The woman with whom I stayed at my first stop in New Zealand worked at a youth center and she invited me to hold a talk there, too, and to talk to the teenagers there. The children who came there did not live with their families anymore. Their parents had lost custody because of drugs, problems with the law or other things that made the government decide that they were not able to take care of their children. So these teenagers lived at another place and came to this youth center for learning and spending the day. It was their school and place to hang out at the same time.
The children had got an introduction about me before I came there and so they had a lot of questions about my life and about my stay in the cave. They asked why I went into the cave, how I spent my time there and more questions that I was actually used to and which I often replied. They were maybe 30 to 40 children and teenagers from the age of ten to 18 and they were really very interested in who I was and what I did. I told them more about India and Vrindavan, about my family and of course also a bit about spirituality.
For me it was the usual talk and questions but it was a very different experience to be with teenagers of their background. My host had told me before we went there that many of them had big problems because of their past and their family. Many of them smoked and also took drugs. The people who now took care of them tried to save them from addictions and hard drugs, they stopped the younger ones from smoking and of course smoking was not allowed in the center. I saw however that the older teenagers went out onto the street to smoke. I was told that a lot of these kids had started smoking at a very young age – it was normal in their homes to have cigarettes and alcohol lying around just reachable for them.
On one hand I felt great that the government had made a structure or a system in which children whose parents don’t take proper care, who were abused and who could not have a normal childhood in those families could get support. In India these children might have ended up doing child labour, working in factories or begging on the street. It was much better like this. They had a good place to live, a place where they got education and where some loving people took care of them. They got someone who would listen to them and show them the right way in life.
On the other hand it was horrible to hear what these children had already faced in their short lives. My host told me what parents had done to those children, how they had been neglected and how they had come to this center.
I remember a boy whose parents were heavy drug addicts and most of all I remember one 13-year-old girl. My host told me that this girl, at this young age, was doing prostitution in order to earn money. I was shocked to hear this. She was sitting there among the others, talking to me and looking just normal but the people of this center, those who took care of the kids, had caught her several times at the attempt to sell her body. Whenever she got a chance she would sneak out and try to earn some pocket money.
I could not understand how she got to the idea to earn money by selling her body. I had heard about human trafficking and knew that prostitution of young girls happened in India and in Thailand but there it was a fully different situation! In many countries children are forced into prostitution, it is an organized crime, but this girl was doing it herself! Why did she start and how did she get this idea? What would she do with the money? Buy cigarettes? And an even bigger question: who would give this child money to buy her body for some time, to have sex with a young girl?
It was the first time that I got in touch with this kind of situation. It was painful to see that and at the same time good to see the effort of people who were trying to help. Seeing this, I just wished them success with their work, much strength and I prayed for children all over the world not to get into such situations. It was an experience that left a deep impression on me.