Many people around the world were touched by the Academy Award-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire" that depicts the harsh life of orphans and street children in India. And those who work in poverty projects there say the real conditions are, if anything, worse than what was shown. Many of the estimated 18 million poor children in India rely on international charity projects like Baal Dan, a small effort started in 2005 by one young woman, Tanya Pinto, from Dallas, Texas who was born in India but who grew up elsewhere.
In video a friend shot in India, Tanya Pinto can be seen doing what she loves most, interacting with children from the slums. She gives them food, schoolbooks and, above all, hope, through her project called Baal Dan, which means "child donation" in Hindi.
Tanya was working in an advertising company in Dallas when she decided to go visit the country of her birth to work with a well-known charitable effort.
"I decided to take a sabbatical from my very fast-paced job in advertising and I took three months off and I went to India,” Tanya told us. “And I worked at Mother Teresa's orphanage in Calcutta and I also traveled around a little and that experience was life changing. And that is why I decided to start a charity."
Tanya started her project in 2005 with small donations from friends and co-workers. "I would pass them in the hallway and they would say, 'Hey, the next time you go back to India, here is $20, here is $50, here is $10 for the children.”
Thanks to these small donations, she has been able to feed children, support orphanages and sponsor some children's education. Tanya says she enjoys playing with the children and taking them, however briefly, out of the slums where most of them live.
"I will take them to the zoo or to the park,” she explains. “I will do things that are really fun activities, because these are children who are living in unimaginable poverty. So, I like to bring some fun into their lives."
Tanya Pinto started small, with donations of clothes or underwear. But with help from donors, her projects are more ambitious, such as water filters and solar powered water heaters. This year she hopes to build a school.
Tanya says even ordinary people like her can have a major impact on the lives of poor children. "Even if you are not a celebrity, if you are not rich, if you are not famous, you can do something to help make this world a better place."
And for some small children in India, Tanya Pinto has made the world a better place.