A Former Street Kid Builds A Lifeline For Others Like Him; Amin Sheikh, Founder, Bombay To Barcelona Cafe

A Former Street Kid Builds A Lifeline For Others Like Him; Amin Sheikh, Founder, Bombay To Barcelona Cafe

Pooja PatelUpdated: Monday, April 29, 2024, 11:36 AM IST
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Amin Sheikh, founder of Bombay To Barcelona Library Cafe & Street Angels Foundation |
Dilip D'Souza, Writer and Journalist

Dilip D'Souza, Writer and Journalist |

Amin Sheikh, founder of Bombay To Barcelona Library Cafe and Street Angels Foundation provides a safe space for street teens to find their way in life.

Amin Sheikh ran away from home at the age of five to escape an abusive step-father. Not only did he survive the streets of Mumbai, he also built a life so remarkable that inadvertently, he became a messiah for children growing up on the streets. 

Today, at 43, Sheikh runs the Bombay To Barcelona Library Cafe, a school called Little Gurus’ Nest for children from lesser privileged backgrounds and an NGO called Street Angels Foundation. 

He had been living on the streets and railway stations for three years when Sister Seraphin from Snehasadan, an organisation that shelters homeless children, found him. “When this sweet Sister tried to talk to me, I threw a stone at her, but she did not relent. With a lot of reluctance, I finally went to Snehasadan, which then became the best home I ever had,” Sheikh said.  

The orphanage provided him a safe space to grow and learn. “I was taught good values there, which is why I am this person today. Or else I could have ended up as a criminal, mafia man or a drug seller,” he said. 

When he ran away again and began to beg at Dadar railway station, Father Placie from Snehasadan kept looking for Sheikh for three days before finally finding him. Sheikh was moved that the priest from the orphanage had not given up on hi, and stayed there until he turned 17.

He briefly took up jobs like washing cars, selling newspapers and driving a rickshaw to survive, before Father Placie got him a job to take care of late adman Eustace Fernandes’s home and to drive his car. That was the turning point in this survivor’s story.  

In 2003, Fernandes fulfilled Sheikh’s Christmas wish to visit Barcelona, a trip that overwhelmed him with the acceptance, love and kindness he received, and the doors it opened. 

Sheikh recounts being struck that there were no homeless people—he had not imagined such a possibility.  

After 45 days in Europe, he returned to India with a profound sense of purpose—he wanted to help street children. “I wanted to tell the kids on the streets that even though we don’t have the best education and even if streets are our home, we can achieve a lot in life. We can make this world a better place.” 

He travelled for another seven years as an international tour guide before a clear plan took shape.  

“Street kids over 18 need guidance on how to earn a living. So I decided to start this café, where I hire street children above 18 so that they can learn skills and earn till they figure out how they want to make a career that can sustain them,” he said. 

To raise funds to set up the cafe, he decided to write a book on his life and self-publish it. The book was eventually sold in multiple languages globally. 

Writer and journalist Dilip D’Souza and his family, who have known Sheikh for 25 years, helped him with editing and proof-reading the book. “There is a lot to say about Amin,” said D’Souza. “But I think my abiding thought about him says more about me: Through every step of his soaring journey, I’ve been the doubter, pessimist. And yet, with every single step, it makes me weep with joy to know how wrong I was about him.”

Bombay To Barcelona Library Cafe opened in 2016, an iconic space that does away with hierarchies, where every staff member, including him, earns the same salary.  

The café has transformed the lives of around 100 young people who worked here before going on to pursue other professions including teaching, hip-hop music and fashion designing.      

Ten years ago, he started a non-profit organisation in Spain with Spanish friends and volunteers, called ‘I Am Because Of You’ or Soy Gracias A Ti in Spanish. 

More recently, Sheikh also launched an NGO called Street Angels Foundation in Mumbai, to enable those who want to help his cause. 

He said he hopes more and more young people at the risk of social exclusion, from slums or orphanages, can benefit through the work of the Street Angels Foundation.

Do you know an Angel Of Mumbai? Tell us about them at angels.freepressjournal.in 

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