“When you’ve seen the worst in people and life, that can either make you a bitter person or you can stop cycle and be the difference,” says Amin Sheikh. Amin was born in a slum in Mumbai and started working at a tea stall when he was all of 5 years old. Verbal and physical abuse were extremely common. One day, he accidently spilled tea and the glasses shattered. Fearing scared of what would happen next if the owner found out, he decided to run away.
“On my first night on the streets of Mumbai, I was raped. I was too young to even understand what was happening. Facing abuse as street child is almost a commonality and happens on several occasions. The streets of Mumbai and the city’s railway platforms became my home. I’ve done it all – meeting other street children, polishing shoes, singing in the train and then even getting beaten up by commuters for not singing ‘well’ enough. You know how they say angels exist? I do believe in that because mine is sister Seraphin from Snehasadan (a shelter for street children). One day, she was passing by Dadar station when she saw me there and offered to take me home. I almost threw a stone at her because I was used to people taking me home to either physically abuse me or to indulge me in household work. My faith in humans was shaken at the time. She kept coming back till I came – and I finally found a happy home that would keep me away from the streets till I turned 18,” says Amin.
He was given basic education and made friends along the way. After Snehasadan, he did odd jobs to keep himself going. He worked as a courier person, at a garage in the evening sometimes (also where he learned driving) or even cleaning cars. Father Placie from Snehasadan called Amin to his office one fine day and told him, “You will be working with Eustace Fernandes from tomorrow,” he said.
Eustance Fernandes is the creator of the famous Amul girl. He was brought in as Eustance’s man Friday. Under his guidance, Amin learned how to not only speak English, but also saw the world through a different lens; where it was actually a safe place.
“It was 2002, Christmas eve. Eustance asked what I’d like as a gift. I gathered some courage and said, ‘A trip to Barcelona’ (Barcelona because he had often seen and heard Eustance travel there). He laughed and said that’s not viable. Later that night when I was sleeping, he came to me and handed me over a ticket. That’s how I went – from the streets of Bombay to Barcelona.” says Amin with the biggest smile on his face.
“It was when I was in Barcelona, I understood how accessible knowledge is for everyone given the number of libraries and cafes around. I couldn’t read much myself, but I wanted to do something to help our street kids. That’s when I came back to Mumbai with one idea – to start a café, which could also be a library. I obviously had no funds to do this. I wrote to Oprah Winfrey as she helped people with her dreams. But no luck, as one may have assumed,” he adds.
However, there was one thing he knew – Never give up. He got an idea. Former tour guest-turned-friend of Amin’s, Marta Miquel from Barcelona was volunteering with hospitals in Odisha and Nepal. These hospitals were in desperate need of electrical generators. To fund these generators, Miquel wrote a book and reached out to her contacts to help spread the word about the book.
So he decided to write an autobiography and self-publish it collect funds to fulfill his dreams. He had some kind friends help him edit and proof read the book too. In 2012, it was beginning of his dream – Bombay to Barcelona Library Café. He sold the book for 6 years at traffic signals post that (by himself), along with placing at exhibitions and instillations to collect funds. When he’d finally collected enough funds, he rented a space in Bandra today called as – Bombay to Barcelona Library Café.
The café shelters and is run by street children, who Amin takes care of till they find their own wings. He makes no income for himself through this venture, everything earned is invested for a better tomorrow for these children. He wishes, no other child to have the same fortune he did, while growing up.
However, like every other business the lockdown and covid has massively impacted the business. The only difference is, here the impact is on the lives and future of these children & Amin. They seek help. Their landlord has asked for 23L by December, else the place will be shut down and Amin and the kids will return to the streets.
Here’s what you can do to help them: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-amin-sheikh?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email-payment&mlp_referrer_id=3276744
Amins dreams and spirits remain unbreakable, but let’s collective try and show him – the world after all, can be the safe place of his dreams.
Disclaimer: The above mentioned fundraiser is an understanding between the subject person and the third party fundraising platform. A Success Diary is neither a participant nor a beneficiary of the fundraiser.