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How one man turned despair to hope

The despondency I felt after reading just a fragment of the issues faced by street children in India prompted me to get in touch with the Railway Children charity. If I was going to write a story, it needed to be authentic.

“Is there anyone in the company who might be able to speak to me about the work you’re doing,” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” came the response. “Is there anything in particular you want to know?”

I explained about the children’s book I wanted to write and that any stories they were willing to share with me could be very helpful.

“Funnily enough, David is going to London next week. I could see if he has time for a quick chat with you if you like?”

Would I like? David Maidment is the founder of Railway Children Charity. I’d watched the video about why he set it up – he’s an absolute legend!

Back in 1989 David was on his way home from a consultancy trip in Australia and stopped off in Mumbai. It was an opportunity to visit a child he and his wife had sponsored. At one point he found himself at Churchgate station, and as he walked along the platform he saw a small girl of about seven or eight with her hand out. David had no small change and anyway, he knew that if he gave money, it would be taken off her by whichever corrupt adult ‘looked after’ her and she would be rewarded with a crust if she was lucky.

Seeing his hesitation, the little girl produced a small whip and solemnly began lashing at herself. Appalled at the sight, David fled. He had never seen anything so heart-breaking in his life and couldn’t bear to watch. Moments later, distressed at his own attitude he went back to find the child but she had gone.

It was a vision David couldn't drive from his memory, and eventually become the reason for the charity. For 28 years, Railway Children has gone from strength to strength, raising millions of pounds for street children, not only in India, but around the world.

So yes please, I would love to have a chat with David!

We met one winter’s morning at Marylebone station. David is a charming and incredibly interesting gentleman who has spent his life working hard and achieving much. In 1960 Maidment joined British Railways as a clerk and worked his way up to Principal Consultant for International Risk Management Services, where he undertook major safety reviews of railways across the world, before retiring in 2001 and receiving an OBE. Now in his eighties, David gives his time to the charity. David has written numerous books about trains and, because of his vast knowledge and his writing skills, was asked to write some Thomas the Tank Engine stories.

Luckily for me, David’s appointment in London was cancelled at the last minute and he generously offered to stay a bit longer. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to discover further details about the charity and, more importantly, about the children it supports.

When I told him my idea of writing a story about two children being abducted and sold, he put me straight, explaining the story wouldn't be authentic. He told me that the street children who arrive in their thousands by train at cities around India are there for many reasons, but not because they have been kidnapped. More likely they have been sold by their families, run away from abusive parents or other relations, or their parents might have died or even been killed.

By the end of our meeting I had a notebook full of ideas and a mentor. David has been so supportive and encouraging about my book. He has read the story and has guided me when I have gone off course. I am hugely grateful to David, and my greatest wish for The Runaway Children of Chennai is that it will raise awareness of the plight of young homeless children and readers might consider supporting Railway Children.

Or perhaps simply reflect upon circumstances so very different from their own.

The Runaway Children of Chennai will be published at the end of May.

To pre-order a signed copy, please contact me:


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