Amin Sheikh’s journey from beggar to businessman was paved with adversity, but he kept moving on. His autobiography “Bombay, Mumbai. Life is life. I am because of you” is an incredible story, simply told. The sales from the book helped start the Bombay to Barcelona Library Café. It is a dream come true for Amin and a symbol of hope for the street kids who run the restaurant.
Had this been a movie, they would have all lived happily ever after, but their happy ending was followed by the beginning of a new challenge. Today, the café faces financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other restaurants in Mumbai. Unlike those restaurants, this one is not just another business. It pays for housing, educating and supporting nine orphans.
A Mumbaikar.com guest contributor spoke to Amin about his labour of love. His life is an inspiration to many and there is much to learn from his beliefs, experiences and on-going struggle.
Here are 5 life lessons from the street kid who made it!
1. Respect every person for who they are
“Father Placido Fonseca is the real hero of my life,” says Amin while speaking about the man who changed the life of over 40,000 street kids at the Snehasadan orphanage. When 5-year-old Amin ran away from home, like millions of other street children, he begged, he robbed, he picked garbage and did everything it took to survive. He was abused and tortured. He saw the world as a bad place and was suspicious of anyone who was kind.
After he was taken off the streets by sister Seraphina, Snehasadan orphanage was the only happy home Amin knew and treated the kids there as his family. Since then, he met many good samaritans or angels as he calls them.
Amin started Sneha Travels and became a tour guide for visitors from around the world. As he showed visitors around the city, he was struck by how they always addressed him by name, not as ‘driver’. Amin says, “There was no ‘driver go here’ or ‘driver go left’! They always said, “Amin, can you please take us there?” They didn’t mind that he spoke broken English. They didn’t put him down and were always polite even as they helped him improve his English speaking skills. “They saw me for who I am. I didn’t have to be like them or like anybody else,” he adds.
2. Travel, travel, travel
“Where are all the street kids?” That was the first question that popped in Amin’s head when he saw Barcelona for the first time. The trip was a Christmas present from his boss Eustace Fernandes, who told him there were no homeless children there.
When Amin left the orphanage, Father Placido had found Amin a job as a man-Friday to Eustace Fernandes, known as the creator of the ‘Amul Girl’. Amin was not qualified for much because he not very good at academics. He was teased and bullied in school. In Eustace, Amin found a father and a best friend who allowed him to be what he wanted to be.
Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a Genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In Spain, Amin learned about a world beyond the city of dreams. A world where he was treated as an equal. Since that trip, he made it a point to save up and travel every year.
“Travel is the best education,” feels Amin. “What travel teaches me, no book, no teacher, no university could teach me,” he adds.
3. Believe in yourself
Amin decided to write his biography after speaking to a friend, “If Dr. Marta Miguel can write a book to help a hospital in Orissa generate electricity for 24 hours, why am I waiting for someone to help me build my café?”
The book was ready with help from Amin’s friends, like writer Dilip D’Souza, but nobody was willing to publish it. That’s when Amin felt that he needed to believe in himself before expecting the world to believe him. So with a self-published autobiography, Amin took to selling the book himself in Bombay and Barcelona. He sold his book in Spain during the festival of Sant Jordi, which is a festival of love where men and women give each other flowers and books.
After selling the book on his own, Amin found willing publishers in France and Germany. Amin’s book is now published in six languages, including Spanish, French and German. He used the proceeds to start the Bombay to Barcelona Library Café, named after his first flight.
The café opened its doors to customers on 15th August, 2016, Independence Day, and was a success for three years till being forced to shut due to issues with the venue. On that occasion too, Amin’s friends and supporters across the world rallied around him and helped reopen the café in November 2019 at a different location.
4. Pay it forward
Amin is happy to share, “Every year I try to take one child to Spain. I have taken five kids to Spain till date.” His aim is to expose them to a different world.
Amin doesn’t take a salary from the café, and everybody who works there gets the same pay—there is no boss. Currently, nine children work at the café, but over the years no less than 30 have benefitted.
Amin’s commitment to street children is not limited to those who work at the café. He helps find work for kids from Snehasadan by putting up flyers for their services or selling items created by the kids.
5. Ask for help
“This is the first time I see so much depression in the world. It is very sad.” says the man who has seen more than his share of suffering. Amin may not be back on the streets of Mumbai, but to him, a call for crowdfunding his café does seem akin to begging.
Amin Sheikh’s Milaap funding page has contributions from friends and supporters across the globe. Not all the help he receives is financial. Someone helped by creating the funding page, another helped set up the online food delivery service and a YouTuber created a video for the café. Thanks to these good samaritans and donors like Sonu Sood, the cafe has basic provisions for a couple of months but needs funds for rent and other necessities.
“If 200 people donate ₹1000 each, we can manage,” says Amin. Only time will tell whether Bombay to Barcelona Library Café will make it through these tough times, but with Amin at the helm, there is always hope.
Pictures Courtesy: Amin Sheikh
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