When Satender Sharma was 13 years old, he had to make a frightening choice: continuing living with his abusive father, or run away and attempt to survive on the streets. He chose to flee from his home and joined the 50,000-plus homeless children in New Delhi, India, who face rampant dangers like sex trafficking, drugs, and child labor on a daily basis.
Satender, who is now an adult, shares his harrowing story on the OWN documentary series "Operation Change." Cameras followed activists as they traveled to India to work with the Salaam Baalak Trust, a non-profit that provides shelter, education, and healthcare for street children in New Delhi and Mumbai.
"My father, he used to beat our whole family. Without any mistake. One day he beat my mom and he killed her," he says, in the above video explaining that he hit her head into a wall.
Satender goes on to say that his father once beat him for an entire day for missing school. He decided that living on the street was safer than his own home. "If I go in the street, I will be beaten by police, but only once or twice in a day," Satender says. "Not all day like my father is beating me."
He planned his escape and hopped a train to New Delhi. Without money to buy a train ticket, Satender describes locking himself inside of a bathroom stall for the eight-hour journey. "I was very hungry, tired, and very scared of my father," he says.
While begging for food and money, a man working at a tea stall attempted to force him into child labor. He told Satender, "You have to work, otherwise I will call the police. They will send you to prison."
Satender ran away from that man and eventually met an adult he felt he could trust. She told him, "I will provide you food, money, games, education," he says. "Or if you want to go home, we will send you back to your family."
"I told her, 'I want to go with you because I need food and protection,'" he says. At this point, Satender recalls, it had been 10 days since he'd had any food.
The woman took him to a Salaam Baalak Trust shelter where he was given food and new clothes. Satender is now one of Salaam Baalak Trust's success stories and works there as a volunteer, helping to bring homeless children to the shelter's safe contact points. It's not an easy job, he says, because the children do not trust most adults. Because he was once in their shoes, he understands why.
"Satender is one of the most courageous people I've ever met in my life," says Carlos Paz, Jr. from the "Operation Change" team. "Necessity drove him to be courageous, but what I really find brave about him is that he's able to share his story to inspire hope in other people."