Footprints first began when volunteers discovered the number of children on the streets who were being exploited; the mothers, who were sex workers, were using the children for financial gains. The children themselves were also involved in petty crimes such as pick pocketing, and some were more dangerously involved with drug dealers. Volunteers working with Footprints went into the streets, spoke to the women and persuaded them to send their children to our Literacy Centre so that we could teach them to read and write. Here began Footprints’ first activities.
At the Literacy Centre, the children were given a bath and breakfast before they commenced their lessons. As time went on, children from the surrounding slums who had heard about our Literacy Center began to come for our programme, and so our numbers increased. As the number of children grew, we constructed a temporary shed and purchased some tables and chairs to offer better facilities. They were proud of the uniforms we provided for them!
Many of our children came from abused and marginalised environments, and many of their mothers and grandmothers, particularly those from the slums, made several requests for us to provide shelter for the children. However, at the time we were not geared to provide the children with these facilities.
One day a little girl who came to the Center was sick the whole day crying “amma, amma” (meaning mother). Our teachers informed us that this little girl of about 8 years of age had been raped the night before. The need to rescue these girls from the environment they were in became imperative to us. Thus, began our shelter programme for girls.
In 2001, we rented a house and provided shelter for four girls and as time went on the numbers grew. It soon became apparent that we had to rescue the boys as well and in 2003, we began a similar programme for the boys.
As time went on, there were many mothers, grandmothers or guardians who had heard about us and who contacted us to provide their children with safe shelter. Some of the mothers were needy women. whose husbands had either died or abandoned them and they had no means of income, being illiterate. We began to look at these applications case by case, and opened our doors to those with the greatest need.
In 2004, when the Tsunami struck our little island and took away many of our people, we opened our doors again to the needy who had lost parents and all their meager belongings.
The children were taken care of by loving caregivers, provided with safe and healthy shelter, food, brought up to acceptable standards, and introduced into state schools. Some of the children who showed academic improvements were sponsored to enter private schools. The children excelled in sports, singing and music in their respective schools and gained added self worth and confidence. This level of caregiving still continues.