Kolkata's Forgotten Brothers

Watch Kolkata's Forgotten Brothers - a 360° video story
(If watching on your phone, use the YouTube app to get the real 360° experience.)

In Kolkata, India, an estimated 70,000 people are living on the streets. With only 11 operational homeless shelters in the city, thousands have no choice but to sleep outside. In an attempt to earn some sort of income, many migrate into the city from their home village. Others grow up on the street from birth or a very young age.

The primary objective of this project is to provide youth in the Kolkata area with the proper knowledge and resources to become financially secure. In Kolkata, it’s challenging for people (especially underprivileged youth) to move up in society. Free education ends after 14 years of age in India. For many, education simply isn’t a priority. However, in order to earn money and make a decent living, they need to have a skillset.

During our trip to Kolkata this past January, we got to know four youth (ages 14 - 23) sleeping outside our hostel every night. Jakir, Ronnie, Sahil, and Sajada were always so kind and helpful to us and the others in our volunteer group. Over time, we learned about their lives, their back story, and their daily struggles. Although it was heartbreaking, it inspired us to help them. Before we left, we produced a short 360-degree video story about their life, and then started a GoFundMe campaign.

Jakir, Ronnie, Sahil, and Sajada are just four out of thousands who need help in Kolkata. With enough funding, not only will we be able to ensure that these boys succeed, but we can expand the project to help other youth in need.

Funding Plan:

English classes: ~$154.00 per course
2.5 months of ABC English
2.5 months of Basic English
2.5 months of Intermediate English
2.5 months of Advanced English
Total - $2,464 for 10 months for four students

School Supplies
English classes may require access to a laptop computer in order to practice English and complete assignments. Other expenses include books, backpacks, writing utensils, etc.
Total - ~$1,000

Basic living expenses
This will cover the cost of food, toiletries, clothing, etc., allowing them to survive while they go to school and study five days a week.
$3 per day per student for five days a week
Total - $2,400 for 10 months for four students

Housing Plan
This will provide them with a safe place to sleep, study, and store their school books/supplies while in school. It will also protect them from the extreme rain during the monsoon season (from May to October). The apartment will be a basic, one bedroom.
Total - $1,500 for 10 months 

Driver’s License Course 
Jakir, Ronnie, and Sahil are old enough to obtain their driver’s license and become taxi/delivery drivers. ~$222.00 per course
Total - $666.00 for three students

Clothing Shop
Possibility of opening a clothing stand near Kolkata's New Market.
$200 for street vendor license
~$600 for clothing supplies
Total - ~$800.00

The above funding plan is based off of average costs of English classes found online and through our own research while in Kolkata. We pledge to use all funds toward the above costs; English classes, housing expenses, living expenses, school supplies, driver’s license courses, and clothing shop expenses. All donations will be used to improve the lives of Jakir, Ronnie, Sahil, and Sajada, and possibly additional youth in the Kolkata area.

From Dec. 28, 2016 - Jan. 14, 2017, we were in Kolkata, India assisting The Beloved Community organization’s project that sends underprivileged village children to school. When we first arrived at our hostel, we met four friendly boys who offered to be our travel companions around the city, turning into our tour guides, and protecting our group from pick-pocketers. They spoke broken English, but enough to translate for us in various situations. They even helped negotiate better prices for us at local shops and street vendors.

The Beloved Community team and the boys being our tour guides at Kali Temple.

I didn’t realize that the boys were homeless until day four, when I saw them sleeping on the street beside our hostel. It broke my heart.

One day while they accompanied me to the grocery store, I told them to grab whatever they want and I'll buy it for them. They were reluctant to accept my offer at first but after I insisted, they went and grabbed some food. My happiness turned into confusion when I noticed employees and customers giving me strange looks and disapproving stares. I had to fight back tears because I was so upset at how they thought it was wrong to help poor kids.

From left to right: Sahil, Jakir, & Sajada

Ronnie & Sajada

The value of the U.S. dollar is ~68 rupees per dollar.  For $1.00, a three course meal can be bought on the street. Five dollars or less can buy a nice shirt, pants, belt, or shoes. Since the dollar goes such a long way in India, any amount of money donated will make a real impact. 

Sahil at the Maiden Park

Kolkata is beautiful and tragic at the same time. The level of poverty I saw is utterly mind-blowing. I saw homeless mothers sitting on the street, trying to feed their naked child. Street vendors literally sleep on their stands or on the street because they have no home or their home is in a village hundreds of miles away. I cried several times over the first week because I felt so powerless. I gave money and food to so many homeless kids and elderly that I lost count. I wanted to help everyone, but I had to accept that I just couldn't.

What I miss the most is the friendships I've made with Jakir, Ronnie, Sahil, and Sajada. I treated them like family and spent a lot of time getting to know them. They were like the younger brothers I've never had. During the last few days of the trip they started calling me "brother." I felt so honored by that title.

Jakir, always smiling :)

Ronnie and Cameron at Mathurapur village.

Traveling to Kolkata was a powerful, life-changing experience that helped humble me in ways words cannot describe. Seeing the immense amount of poverty there inspired me to work less for myself, and more for those in need. Although I don't have enough money and power to help thousands, I would at least like to start with helping these four boys become self-sufficient.

I'm going to do everything within my power to help them improve their lives, and I believe education is the first step. They also have dreams of being a taxi driver and/or opening a clothing stand together. With your help, their dream can become a reality.

Jakir and Ronnie have an old 3G cell phone which they use to communicate with me via Facebook messenger and Facebook video calls. I speak with them every other day and we update each other about our lives. They cannot afford a phone service plan, so they use free Wi-Fi whenever possible. 

Once Jakir, Ronnie, Sahil, and Sajada are off the street, we would like to expand this project to help more underprivileged youth in Kolkata, possibly by starting a non-profit organization. We will be learning Bengali so that we can communicate properly with the youth we hope to help in the future.

The Beloved Community team treating the boys to a movie theater experience at INOX Mall.

The biggest lesson I've discovered from this experience is to learn to appreciate every moment because most of us don't realize how much we really have.

A special shout-out the Larnerd & Eck family who were paramount in making this wonderful trip possible. The love, friendship, and compassion they gave to those boys was inspiring and heartfelt.  And an extraordinary thank you to Colin-Pierre Larnerd for making the 360° video story about them.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Together we can change the lives of these four incredible young men!

Playing soccer at the Maiden Park with the boys and the Beloved Community Team.

The Beloved Community team taking the boys to Nico Park for the first time.

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George Heru Love 
Brooklyn, NY
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