This world is full of amazing human beings. Yesterday I met David who is one of them for sure.
A gentle man in his 70’s, awarded an OBE for his services for British Rail, David meets me in the court yard of the British Library, enthusiastically handing me a signed copy of one of his books ‘The Other Railway Children’. The next 2 hours fly by. Animated and full of stories of his travels and what he recites as coincidences and luck, which are actually strokes of genius and dedication, David tells me many stories that leave me inspired and I wanted to just give you a glimpse of that world.
He says “so when I was looking for a partner in India they told me me, wait till you hear what Matthew’s been up to!”. David starts by telling me about how Matthew, as an 11 year old had crumbled under the academic pressure and expectation his father (a docror at the time), had placed on him. The little boy ran away from home, was in and out if trouble with the police for years, sleeping in railway stations and ended up as teenager going to India as a page boy with a band and stayed there. During his time in India he had made friends with many of the street children there, sharing with them a history that they had in common. One night two little boys came knocking at the door, one withered by malaria. Matthew took them in and saw the little boy better. A month later, he had 6 street boys living with him, a couple month more and he had welcomed over 20 street boys in his home.
A little over whelmed he spoke to the children and told them he would not afford to keep them all in his home and proposed they all move together to another city in India where he could afford a bigger place for less money. The 23 of them moved the next week. Speaking at a local community event, unaware the mayor was present, Matthew spoke of all the skills these young boys had and how helpful they had become to their local community. After the event, the mayor said he’d offer him land for a bigger place. This is when David was linked to him and a beautiful place for Street boys was built.
Matthew married the social worker that worked in his new home and with the profits of the products sold by the street boys, they all decided to build a similar home for Street girls. Matthew passed away three years ago, his wife runs the girls home and the boy who survived the malaria now runs the boys.
Perhaps among David’s biggest achievements in Railway Children is his work on creating CAB (Children’s Advice Booth).. very early on, maybe 25 years ago, David realised that most of the work being done with street children was after they had settled in their new environment. What he then advocated is the crucial moment that’s being missed, that of the arrival of children, the first few hours on the railways. Recently 2 of the biggest rail stations in India have created CABs where the police, the staff and even passengers are all made aware on how to report and deal with a lone child at the station. Follow the success this proved, 10 new stations will follow this success.
The banker in India who had grown close to the kids who cleaned his car while at work was offered a promotion in Hong Kong. He said he did not want to go because no one would look after the children he’d grown connected to. The bank gave him an ultimatum and he left. His previous customers found out and funded the rest of his work with the children.
David, who jumps from stories of his midnight round with neighbours helping drunk teenagers get home safely, to what he feels has been the most helpful mentoring of teenagers in local schools who just need, he says someone to show them options and alternatives, his stories about his travels and his passions come to an end with his own conclusion … “I’ll tell you what they need, children need a good listening to!!”