Monday 14 March 2016

How a Recent YEP Graduate's Trip to a Rural Village Changed The Way They Think About Dharavi and Inspired Change

Recently, Kaveri and Hasnain, two graduates from our Youth Empowerment Program joined youth from the French NGO Global Potential for a four day leadership course in our partner village, Chinchoti.

Global Potential is an 18 month leadership and entrepreneurship program for youth from underserved communities. A key aspect of their program is a 45 day service-learning project in a rural village. During the month and a half immersion, program participants learn from local youth and cultures, carry out internships, and support community projects in health, environment, education, and media.

This year, they came to India for the first time to explore potential partnerships and partner villages with our co-founder Krishna. They also took the opportunity to host the leadership course with their students, and invited Kaveri and Hasnain along too!

The group, led by Reality co-founder Krishna, pause for a photo with Reality staff, Lethy and Nick

Upon their return we sat with Kaveri to reflect on her time away from Dharavi.

What was it like working with young people from France?

“We were like friends... even more... like family members! I already miss them. We spent 3 days together, always helping each other! It was really very nice!

I know Indian people but for the first time I also have foreign friends! I'm very happy. We are still in contact, even if they are back in France!”

What did you have in common?

“At the beginning I thought that the language would have been a barrier. How we would communicate? But [it] was amazing to see how we always manage to understand and to make us understood! And sometime they were also helping me to improve my English, correcting me”

What differences did you have?

“The language is the big difference! But I improved my English and I also taught a bit of Marathi to Adina [one of the French students]. Words like ‘goodnight’ and the names of the food and she was always tried to speak Marathi”

How is life in the village compared to the city?

“It was my first time in that village. In the city there are people from all over India, and also from all over the world. In the village just Marathi people…there are not good schools, not much development, no computer classes, just 450 houses and not much possibilities.

And the market is very far! You have to go far far away! They need a lot of help and education! Most of them don't know how to use a computer.

But if you ask me if I prefer the village or the city I will be confused, because I really like the village, but just for some days not for life long! Because there the life is very hard, I'm used to the city, where I was born! I'm happy here!”

How did you feel coming back to Mumbai?

“Lucky, because the life in the city is easier, and I have much more possibilities than the people in the village”

What did you do in the village?

“Mountain trekking, for two hours was very amazing! We learn how the bricks are done [and] we collect the rice, that was hard work - I didn't know that was so hard!

Also the journey was very nice! We took a boat [and] I did also some translation work (from Marathi to English and English to Marathi)”

"We were like friends... even more... like family members"

How will your experience change you?

“Now I want to speak more English, because I usually speak Marathi, but after these days I see that is possible to communicate in English and I want to practice more! Because I need English!”

What did you learn?

“I learn leadership…and the day we did the trekking in the mountains it was my first time and it was very hard, but with the positive thinking, I knew that it was possible, and I reached the top of the mountain! I keep on repeat to myself 'you can do it' and I did!

I learnt how to overcome the difficulties, focus and achieve my goal! Also during the farm workshop, it had always been a team work, we were collaborating all together. So I also understood the importance of the teamwork!

Thanks also to the help all the others, we were always tighter, helping one other!"

What was the best part of the trip?

"I like the village people! They were so nice and polite. I felt like I was in a family. They gave us everything we need and we became very close! When we left she cried!"

What was the hardest part?

"It was not hard! Maybe the part of the trekking... but then I reached the top so it was no longer hard. We were always happy!"

How will you use the information you learned?

"My idea is to use what I learnt for changing Dharavi, where I live. The problem in Dharavi is the garbage, which is everywhere! I would like Dharavi to be cleaned…and we also need more clean toilets! And if all Dharavi people collaborate it would be possible!

I would like to change these two things in Dharavi!"

Monday 11 January 2016

Reality Gives - Looking Forward to 2016

Having ended 2015 with the release of our Annual Report, looking back on a year where we extended our reach to have positively impacted the lives of over 6,000 people in the communities we serve in Dharavi, January now feels a fitting time to look ahead.

We caught up with a whole host of staff and beneficiaries and asked them all one thing - 'what are your hopes and dreams for 2016?'. Here's what they had to say...

IT Teacher and Community Centre Assistant Manager, Ravi, has already realised his own dream,
he wants to help others reach there

At our Ashayen Community Centre Jyoti, the Community Centre Manager, wishes "to see more community centres in different parts of Dharavi full of youth and children, getting trained by us and following their dreams".

Colleague Ravi has similar hopes, "I want to see more and more young people coming to us. I want us to be known in every corner of Dharavi because we offer course and opportunities which a professional but free. I want to share this good education and opportunity. For myself I have no wish. I wanted to be a teacher and now I am a teacher and the Community Centre Assistant Manager. I have no wish but also, I am excited to see what comes next".

Current Youth Empowerment Students, Abid and Javed are hoping 2016 will bring with it exciting new careers. "I wish to find a job in design." Abid says, "I want to make a house for my family because right now we have very little room. My mother wishes for more and I want to make it happen". Javed has similar ambitions, "I want to be a Civil Draftsman because I love buildings – they are home and communities. I want to help build them".

IT Teacher Karthika, who herself is a graduate of the Youth Empowerment Program wants "to study more and work more so I can help more. I want to help people from here that are not as lucky as me".

Royal City School classrooms are abuzz with young hopes, dreams and possibilities

Over at Royal City School, Lakshmi our principate shared her wish to "to create more leaders from the teaching team, to empower and engage the parent community, and through aid and enhance the students progress". Kindergarten teacher, Sonali told us "it is my dream to support the poorly performing children. I want to see the students develop - especially the ones that find it hardest." Reflecting on how she will do this she continues "I will do this by personally keeping learning. Learning is never a waste. It will help myself and also others too".

Tanzil, a student at the school succinctly describes her desires for the year - "I want to dance because when I do this I am happy. And I want to learn so when I grow old I can do good work".

Varying in backgrounds, age, culture, religion and gender we were touched by the common thread running through all of these hopes and dreams. To improve oneself and in doing so, to help others. A great reminder of the common humanity which pervades the differences we all too often give too much focus and importance to.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Reality Volunteers - Why I quit my job as a fashion journalist to volunteer in the slum

When I left Paris a few months back, I only had a vague idea of what Dharavi would look like. I imagined a very dense area where thousands, millions of people lived in precarious accommodation. I thought that the streets would all be dodgy alleyways leading from one home to another. Even though I knew I was going to work in one of the biggest slum in Asia, I had no idea how big it really was. And I didn’t want to learn too much about it before going: I wanted my clichés to be shattered by experience.

Francois and our Founder Krishna Pujari

Discovering Dharavi

I was prepared to face overwhelming poverty. But what I found there was much more complex and fascinating. Just like the rest of Mumbai, Dharavi worked in a chaotic harmony: hectic traffic, overly crowded streets…to the untrained eye, it all seemed very dysfunctional. But if you stopped for a minute and looked carefully at how the cars, the pedestrians, and even the animals were moving up the roads, it looked like some sort of modern ballet, where everyone had a place and a role to play.

Much more than just a slum, Dharavi was a city in the city. And everyone seemed to be busy doing something: while some worked in plastic recycling factories, others ran little shops and restaurants, or worked in one of the main industries (tannery, pottery, bakery…). There were no beggars on the streets, but children on their way to school. There were no muggers in the alleyways, but people showering before heading to work. Where we all expect to see desperation and people struggling, I saw smiles and people making the most out of what they had. And even though a lot of them really wanted to find a way out of the slum, they all embraced life in Dharavi and what it had to offer.

Why I left my job

Some of my friends and relatives had expressed concerns about my volunteering in India. They were afraid that I would get depressed by what I would see, or that I would get sick by spending too much time in a slum. But as I leave Dharavi, I’m bringing home incredible memories, true friendships and a valuable experience working in a completely different environment.

As much as I loved my previous job and colleagues, I often felt very frustrated: writing for a fashion magazine, I didn’t have any opportunity to meet our readers and felt like I was stuck in an ivory tower, completely disconnected to reality. In Dharavi, I sat only a few meters away from the beneficiaries of Reality Gives’ programs. I was able to see the impact the NGO had on them, I was able to talk with them and I knew why I was doing all this for. With the help of the incredibly nice and devoted team I was working with, I was able to use my skills in a very different way. While I used to write about fashion designers and up-and-coming talents, I was now helping on the annual report of the NGO, designing application forms for the students and doing the layout of English lessons developed by our education and curriculum director. Inspired by how passionate my colleagues were and by the impact the NGO had on people’s lives, I worked as hard as I could, because I knew I was there for a short period of time.

A Day in Dharavi

Every morning, I would commute to the slum from the small studio apartment I was renting in Bandra – a neighborhood of Mumbai that looked like an Indian version of Brooklyn. Walking through the muddy streets of Dharavi in the morning was my favorite part of the day. I would go past old-fashioned barbershops, colorful temples, large veg stalls, and shabby restaurants. I would look at the cats gathering around the lady who sold fish, at the chicken in cages that were about to get cooked, and at the goats wandering around the streets. But what I loved the most was observing people as they were getting ready for their day. A lot of them were staring back at me: some looked amused, most of them looked intrigued. Occasionally, a man would come and ask me where I was from and what my name was. After a small chat, I would go on walking through the streets, breathing in the smell of incense and soap mixed with fresh meat, sewage and pollution.

The doorway of a house on Francois' commute to work

To reach my former office in Paris, I used to cross the Champs-Elysées walking along kiosks and luxury boutiques. In Dharavi, I had to walk behind a Hindu temple and a public washroom, and climb my way up the stairs to one of our community center. From there, I would work on my laptop, while the students on our Youth Empowerment program were studying in the next room. There were girls and boys, Muslims and Hindus, teenagers and housewives…all in the same classroom with one objective: learning as much as possible to get better life opportunities. And as they walked out of their morning English class, they would always greet me with a very sweet “Bye sir” that made me feel 10 years older.

While I used to spend 10€ on a salad for lunch in Paris, in Dharavi I would spend less than 30 cents buying delicious dosas (rice pancakes) with chutney from an Indian guy who spoke incredibly good English. I would share this with two of my adorable colleagues, in charge of the community center, who would bring chapattis and spicy veg from home. Then, after some chai, we would go back to work carefully seated under the fans.

Royal City School

Every other week or so, I tried to make time to go the Royal City School, an institution based in the northern part of Dharavi, that Reality Gives supported by training 16 teachers. There, I would sit and talk with the school support program director. We would discuss upcoming events at the school, teachers and children’s attendance, but also her passion for Alexandre Dumas. Quite often, a small child would pop his/her head in the office, smile at us, and run back in the corridor with a backpack twice his/her size. All the students wore school uniforms and looked incredibly cute. They were full of energy and actually needed to be as the school curriculum included the study of no less than three languages (Hindi, English and Marathi). After a last glance at the painted classrooms, I would leave the school and take a rickshaw home. On my way back to Bandra, I couldn’t stop smiling at the view of Mahim Bay and at the thought of what I had seen and experienced during the day. The pollution, the traffic, the noise…nothing could ruin this moment. Dharavi was a place of hope. And working there was truly incredible.

Monday 7 September 2015

Reality Volunteers - "I learn a lot from the kids – probably more than I teach them"

After studying at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, Shraddha became a teacher and has been inspiring apprentice yogis for over 2 years now. She recently decided to share her wisdom with young beneficiaries from Dharavi through weekly yoga classes in one of our community centres. After one of those classes, we sat down to discuss her job, her new students and what yoga can bring to your life.

What do you like most about your job?

"I love that it helps people to improve their health, in some way or another. And I try to teach my students more than just exercises. Yoga is much more than that: it’s a way of living your life, by following principles of truth and non-violence, for example."

Shraddha putting her aspiring yogis through their paces

How did you discover yoga?

"I have a genetic health problem: my bones are very weak. And according to doctors, I cannot or at least should not do any exercise. So I decided to study the philosophy of yoga and I also learned how to teach it. It helped me a lot, so now I’m helping people."

Is that why you decided to come teach yoga as a volunteer in Dharavi?

"Yes! I really wanted to do something for people who don’t have any opportunity to do yoga, and who are not keen on doing it, at first. I’m sure the kids are bored to death when I tell them “Say the truth”. But they do come back! (laughs) I really want to influence people’s lives in terms of health. When I was young, I never went to something like this, where I could build my personality. In India, you are not taught model values. And as you grow older, no one teaches you how to behave. But yoga can help! And volunteering here is great: I learn a lot from the kids – probably more than I teach them."

Any future yogi in the class?

"Yeah, I think so, definitely! My goal for them is to see the students practicing yoga not only here in class, but in their everyday life. I want them to try and follow the principles of yoga, and to believe that it can really help them a lot."

Sunday 2 August 2015

Reality Volunteers - "India is Going to Exceed Your Expectations!"

Last month, Reality had a small party to say 'farewell' to Eloïse, a volunteer from France, who has travelled around India and Asia extensively and spent several months with us here in Dharavi. After indulging in a delicious chocolate cake, some of which we managed to get on her face (an Indian tradition, not an accident!), we had a  chat about her volunteering experience with us in Mumbai.

It's not a true occasion unless you have cake!

When did you first travel to India?

"When I was 15, I went on a special trip to Kolkata with my class for ten days. It was an 'initiation to humanitarian action'. I really liked it, so I went back to India in 2012 for a year-long exchange program in Pune, for my bachelor’s degree. I was a little disappointed by university and the education system, but I wanted to spend more time in India. So I decided to come back and work with a social organization this time."

What was your impression when you visited Dharavi?

"I had heard a lot about Dharavi before and my friends had told me about the tour, so I knew what to expect. But I was still very impressed by the industrial and commercial areas. That’s something you cannot imagine, even when someone tells you about it."

What were your missions at Reality Gives?

"I was supporting the Executive Director and also helping Joe with the marketing and fundraising. I was mostly doing office and admin work but I also had the chance to get more involved in the activities at the Community Centers, which was really great."

What was the most difficult thing you had to face in Mumbai?

"The most difficult thing was probably the heat, and finding an apartment in Bandra. Flat hunting is really not an easy task in Mumbai. But in the end, I shared a really nice apartment with a great roommate."

What is your best memory from your volunteer experience?

"There are so many! I loved working at the community centers, where you can see it all happening. The best memories are probably all those events during which the beneficiaries of the Reality Gives programs gave speeches, thanking all the members of the organization. The graduation ceremony for the YEP students, for example, or the award ceremony for the end of the sports season. Blessy, one of the football girls, told us that she really liked football but that she liked bonding with her teammates even more. It was all very touching."

Any tips for upcoming volunteers?

"I have a tip that can apply to anyone who comes to India: just keep an open-mind, relax, and be positive. India can get very tiring with the heat, the noise, the traffic… Especially Dharavi because it is very dense. But you shouldn’t worry too much, because India is going to exceed your expectations anyway."

Monday 13 July 2015

Reality Gives' Programs - Meet Viji

Vijaya Kumari, 33, is a recent graduate of our Youth Empowerment Program (YEP). As a mother of three and having only had the opportunity to study until 8th Standard, we sat down with ‘Viji’ to understand some of the story which led her to enroll.

Viji’s journey with Reality began when her daughter saw a pamphlet (distributed by Reality staff amongst the communities we serve in Dharavi). Her daughter convinced her to enroll, telling her it would help children with their homework (all attend schools where the curricula are taught in English) and give her confidence in communicating with all kinds of people. She tells us, “education is the most important. My children want to be educated; they have dreams. For them to complete their dreams, that's why I work hard for them”.

Over the 15 weeks Viji flourished. Picking up new concepts and ideas quickly,
I liked the teachers who were very friendly” she shares, “they made me feel as a family with the other students. It is a new life, I made new friends, and I got a new chance here”.

“YEP has been helpful in both my personal and professional life” Viji continues, “I want to be a fashion designer. [Since graduating] I got the chance to study in a college that specialises in tailoring and fashion designing. The YEP was helpful in that I was more confident and English was useful to get admission”.

Confidently looking ahead to the future, Viji informs us that “after one year in college, my ambition will be completed - I’ll be a fashion designer”.

Friday 19 June 2015

Reality Gives' Programs - A New School Year

Last Monday schools across the country opened their doors and welcomed back students from their summer holidays. Over at Royal City School, it was no different.

students paying revent attention to writing names on the front of their text books 

With four new teachers joining the staff (more on them later), there was a wonderful sense of expectation and excitement in the air at the school. We were struck by the (what must be universal) nostalgia about the promise of a new, unblemished textbook, a brand new pencil case filled with brand new stationary, and a rucksack bigger than the child wearing it. A great reminder of the common humanity we all share.

A small child. A huge rucksack. A universal symbol of childhood nostalgia.

Sitting down with the new Standard I students, we asked them how they felt about coming back to school. “GOOD!” a chorus of tiny voices replied. “There is lots of fun in learning and writing and being with my friends” 6 year old Sujana  confidently announced (who then could not stop laughing, giggling and wiggling in her seat as she posed for a photo).

Happy to be back!

The smiles, laughing, giggling and wiggling didn’t stop there. Kemal, Ayesha, Sana and Damodar our new teachers share this sense of excitement and positivity surrounding the new school year. Damodar (our first male teacher) told us, “the quality is so high and the experience being here is exciting. The other teachers are very supporting and I am excited to share and learn with the children. We can learn together”.

Parents eagerly waiting for their children at the school gates

Similarly to our other teachers, Kemal, Ayesha, Sana and Damodar grew up dreaming of being a teacher. “I remember my first teacher, Ms. Bharti”, Kemal tells us “she had such beautiful writing. From that moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher”.

With this great influx of enthusiasm, the school’s head, Lakshmi said “I feel very positive about the coming year. In the previous academic year we learnt a lot. We have implemented lots of new things and we really can’t wait to see the fruits of our labour and ultimately, benefits the students”.