Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 2: Feeling comfortable in the community

June 11, 2009- Day 2-
The experience today was incredible. A large part of that experience had to do with the fact that I felt much more comfortable in the community we were working with.
We continued to do what we started yesterday which is surveying the different families in a given community to get an idea of the number of children who are not currently enrolled in school and the reason for that. After this, a list is written out with the name of these not-enrolled students who Parivartan would later on contact to get their children in the school. The administrator, Gangadhar, who had been born and brought up in the Dharavir slum, speaks good English and seems like an extremely helpful, diligent and selfless person. He works in a little cubby within the slum, which we have to squish through. It’s hard to imagine this is where he was sitting when we were in touch with him from Boston while putting the program in place. Yesterday, he introduced us to one (and the only hired teacher at present) Gayatri. She’s been walking with us, taking the surveys and has been working with the students since a while. She understands the community and knows most of the children. She’s been working since weeks on these surveys and completed a lot of them before we joined her. Gayatri Maam (as we call her) is a very simple women who instills the confidence in us to work freely with the community at the same time is sensitive to where we come from.
Anyway, today, after getting over the ‘initial shock’ I had much more emotional room to observe and absorb. The simplicity of the kids still amuses me. Regardless of the fact that the average number of children in a given ‘house’ is 4, the kids find a way to keep themselves amused and happy. And although majority of the mothers were in their late 20s- 30s, they looked much older and worn out with very limited energy. It seemed like a lot of the older kids would take care of their younger siblings and assumed an authority over them like a parent.
Something that’s not new to me, but that still fascinates me is how the children get so excited when they see an unfamiliar but friendly face. Once we spoke to them briefly, they followed us everywhere with the pile of children increasing as we moved across lanes. Some of the kids on the other hand were scared and started to cry when they saw an unfamiliar face that they’re not used to seeing i.e. Zohar’s. Some loved her, while some got scared. I noticed such extremes and contradictions throughout the day.
One of the women who had 8 children had traveled a lot and knew some Arabic which was quite fascinating. I grew a liking for her as soon as I met her. After the survey she insisted that we drink something at her house. Without asking us, she called for a Pepsi for Zohar and me. I was really surprised by this gesture and was invariably touched by it. Gayatri teacher told me that many of these houses are actually not as poor as they look. The reason why they look like they’re in that situation is because they tend to neglect the kids and their need for education. On the other hand, we faced quite an adversarial situation where one of the men started yelling at us about the situation of the dirt and the sewage. He said that the number one priority, instead of education, should be the children’s health because they’re so exposed to it. He was also frustrated by the fact that his child couldn’t get admitted in the school when he wanted to. I didn’t really get the details on that as much, but it was something worth thinking about.
A lot of these parents haven’t been against education. They were more than willing to talk and explore the opportunity. But they were worried that they’re students would be rejected from Parivartan just like they were from many other schools that they looked into. The reasons for rejection varied from the fact that they were from a specific place, were of a specific age or because they migrated too much.
I’m really excited to understand this community more. They seem to be really willing to learn and many of the kids are very bright. Infact some of the women were teasing the fact that there’s only education for children and not for older women. They too were willing to learn. They’re also extremely welcoming, to the extent that when the man was yelling at us about the sewage systems, all the women and men shooed him away immediately while the children hurried us over to another side to avoid confronting him. This ‘rescue’ was so immediate, but so effective, that it was surprising and impressive to see how an adversarial situation was dealt with within the community. Atleast, my expectations were not of that sort. There’s more to see and observe.

1 comment:

  1. It's an interesting observation that the households aren't as poor as they look. While doing a survey on some chawls in Bombay I was surprised to find that almost 90% of the households had white ration cards (above poverty line). What surprised me even more is that people who stay in these chawls don't just consist of maids and drivers and construction workers. They also include policemen, firemen and RBI officials! It just goes to show the reason for slums - too many jobs without enough affordable housing.