social consequences that failing to respond in time is now visiting on so many Latin American countries.
Anselm's approach builds up from his first operating principle: to understand and respect the street children he serves. He helps by opening opportunities that respond to the youngster's perceived needs, and encouraging them, but leaving them to decide for themselves. He knows, for example, that a child who has been independent on the street will commonly return four, five, or even six times before truly being able to decide that a more disciplined alternative really makes sense. His approach builds around and on the life the child has fashioned for him or herself on the street. Unlike most institutions, it does not try to force a child to break suddenly with his or her current life and livelihood. This approach allows Anselm to reach far more children-both psychologically and economically. His focus on strengthening his young scavengers' hands in the current business and on introducing more profitable sources of waste and recycling techniques is entirely consonant with this respectful, realistic philosophy. So is his plan to educate and involve the public. Anselm also hopes to create a sarya (union) of street children, growing from the same philosophy and serving the same ends.
Anselm received a B.Sc. degree from Bangalore University and went on to get a certificate in hotel management. After several years apprenticeship working in a number of well-known hotels, he became an instructor of transcendental meditation and traveled widely in India helping others learn this technique. In the early 1980s, he became a trained development worker and labored for several years for the All India Catholic Union in his home state of Karnataka and neighboring Goa. Having finished this apprenticeship, he decided to focus his efforts on finding effective ways of helping street children, starting with the scavengers in his home city.