In late September, under a setting sun and a humid Indian sky, teams from two African nations batted their hearts out to lift the Cricket World Cup. But this was no ordinary World Cup – the players were children, and the cup was the Street Child Cricket World Cup (SCCWC) organised by the charity Street Child United (SCU).
Eton Bridge Partners were proud to be an official partner of the SCCWC in Chennai. Two of our colleagues, Tamara Harrison and Wasim Yousuf, were lucky enough to not only help with the running of the tournament as volunteers, but also to see first-hand the vital work carried out by the SCU partners day-in-day-out to improve the lives of Chennai’s most deprived children. In this blog, Tamara shares a personal account of her visit to vibrant Chennai and tells us more about witnessing the impact of the charity’s amazing work.
First impressions arriving in Chennai
We arrived in the middle of the night and I was hit immediately by the heat; it was the end of the monsoon season and Chennai was sticky and very hot. We got to the hotel at 5:40am and had a tour starting at 6:00am to visit a fishing harbour with the human rights charity, Amos Trust, so we definitely hit the ground running!
It was quite surreal heading out on a rickety, old bus into the bustling city. The noise was incredible; sensory overload with tuk-tuks and motorbikes weaving all over the place and horns honking. When we got to the harbour, there was so much activity, the fish market was bustling, large, wooden fishing boats were arriving, birds were squawking and scavenging and the smell of fresh (and not so fresh) fish was everywhere. The local women who work at the harbour were busy auctioning off or gutting the fish all while wearing these amazing, coloured saris, some of which matched the fish!
In amongst the vibrant energy of the city, the reality of the day-to-day challenges of street children in Chennai was very apparent.
Many children run away to Chennai to look for work due to its warmer climate or are sent there by their families. They are extremely vulnerable and can end up on the streets (it is thought there are 75,000 street children in the city). Street children are often isolated from society and can struggle to get a good education.
We were humbled to be invited and welcomed into the homes of a number of street dwelling communities to meet the children and their families. In comparison to the luxuries of the Western World we were shocked by the reality of where people were living. We went to an area where people live on a big traffic junction and the noise there was incredible. These communities have limited access to clean water, places to wash and go to the toilet and they depend on public facilities. As these facilities are not open 24/7, they must wait throughout the night and are also required to pay on each visit. Seeing the conditions that the children and their families live in really brought to life what they are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.
The impactful work of local charity Karunalaya in Chennai
Karunayala is an amazing charity who are working to improve the lives of the street dwelling communities across Chennai. They empower the communities to fight for their basic rights, and we got to learn about, and visit, a number of their projects including their initiative supporting the women in one of the fishing communities. Most of the men work on the fishing boats and it is common practice to be paid part of their wages in alcohol; this results in problems with domestic violence/abuse when the men come off the boats after drinking heavily. The women have formed a women’s rights movement called “Niruthuda” which translates to “Stop It Man!” to protect themselves from the daily challenges they face due to the alcohol issues and domestic violence. They educate the community and try to change the men’s behaviour and reduce their reliance on alcohol.
The charity also sends a dedicated outreach team to Chennai railway station every day to look out for vulnerable children coming into the city. They support the children and take them back to their shelter where they can keep them safe, they then work closely with the police and local government to find out where the children have come from and to understand what’s brought them to the city. They are then able to reach out to their families and run mediation sessions to try and reunite them. The Karunalaya team are passionate about this work and they have a very high success rate, normally the children are only with them for a few days.
In addition to their community projects, Karunayala run two shelters – one for boys and one for girls – and most of the children in the mixed “Indian Tigers” cricket team who took part in the SCCWC came from these shelters.
From the streets to the opening ceremony – what an atmosphere!
When the SCU event started we welcomed all the teams as they arrived and on the first night and I remember sitting with one of the teams at the buffet dinner; they found it incredible seeing all the food and being allowed to eat whatever they wanted. The kids were staying in the same hotel as the volunteers and staff which was wonderful but bittersweet in comparison to where they were used to staying and where they would be returning to. All the things we take for granted like having your own bed, a private bathroom and laundry service were things that they have never experienced.
Once all the teams had arrived there was an extraordinary opening ceremony. The highlight for me was seeing all the children from the Karunalaya shelters performing a number of traditional dances.
Whilst the event uses sport (in this case Cricket) as the platform to get their message out, it involves other key forums such as Arts and Congress. They do a lot of advocacy work with each of the teams to understand and improve the life chances for street children and encourage them to return home and use their experiences to vocalise the challenges faced on a daily basis and represent their communities.
One of the highlights for the children is taking part in the amazing cultural late shows where the children perform a show that represents where they come from; this included a number of traditional dances in wonderful costumes and the energy in the room was contagious!
When it came to the cricket, I was in awe of the children. It was relentless, playing in the heat, a gruelling 38 to 40 degrees and very humid, but the children just embraced it. I was the Team Volunteer for Karunalaya’s team, the Indian Tigers. They were such wonderful children who were really passionate and so wanted to win on home turf. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be, and in the end Uganda took the cup, beating Zimbabwe in the final.
An audacious goal: the One Million and One campaign!
It’s 3 years until the next big SCU sporting event (the Football World Cup in 2026), but the work doesn’t stop there as the charity steps up their focus on its One Million and One campaign. Many street children have no legal identity and without that, they struggle to open a bank account, access healthcare and education, or simply feel acknowledged as a human being. SCU is running a campaign to secure a legal ID for one million and one street-connected children by the 2026 Football World Cup. Eton Bridge Partners supported this campaign with our recent charity walk, which raised money for 110 children to secure a legal ID, one for each EBP employee. We look forward to continuing to find ways to support this truly inspirational charity.
More about Street Child United…
Since 2019, Eton Bridge Partners are proud to sponsor Street Child United (SCU) through our relationship with International Schools Partnership (ISP). Street Child United is working towards a world where every child can access their rights, no matter their background.
SCU’s goal is to inspire a brighter, safer future for street-connected children everywhere. To achieve this, they use the power of sport to provide a global platform for street-connected children to be heard, so that they can receive the protection, support and have opportunities which every child is entitled.
The impact SCU has already had on street-connected children has been life-changing.
Find out more about Street Child United and how you can support them here:
Keep in touch
We’d love to stay in touch, please register to receive topical insights and exclusive event invitations.