The team spent one and a half weeks there, interacting with other street children from all over the world.
When Hepsiba runs, it is as if she can fly with the wind and skip through the air. Some say she picked up the skill on the streets where she lived. But her coach believes she is a natural sprinter.
On Sunday, she sprinted to victory in the 100-metre dash at the Street Child Games held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. She also won two more medals at the games. Nature or nurture, things worked fine for her. But that was not how it was in the beginning.
Hepsiba, now 16, earlier lived with her widowed mother on Sydenhams Road in Chennai, the same stretch on which, co-incidentally, Nehru Indoor Stadium is located. When they were evicted from the street, they moved into a shelter for the homeless run by the Chennai Corporation. An unexpected opportunity that came Hepsibah’s way finally took her to the global competition in Rio.
“We had organised a sports contest for street children, and this girl was sheer talent,” explains Paul Sunder Singh, of Karunalaya, an NGO that took a team of five street children to Rio for the games. “Actually, she just about made it; it was a miracle that her passport came through on time,” he says.
After that, with no sponsorship whatsoever, but with the international NGO Street Child United pitching in to some extent, Mr. Singh took a loan for the team to make the trip.
Having trained with coach Prabhakar Suresh for about two weeks, Hepsiba boarded her very first flight, one that would take her across the seas to Rio. The team spent one and a half weeks there, interacting with street children from all over the world.
Hepsiba says that she now has friends from Burundi, Pakistan, Egypt, Britain, Argentina and Brazil. That seems to her even larger than the win itself, which makes her “very, very, very happy”.
Speaking from Rio, just before the team was to catch a flight home, Hepsiba told The Hindu that Ashok and Sneha (two others in the team) also won medals at the games.
Usha, a member of the team, earlier spoke rousingly at the Street Child Games General Assembly about the need to protect children against violence.
“Everyday we fear the police. Police are supposed to support and safeguard us, but we don’t experience this. To protect children from violence at the hands of the police, street children need to be invited to speak at police training so they can understand and empathise,” she said, to loud cheers from the other participants.
Obviously, she had touched a chord there.
Between them, these children seem to have figured it out. All they need now, is help to stay off the street, and the wind beneath their wings.