Amin Sheikh was a boy like many others, living on the streets of Bombay.
But now that he’s grown up, he is using his experience to fulfil a dream: opening a library cafe to help other street children find purpose in their lives.
A taxi driver in the city now named Mumbai, Amin, 33, wrote his experiences of the rough life in an autobiography to raise awareness about the daily difficulties millions of children in his hometown face.
I found help and I want to give the opportunity to others like me
Proceeds will go towards fulfilling his dream – giving these children, who he calls his own, another chance at life.
Having suffered relentless physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including by his own parents who used to scold and beat him, Amin wants to make a difference, just like others – who he describes as his “angels” – made in his own life.
His book, Life Is Life: I Am Because Of You, which was recently translated into Catalan, brought him to Spain for the launch.
A Maltese woman, Vanessa Attard, who he met in India while she volunteered at an orphanage, sponsored his trip to Malta to promote his book and raise awareness of the plight of these street children.
“My book is the first book I’ve ever read. I was not good at education. I just couldn’t study, not only because of the psychological trauma I suffered but also because no one ever taught me how,” he said.
Amin described how he lived the rough life after running away from home. While on the streets, he was regularly sexually abused, which he says happens to 80 per cent of city’s street children.
“There is nothing I haven’t done. I picked up and ate food from the garbage, begged and robbed. I could not stay home. My father was an alcoholic and treated us badly. When my mother left him, my step-father also hit us with sticks and belts.”
Amin left home and began living in train stations. Months later, he bumped into his sister, two years younger, who had also left home. They were “saved” by Amin’s “angels”, Fr Placido Fonseca, now 76, and Sr Seraphine, now 88, who took the siblings to Snehasadan orphanage, “a home for the homeless”.
It was 1988 and he was eight years old.
“What I have and what I have become today is all because of Snehasadan and its people. It is these people who have made the name meaningful: home of love. This place shocked my system because I had never experienced kindness before.”
Snehasadan has more than 50 years providing care for over 40,000 street children in its 20 houses.
Eventually, the orphanage found his mother and the family was reunited. After becoming a rickshaw driver, Amin stayed in contact with the orphanage and one day they found him a job as a butler with a rich artist, Eustace Fernandes.
In Christmas 2002, Mr Fernandes asked Amin what he wanted as a gift and he asked his employer to take him on his annual trip to Barcelona. Amin, then 23, flew out of India for the first time.
After years of working for Eustace, he had put aside enough money to buy his mother and sister a home.
Mr Fernandes, who has since died, helped Amin set up a taxi business and now Amin wants to make his own contribution to society.
He has already chosen a name for the cafe: Bombay to Barcelona
“What I did in the past, I still do today. I go around the streets begging and selling this book to collect enough funds to have this cafe where street children can learn and spend their time,” he said.
“If this dream comes true, my next project would be buying a fleet of ambulances because sometimes I feel there is no value to human life.
“These are some of my dreams. I found help and I want to give the opportunity to others like me – that I did not have as a child.”
His book has been translated into Italian, French, German and Hebrew and is available online though Amazon, iTunes and Google Play. Physical copies, at €15, may be bought from firstname.lastname@example.org.