Several weeks ago, we had a little “incident” involving the newest addition to the AIC Residential Program, Rahul. To make a long story short, Rahul did not come home from school with the other kids, and after much searching and worry, was located six hours away, on a train heading to Goa, by a good Samaritan who was suspicious that a young boy in a school uniform was riding the train to Goa by himself and thought to look in his school books for a phone number to call (good Samaritan, whoever you are, we are forever grateful). Rahul was left in the hands of the railway police until he could be retrieved, and when questioned about his actions, became angry and defensive and said that he had run off because he had recently gotten a haircut and some of his AIC siblings had teased him by calling him “taklu” (bald man).

[Yes, really. Rahul was so upset by a particular instance of lighthearted teasing and banter that is a constant among the kids that he decided to jump ship. Forever? Just until he cooled off a bit and spent a weekend at the beach in Goa? It is unclear what was going through his mind at the time.]

The deeper issue here is that Rahul, having lived by himself on the streets for more than half of his life, had never had to learn to resolve problems. He had never had to learn to compromise, make peace with others or sort out his differences. Consequences meant nothing to him and his future was never clearly defined enough to bank on. He had no particular investment in any particular place and no strong ties to anyone.

Adrift on the streets, if Rahul became angry about something his friends said or did, he had the freedom to walk away and never come back. If he got into an argument with those he was sharing a shack with, he moved on and found someone else to bunk with. If he burned his bridges in Mumbai, he moved to Pune or Goa or somewhere else for a while.

This isn’t just about Rahul, of course – so many of the kids who come to AIC’s programs react to conflict in similar ways in the beginning. Even though Rahul has been at the AIC Residential Program for a year now, this situation is a reminder to us all that it takes time to learn to be a member of a family, to put your trust in others, to cherish deeper bonds with other human beings, even though they sometimes entail conflict and anger and sadness and other unpleasant emotions that must be worked through. After a lifetime of neglect, heartbreak and hurdles, it takes time to learn to love.

Today was a day full of love at the Residential Program – special snacks, heartfelt notes about love and appreciation for each other adorning the walls and a family game of soccer to round out the evening. The perfect opportunity to take some time out of the daily grind to remind and be reminded of how important we are to each other.
The AIC family is a work in progress, as are all families, I think. Reminding each other that we care, and assuring each other that every single member of the family is cherished, loved and absolutely irreplaceable, is an ongoing effort. And although it is time-consuming and sometimes challenging (heck, I’m pretty sure we’ve all contemplated jumping on a train to Goa at one time or another out of frustration, Rahul’s just the only one who had the guts to actually do it!), ultimately, these kids are developing bonds of family and friendship that will last them throughout their lives.