A few weeks ago I got in touch with a fabulous organisation called AID India (stands for Association for India’s Development). They have a local group here in Gurgaon and among their projects is the establishment of an education program for children who live in slums &/or their parents work on nearby construction sites. The children were previously either rag pickers or just doing nothing from dawn till dusk. Once the Aid India workers found them it wasn’t possible to enter them into local government schools as they were performing well below their peers. So the idea here is to get them into a school-like environment, get them up to speed and then integrate them into the local system. It seems to be working well. The added pitch which I really like is that this is just a stepping stone to improving the whole urban village that they live in. Children are the entry point, then they are planning to run programs that will involve the mothers and gradually give them all the skills they need to live healthier, more productive lives. So today was my first visit to the village and the school. It was amazing. On one side of the road are gleaming office buildings and then, hidden behind a few bushes on the roadside is a path that leads to this urban village. I took this photo on the way out – gives you an idea of the conditions they’re living in.
The school is based in the local community centre (not as glamorous as it sounds – basically 4 walls and a roof with cows and rubbish right outside the door) which the village has given to the organisation to run their programs from. The kids are great – beaming faces when the worker who was guiding me around walked in – and I guess the strange white woman was a welcome break from their reading and writing lesson too. They are aiming to start a nutrition program really soon where they get a cup of milk and a piece of fruit every morning – it’s a good practice for obvious reasons but also gives parents motivation to send their kids. So anyway – I’m going to start going once week to do some fun art stuff with them and speak in English and help decorate the walls of the shed they’re in. Should be great. I’m so excited about having an alternative to “lunching with the ladies!” – not that there’s anything wrong with that of course – just not really my scene.
Some other interesting things Sukriti told me on the way there and back:
Never ever give to the beggars around here. The scenes from Slumdog Millionaire are alive and well in Delhi and Gurgaon. Begging rings are rife. The young kids who walk up to our car carrying babies are well trained in what to say depending on the occupants and make of the car. The babies are usually not their own, but those of poor families who are paid around 40 rupees/day for these kids to have a better chance at getting some cash out of people like me.
The practice of aborting female foetuses or baby girls has been a problem for ages and now in states like Punjab there aren’t enough women for the men to marry so girls are being imported from poor states for next to nothing to enable Punjabi breeding to occur.
The government has commenced a program whereby girls who finish their schooling are given a lump sum of money and in addition to that their parents get a lifetime pension. It’s a way to encourage communities to support their girls becoming educated.
So anyway – really interesting stuff. I felt really priveleged to be given to chance to see what life is really like for these Indians and hopefully in time I’ll get to know more of their stories. Their “school” runs throughout the Summer so I’ll go each week and learn more.
That’s it for today.