Wednesday 11 July 2012

Another day...Another Slum!

Actually this is not really a post about a slum, rather what I get up to on a daily basis and why I visited a slum area today.  I am sure a few people are wondering what this 'volunteering work' is that I do.  In fact, I am not supposed to talk about the NGO (Non Government Organisation) that I am working for on my current three month agreement so I will not.  Instead I will talk about an amazing experience I had today that was associated with what I am doing.

In short, I work for a Foundation that promotes the importance of good health and nutrition to impoverished mothers and children in a particular slum in Mumbai.  I am working on various projects and surveys.   When I was placed with the Foundation, I envisaged working in a back office somewhere, plugging away at figures and telling people to pull their fingers out and raise more money.  However, it hasn't quite worked out like that.  I am operating at 'shop floor' level much more than was envisaged and this has involved getting down and dirty in the community to see what is going on.  And it's been fascinating.

So today we were invited (as representatives of our organisation) to Jari Mari slum in Andheri to visit another NGO operation which is concerned with empowering girls by teaching them English and teaching them important life skills that will enable them to become mobile (ie give them the power to reach beyond their current situations). This was with the intention of swapping some ideas and skills with my NGO - by exchanging classes on nutrition for information on their community programmes.

My colleague and I were allowed to sit in on one of the life classes which was specifically about 'what it means to be Indian'.  My colleague introduced herself and the big scary lady from England and then each in turn, these adorable girls introduced themselves back, in English.  It was amazing when you bear in mind that these girls have come from utterly impoverished and degrading living conditions and have been educated by this incredible charity, via these community based classes, to articulate themselves so well to outsiders.  Out of the fourteen or so girls, only three were married, only two had children (a remarkable statistic in itself I think), one wanted to be a Bank Manager, one wanted to be a Fashion Designer and several wanted to be teachers.  I honestly felt quite emotional when they were expressing such aspirations! 

After the class (much of which was conducted in Marathi), my colleague pointed out that we were very impressed by their language skills and I also said thank you so much for welcoming me - they all waved and said goodbye in English and I left feeling very uplifted and inspired with ideas for my project (anyone who knows cynical me knows this is a fairly rare occurrence!)

Note I have not gone on about the conditions of just getting to the slum or the slum area itself but from the pictures you will see the kind of place I am talking about.  Very little facilities but a good enough room to get a sizeable group of people together who could learn and expand - all I saw (as usual) were smiles and laughter.  And I had a very nice cup of chai!

The entrance to the slum (thankfully the driver dropped us off and collected us later!)

The entrance to the community centre where the classes are held.  From my short experience in Mumbai I can tell you that these are fairly normal working and learning conditions for NGOs!

But once inside, there is a great atmosphere with lots of chattering and lots of laughing amongst the girls

The girl second from the right is the one who aspires to become a bank manager and the girl in the middle is the one who would like to be a fashion designer.  I came away believing that they have the determination to succeed!

The one mother who brought their child to the class.  He was so beautifully behaved (although our host was distressed that he was being given junk food to eat...our classes on good nutrition are definitely need here!)

Notebooks and pens to the ready

Above and below: Evidence of the English lessons held in the same room. Note the "I want to become a teacher" - so many of these girls are themselves inspired to go and teach the same methods to others.

A snatched photo outside the classroom - it always amazes me the amount of fabulous fresh vegetables that are available everwhere in this city!

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