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World - Asia/Pacific

'Young doctors' minister to India's street children

August 29, 1998
Web posted at: 11:11 p.m. EDT (0311 GMT)

Mumbai, India (CNN) -- For street children living in the squalid slums of India, hygiene is as alien as going to school.

But a volunteer group of medical workers is hoping to change that. They are teaching formerly drug-addicted children the basics of hygiene and first aid and sending them back into the slums as "young doctors."

India's streets are home to an estimated 18 million children. Drug abuse, alcoholism and smoking are rampant among the homeless adolescents.

Vijay Singh Chouhan was addicted to tobacco and drugs since childhood but changed his ways after attending the workshop.

"I learned about diseases caused by drug addiction, chewing tobacco and having alcohol," he said. "So I stopped taking drugs. Earlier I also used to smoke and take tobacco. I have left everything."

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These kids are learning to count and at the same time learning about everyday personal care. Each number they learn stands for one of the steps in basic hygiene: Cut your nails, brush your teeth, wash your mouth.

By training the children, the volunteers hope to reach those in the slums unable to access medical aid and instill a sense of purpose in the lives of the newly trained street children.

The "young doctors" are provided a first-aid box with an emergency kit and basic medicines and are paid a small sum by the volunteer group for bandaging or applying antiseptic ointments to other homeless kids. Most used to earn their living by shining shoes or begging.

"I used to polish shoes, and I was a thief," said Balad Rao. "Everyone used to look down upon me a good-for-nothing. Now I go around with my box and my I-card (identity card) as a young doctor, and everyone treats me well."


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