Carlin Carr ’00 Helps Street Kids Feel Like Family

Monday, November 11, 2013 - 10:30
Carlin Carr ’00 and some of the boys she helps in Mumbai

Carlin Carr ’00 went to Mumbai to study for a master’s degree in social change. But it was her own life that changed profoundly, along with the lives of street children she befriended and now cares for.

Three years ago, she and partner Michael Burns moved to Mumbai, where they head an alternative family for 16 boys aged 6 to 17. Due to varied circumstances all rooted in abject poverty, the boys’ only home remains a public bathroom and changing facility.

Desperate families drop off children while scrambling to find a more permanent place for them to live, Carr explains. But instead of spending a night or a week, most of the boys stay months, years, and even decades at the facility. Some have had no contact with family members since the day they were dropped off.

"The boys live in one all-purpose room, sharing everything with each other. In this room, they sleep, study, have exercise programs, and eat,” says Carr. “Their shelter is on one of the glitziest streets in Mumbai, alongside some of the city's best five-star hotels. The contrast between their lives and those of their neighbors is stark. The shelter is very, very basic, but better than the streets of Mumbai."

Carr and Burns help the boys build a semblance of normal life. They help with school lessons; take the kids on outings; provide supplies such as toothbrushes, shoes, and soap; and get them medical care in emergencies. Basic needs and school fees are paid for by local nonprofits.

But it’s Carr and Burns who are there daily, praising the boys for learning a headstand, getting a haircut, or passing a test—“things we got daily from our parents without even knowing how much those little affirmations were helping us,” Carr says. “I hope we’ve brought them the feeling that someone cares about and believes in them.”

She and Burns pay their own bills—and cover the cost of necessities and occasional treats for the boys—by teaching online courses for a university in the United States.

Carr also tackles poverty on a bigger scale by working with the Observer Research Foundation, a public-policy think tank, to push for shelters and more affordable housing in a city where housing prices have soared and some 100,000 people live on the streets.

They recently crowd-funded a trip to the Ellora caves. The UNESCO World Heritage site was the first place outside Mumbai most of the boys had ever seen.

“This showed them what the world ‘out there’ is like and gave them a chance to enjoy green space and fresh air,” says Carr.

Despite the noise, crowds, chaos, and pollution of Mumbai, Carr says she loves the city and her work there.

“The kids are so full of warmth and joy; they don’t seem to carry with them the burden of their difficult lives,” Carr says. “They’ve given us so much that I hope we return that love in equal measure.”

Video: Meet the boys and learn more about Carr’s work. 

—By Emily Harrison Weir