A Continuous Challenge

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Two little boys stand in front of their home just off the side of the main road. 

It’s all coming to an end quite quickly. I’ve been able to see different aspects of this NGO, have experienced the local’s taste in places and foods, have interacted with different people and overall have had a great time. Last week I spent a lot of time going through my interview footage of MAS members and Link Workers with a local who helped translate them for me.  It was challenging and took us a while as he struggled to come up with the right phrases since English and Hindi are so different. I’m actually still working on them, taking longer than I thought. I would have to say this has been the most tedious part of this project, but also the most important. I hope to get it translated as precise as possible since I’ve been a witness of crappy subtitles and I wouldn’t want to do that. It’s been very nice to finally know, more or less, what they were really saying. Before this, I only had a sense of what they were saying, since I asked the questions. I think I talked a bit about MAS members in one of my earlier posts. They’re basically groups of women that belong to a slum and are dedicated to help mobilize their communities. They divide the households among themselves so that they’re each in charge of 4-6 homes per person. Each of them pay daily visits to their assigned households, advise them, make them aware of resources, schemes and events HUP put’s on for their communities. I can say more, but instead am excited to share my video with you all once I’m down with it. There, you will get the breakdown of it all. So stay tuned!

For now, I can say there is a lot of politics involved, just like anything else. It’s sad. It seems like government schemes are there to help the poor, but the implementation is where it fails. There is a lack of monitoring, people looking out only for themselves, and no one really taking on the responsibility since much of organizations like these are grant based and therefore it’s progress advances at a very slow pace. On the other hand, it’s also a challenge for the people of the slum communities to adapt to these “new” ways of health care and sanitation. So in a sense, there is a lack of cooperation from both ends. Many of these urban poor come from rural areas where their parents and grandparents never got immunizations, so they think, “Why should we?” Open defecation is another issue that contributes to the unhygienic factor and also something that is very difficult to change. Many of the urban poor live in a single-room home jam-packed among surrounding homes, where is there room for a bathroom? On top of that, they believe the bathroom should be away from the home, most definitely not inside of it. How can this be dealt with? I interviewed a doctor, and in my opinion, was on the right tract when he said we needed more than just health officials in these slums to help alleviate the health challenges. Public Health officials, politicians, psychologist, economists, architects all need to work together to make things happen.

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Another thing that I must touch on is that this organization is going to disappear soon. Apparently it was created to form a model for the government and based on numbers, the government will choose to take it up or not. This is frustrating for me because I think, what will happen to these people now once all these incentive events disappear? This project is basically just an “experiment” and the people here are basically lab rats. I realize that’s an awfully strong statement but it’s how I feel. Many of us know it happens often. People go in, change the ways of the people and then leave not really considering how these people originally felt. Programs like these are to document numbers and build a reputation.  Even during the construction of my script for my documentary, I was told to leave things out. The purpose for them of my project was to show what HUP has done. I would have loved to focus more on the things that aren’t working. How annoying. At least I can say that I, personally gained valuable knowledge. I guess this is what I meant when I said I wanted to learn about how the NGO’s worked behind the scenes.

I don’t want to end this on a bad note. Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m impressed by India. I’m impressed with the people of the slums and their big hearts. It makes happy to be around them, to see their excitement when I take their picture. I appreciate their hospitality when they welcome me into their small homes and offer me tea. I like sitting on the floor with them. I like the kids following me around calling me “Didi” as they smile non-stop. It’s contagious.

A man from the state department I met last week approached me as I was interacting with women of the slums. He asked, “how is it that you communicate with these women if you don’t speak Hindi?” I responded, “with smiles, body language and hand gestures we understand each other.”

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“Didi” is used when referring to your older sister. That’s what these kids call me. 

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Without the help of Rahul, my documentary wouldn’t have been possible. Cheers to good people!

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Renu, a Cluster Coordinator and is in charge of leading MAS meetings throughout several slums.

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A 5 year old bathes her 4 year old sister. 

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A mother breast feeding her child. What a beauty. 

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Amazing smiles. Amazing children. Amazing spirits. 

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This young girls sits here for a large part of her day, selling scraps of wood. 

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My first time wearing a sari, what an experience! Here i am standing with award winning Link Worker and MAS members for an event held last weekend dedicated to sharing the bigger picture to all 500+ MAS members and Link Workers. Awards were given to those that have been most organized and effective. 

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Thoughts and More

My 4th week of my internship is coming to an end and I feel as if my thoughts are spinning with excitement along with confusion. We tend to ask why does poverty exist? And that can be a whole discourse with various reasons depending on who is presenting them. Why is life so unfair to some? And that too can involve a whole set of definitions of “unfair”.

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I saw a man last week next to the road, where his home was surrounded by huge bags of garbage and dirty empty containers. His house was no more than a bunch of tarps and cardboard over some wooden logs, his and his family’s bed was a simple empty sack layed on the dirt.  Now, I’ve seen many of these structures while I’ve been here, but this time was different for me. This time my translator, the cluster coordinator I was with, and I walked up to the man sitting on his bed and asked him how he was doing. He looked incredibly sad, a face not yet seen here since most people are full of smiles and vibrant eyes.  Prior to this encounter my thoughts were going on the track of ‘mo money mo problems’, people seemed happy in these slums. Sure, they don’t have the resources or commodities we have back home, but they seem content with what they have, they make it work. But at this moment, this didn’t apply anymore. This man who usually eats scraps or food given to him had not eaten in two days.  The sadness that his face carried also included the fact that he was a father to three daughters, something considered in this area as a social burden.  Having daughters instead of sons means you have to marry them off and pay for everything too. It’s definitely a huge weight on their backs if you see it from their perspective, especially coming from an extremely low caste. As he spoke to my translator in a soft voice, I reached into my backpack remembering that I had the food Pooja’s mom had packed for me.  When I gave it to him, tears automatically rolled down his check, something that initiated tears in mine. It was hard not to cry.  I didn’t exchange words with him, I didn’t even touch him, yet he provoked a huge emotion in me in just a couple minutes. As I got into the car, the tears continued to slowly come down. Why couldn’t I stop crying? I felt hopeless, thinking back to my initial attitude coming here knowing that I wasn’t coming here to change anything. This world is too messed up to cause a good dent in it.

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Ok, I’m exaggerating on that last point. But still, I had a whole mixture of thoughts: Why do the poor suffer the most? Do the poor suffer the most? The poor I’ve met thus far have been the most humble and genuine people around; so giving and loving with amazing hospitality, offering so much to a stranger without expectations for anything in return. Those thoughts only triggered more thoughts. Is there a scale to measure suffering? Why do people practice inequality among humans? Why does this caste structure exist? Why do things not make sense to me? Can’t people just have good hearts and be nice and help each other out? Ok- that one was a little too romantic. But why are some people so greedy, or so religious, often times putting money into things that don’t help the well being of human kind? Who are they to practice inequality among their own kind? Who are we, who do the same thing back home? Who am I to think this? Geez, and my thoughts just go on and on….

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Below is a 5yr old girl washing the dishes for her family.

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Below is a picture of a women who has gone to retrieve water from a water tank which comes twice a day, for one hour only. The water arrives clean, but then has high chances of becoming contaminated as it gets into dirty buckets or is left in opened containers.

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Below I’m standing with Deepika (center), who was forced to marry at the age of twelve. She had her first child at the age of 13, and now at the age of 20 she has 4 children and plans to have no more, using an IUD which the HUP programs have suggested to use. Next to her is Mumtah, an enthusiastic Link Worker who visits the homes in her assigned area of the slums, counseling women and advising that they attend the HUP events.

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