Education in Ambujwadi

Updates with Yuva

On March 15, Yuva assisted individuals from the slum communities to submit their oppositions of the Mumbai Port Redevelopment Plan (DP) to the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). It was a fantastic turnout with over 3000 people who showed up to demand that the current DP not be implemented. Shortly thereafter, the media made frenzied reports stating that the BMC had decided to scrap the plan completely! This left the NGOs involved in the campaign worried that the last four years of hard work advocating for the rights of the slum communities was a waste. The campaigners believe that changes are essential for helping the development of Mumbai, but they must be representative of the needs of all members of society. They have been advocating for the DP to be revised, but not dropped. If the DP was completely scrapped, then this would halt modernizing the city. Come to find out though, the media was actually just presenting inaccurate information! The State of Maharashtra has given four months for the DP to be altered, so it would simply be impossible for an entire new DP to be designed. It is too soon to know what changes are going to be made in the DP, but it could be promising considering the BMC announced revising the plan just after the massive opposition from the people living in the slums.

It is now a waiting game to see what the BMC announces with regards to the DP and so there is not much work to be done by doing field visits to the slums I was previously visiting. This has resulted in me shifting my focus in working with Yuva. Currently, I am doing visits to a slum community called Ambujwadi to gather qualitative data regarding individual’s perceptions on the education system. I had the pleasure of working alongside other students from TISS my entire field placement, but now that their semester is over, I am on my own. It has been difficult for me to travel to the slums by myself due to the language barrier and the somewhat far away locations of the slums. I finally am decent at navigating the trains in India and there are Yuva workers placed in Ambujwadi who speak some English so I can take initiative in a final project by myself. This makes me really happy!

After two hours of travel, I finally arrived in Ambujwadi where I met the workers from Yuva. We were attending a meeting together that day. When I learned we were going to a meeting, I assumed it would be with professionals regarding some educational issues. During lunch with the workers, I found out that it was actually a meeting with the children who participate in one of the Child Learning Center (CLC) initiatives by Yuva. The CLC is a supplemental program to the formalized education that children in Ambujwadi receive. It incorporates topics which are not taught to the children in school and offers activities which help the students enhance the skills and knowledge which they have already gained. I was thrilled to meet the children.

I think it is so important that the feedback from the students is taken into consideration. From my experience in the U.S., it is usually PTA meetings, parent and teacher reports which are used for understanding what is working and not working in the educational system. To sit down with a group of 20 students and hear their perspective can be really empowering for them, I believe. With regards to reducing child mortality and having less frequent births, Dreze & Sen (2013) indicate that women who are educated can be expected to have decreased birth rates. Typically, educated women have more say in the household, and with that they have more power and status (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Education, in this context, is the social change which empowers women to have a stake in their fertility. I am thinking the CLC initiative with Yuva is the mechanism of social change which empowers to children to be change agents in their educational structure. My heart was touched when an eleven year old boy called me over to show me the chalkboard with various bullet points written in Hindi. “Look”, he said, “These are all the things we are going to get the government to change in our schools”! I was amazed that a child his age was so enthusiastic about working with Yuva and actively participating in creating macro level change! It was inspiring really! I wish I would have had the time after the meeting to ask the Yuva worker more about the initiative at this location, but she was busy talking to parents who were picking up their kids. When I head to the community on Wednesday, I am certainly going to find out more about this.

Ambujwadi community visits

During this meeting, children ranging from ages 6-14 were present, as well as a worker from Yuva and myself. The children went to either private school, public schools (BMC schools), or had dropped out. I was able to sit with them and ask them questions regarding their educational experiences, what they found to be facilitating their learning, and what they wanted to change.

Here are some of the main findings I gathered from interviewing the children:

BMC schools provide a free education, uniforms, books, and other school supplies whereas private schools provide nothing for free. A 40 minute lunch plus one hour of play is granted per school day at BMC schools. A lunch meal is also provided to the students, although they do not believe it is enough food. Contrarily, at private schools, there is 30 minutes provided to student for a break in which they can eat lunch and play. Meals are brought from home, the school does not provide them. Comparable to Yuva’s previously collected data on the Ambujwadi community, students reported they think computers/technology education would be useful to them. Students identified that BMC schools provide less opportunity for computer access than private schools, similar to previous findings by Yuva.

One of the biggest issues the students identified is that teachers are unreliable. They have many absent days leaving the children with no one to teach them. The students attending the BMC schools provided more negative feedback about this than the students from private schools, but the students from the private schools gave voice that it was a high cost for their education and the absence of teachers hindered their learning; high cost for a lackluster education. In fact, students who had dropped out stated that the reason they did is because they would make the long commute to school and then there would be no teacher, so it is more sensible for them to stay home and help their parents take care of younger siblings than to attend school. Students from both BMC and private schools stated that teachers do not encourage them or use enough praise. Physical abuse by teachers is an area for change identified by both students from BMC and private schools. It is common in both schools for teachers to pull students by their ears, to hit them with sticks, and in some cases force them to stand still outside in the hot sun light for an hour as punishment for misbehaving, as identified by the children in the CLC.

Another issue we discussed was the physical infrastructure of the schools. Students at the BMC schools stated that there are no doors for the toilet or water to wash their hands. Some doors do have locks, but the locks are too high for some of the younger students to reach. Students from the private schools said they do not have this problem and that the bathrooms are clean. Students from both schools stated that they would like to have better floors as the ones in the school are just dirt and not an actual human-made floor structure.

Similar to the student reports, Dreze & Sen (2013) state that absenteeism in teachers is a significant issue in India’s educational system. Furthermore, half of the teachers in the study whom were present did not teach for the duration of the researcher’s visits. Dreze & Sen (2013) also include that teachers in public schools are paid rather well. The Pay Commissions determine the salaries for jobs in the public-sector and they tend to posit rather comfortable salaries for such professions (Dreze & Sen, 2013). However, the Pay Commissions do not tend to take into account how such salaries will be funded or how the professions whose salaries are not determined by the Pay Commissions will be impacted (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Since it is expensive to hire teachers in public schools, some Indian states have shifted to hiring contract teachers which are teachers who tend to have less formal education and have shown to perform “no worse than regular teachers” (Dreze & Sen, 2013, p.135). Yet this is a significant issue because India is seriously behind in quality education standards from an international perspective (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Accountability in the education sector is lacking and the biggest hindrance is the belief that it is something which should just be accepted because nothing can be done about it (Dreze & Sen, 2013). A remedial measure to enhance education quality in India set forth by Dreze & Sen (2013) is the collaboration among teachers unions and the acknowledgment of the responsibilities of school teachers.

During my next visit to Ambujwadi, I will be interviewing some of the teachers from a BMC school. At least I am hoping I am, but since absenteeism is a significant issue there are no guarantees! Although Dreze & Sen (2013) pointed out some issues facing India’s educational system, I am curious to find out what is influencing teacher’s absenteeism and how they are perceiving the educational system. What do they believe as needing to change? I would also like to inquire about parent teacher associations (PTAs), teachers unions, and whether or not contract teachers are employed in the district. I am going to find out what, if any, Yuva’s role is in working directly with the schools instead of just the CLC. I believe it is important to gain a thorough understanding of all the stakeholder’s perceptions in this community in order to identify a suitable intervention that will address these macro level issues.

During another visit to the CLC at Ambujwadi, we played a video on how to prevent sexual abuse for the children. I found the video fascinating, honestly, because it was rather different than what I experienced as sexual abuse prevention in the U.S. The video showed a white male approaching a young boy who lived in the slums. The man was very friendly to the boy and invited him for a weekend getaway. The young boy was thrilled to accompany him, yet the young boy’s mother was reluctant to let him go because she needed him to work that weekend to make money to support the family. The man handed the mother money and she agreed to let her son go. The video showed the two in a hotel with a video camera set up and the man coerced the boy to engage in a pornographic film. It might sound graphic, but I think that it was age-appropriate for the children and then we engaged in a discussion about the film and the children did indeed understand the lesson. At the conclusion of the film, the young boy witnessed another child spending time with the man. In a panic to help the child, the young boy sought the help of an “ex-street kid”, not the police. The video even had a subtitle pop up which identified the vigilante as an ex-street kid.

With regards to reported rape cases in India, Dreze & Sen (2013) state that “police are often quite unfriendly to the victims, the courts are slow to act, and convictions are hard to secure” (p.228). They also note that rapes are frequently underreported and they may actually be five to ten times more common than what is known. Perhaps this is why the video showed the young boy seeking the help from a street savvy man. I was slightly surprised to find out that such preventive education is not provided in the schools in this community which is why the CLC included it. It’s unfortunate because if children are not getting this type of education, it will likely only perpetuate sexual exploitation, underreported cases of abuse, and a significant problem of rape.

Conclusions

            Working with the Ambujwadi community is certainly allowing me to see firsthand some of the educational issues which I have only read in books. I feel very privileged to be able to interview individuals and understand how they are viewing the educational system. There is still much I need to learn in my future visits about the extent of Yuva’s work with the community and the advocacy work they have done. I hope that there are teachers available for interview on Wednesday because I think that there is a lot of merit in gaining their perspective. It could be an opportunity for more collaboration with Yuva and/or the students. I wonder if they are even aware of how the students are being impacted by the structural issues of the school. I have lots of research to do and not very much time, but I am confident I will have an enriching final couple of weeks left in my final year field placement.

References

Dreze, J., Sen, A. (2013).  An uncertain glory. India and its contradictions. Princeton, New Jersey:   Princeton University Press

Solidarity March and Community Work

I recently attended the Pani Haq Samiti, or Right to Water Solidarity March with Yuva. The march was in celebration of the Bombay High Court’s recent judgment to provide 45 liters of water to all individuals living in slums regardless if they are legal or illegal slums. The State of Maharashtra considers illegal slums to be communities which were developed after the year 2000 as they are not regulated by the state.  Prior to this policy reform, slums which were developed before 1995 were the only slums protected under the Maharastra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance, and Redevelopment) Act (Khan, 2014).

Participating in Pani Haq Samiti

Participating in Pani Haq Samiti

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) had to develop a policy by the end of February regarding water supply to slums (Deshpande, 2014). During the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the campaign Pani Haq Samiti demanded that all slums should receive water as it is inherent to life and part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The PIL was opposed by the MCGM and the state government because they believed it would condone the development of illegal slums and they also did not agree that it was unconstitutional to deny folks in the illegal slums water (Deshpande, 2014).

Nevertheless, the Bombay High Court amended the Maharashtra Slums Area Act of 1971 and included all slums, including those developed post 2000, to be protected and receive 45 liters of water per person per day (Khan, 2014). The Pani Haq Samiti March was certainly a day of celebration, but also a public display that people will continue to fight against inequitable policies and violations to their rights.

Furthermore, the march had historical significance. Exactly 86 years prior to this march, Dr. Baba Sahib Ambedkar led the Mahad Satyagrah in the exact location of the Pani Haq Samiti March. The Mahad Satyagrah was an initiative to fight for human rights which were being denied to the Dalit caste, a severely marginalized group in India. In 1923, the Bombay Council proposed a resolution to allow individuals belonging to the Dalit caste to collect water from public facilities, but it was denied by the Municipal Boards (Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, 2003.) The Satyagrah fought for the Dalit’s to be allowed to drink water from the public Chavdar tank which resulted in the Mahad Municipality passing the order, although it was not fully implemented (Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, 2003). On March 20, 1927, Dr. Ambedkar led thousands of Dalits to the Chevdar tank to collect water. This was strongly opposed by upper-caste Hindus who then added 108 pitchers of water to the tank to cleanse it after the Dalits used it (Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, 2003). After this circumstance, the order granting Dalits the use of the tank was eliminated by the Mahad Municipality, but after years of fighting for the right to water, the Dalits were granted access to the Chavdar Tank in 1936.

slum 1

Dr. Ambedkar’s ashes are also kept at a temple in this location so it was really cool to visit it after the march! It was a very powerful experience for me to be a part of this for a lot of reasons. Learning about the Pani Haq Samiti campaign truly displayed the hard work, tenacity, and persistence of the workers in this organization. By demanding that access to water is a constitutional and human right, they had a profound role in changing the policy.

I also really enjoyed partaking in a protest in this culture, even though it was entirely in Hindi and I could not understand what was being said. It was very moving to be an observer. The historical significance of the fight for access to water also made the experience really special for me. There was a lot of excitement in the crowd and the protesters seemed to march with pride; their heads held high. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (2003) stated that the Mahad Stayagrah March inspired hope in the Dalit protesters while also reminding them that change will not be accomplished without challenge. I am confident that this too holds true today for the marginalized individuals living in the slums. There is such a disconnect from the policy makers and those who are marginalized. The current ruling political party in India, including the state of Maharashtra, is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Indian People’s Party. It is a right-wing party whose philosophy is grounded in integral humanism, an economic  development model which is human-centered and opposed to capitalism and socialism (Wikipedia, 2015). Here is an excerpt from the BJP regarding their development plan:

“When a political party talks of development, it often talks of roads, ports, GDP growth, stock markets, agriculture, exports and international TRADE, among other issues. To the BJP, however, development is all this and much more. At its core, the BJP’s concept of progress means Indians experiencing change that enables them to fulfil their potential trigger an overall improvement in their daily lives and well-being. With this primary agenda, the party that’s armed with an incorruptible and progressive leadership aims to transform and empower the weakest and the most neglected sections of Indian society, without any biases for caste, creed or religion.” (Bharatiya Janata Party, 2014, Development section para.1)

 It is interesting to consider how in the 1920s, there was unequal access to water for the weakest and most neglected sections in society and that currently, the same issue is essentially happening. Granted, the March 2015 legislation passed was in favor those living in the informal slums, but it was due to the advocacy efforts of nongovernmental organizations. Those with political power were not looking to transform and empower the slum dwellers, contrary to their development philosophy. I think this is an example of how no change comes without challenge!

The Mumbai Port Redevelopment Plan (DP) is currently underway in an effort to develop Mumbai’s port areas into a “global city” (Voices of Mumbai Port,2015, About section para. 1). Here are some of the things the DP plans to include:

  • “consolidating port activities to a 500 acre plot to the south of Mazagaon Dock
  • freeing up 1300 acres to create – new mass transit corridors (enhance east-west connectivity and develop metro lines) 400 acres of green open spaces
  • 300 acre entertainment zone
  • giant ferris wheel on the lines of London Eye
  • 500-room floating hotel
  • Floating restaurants, food courts, special trade zone
  • World-class cruise terminal, marinas, intra-city waterways projects and three 100 storey buildings among others” (Voices of Mumbai Port, 2015, About section para. 2).

Sure, this sounds lovely, but many people are potentially facing displacement due to the DP, significant health and environmental hazards such as shipbreaking are not addressed in the DP, and it is not ensuring that laborers will have jobs. The DP is very much economically driven and not considering the needs of the thousands of people who will be affected from this plan.

slumlife

The DP reflects the BJP’s vision of turning India into a global power. The development of India is anticipated to focus on “5Ts – Talent, Trade, Tradition, Tourism and Technology” (Bharatiya Janata Party, 2014, Vision of Modi section para. 1). Recall, that their philosophy includes empowering the weakest and most marginalized groups. There clearly is some conflict for the BJP in following through on both of these aspects of what they say they stand for. It seems with regards to development, they are much more focused on the 5T’s and neglecting their commitment to the most marginalized in society. I think this will prove challenging for Yuva and the communities to navigate and it is important that public advocacy efforts outline the BJP’s contradictive messages.

A current initiative at Yuva is the Hamara Shehar Vikas Niyojan Abhiyan Mumbai aka Our City Development Plan, Mumbai. It utilizes a participatory development approach for the city planning process and is focused on ensuring people’s rights are adequately being met (Hamara Shehar Vikas Niyojan Abhiyan, 2014). Many slum communities will face displacement because of the DP and have no alternative housing set up for them. Private businesses are looking to buy the land which these slums reside on to turn them into major roadways, according to the DP. Since it is private ownership, it is not the responsibility of these businesses to provide new housing for the displaced people. Furthermore, there are issues with accountability between the central and state government over who should provide rehabilitation to the displaced. These circumstances put the slum communities in a very vulnerable situation if they do indeed face displacement.

This is part of one of the slums which is in threat of displacement.

This is part of one of the slums which is in threat of displacement.

I have been accompanying my fellow second year MSW interns on community visits where we meet with community leaders and inform them of how the DP will be affecting them, if it is implemented as such. Since many of the slum communities are already marginalized and are often uneducated/illiterate, they are unaware of the the threat they are facing which is why it is critical that Yuva workers inform them of the DP and also inform them of their rights.

I’d like to share some of the challenges of working with these slum communities that we are facing as community mobilizers. The community leaders we have met with are appointed because they may have better resources, higher education attainment, and/or contacts with political parties. They generally are well-trusted within the communities too. Regardless, exclusivity does exist within the slums and patriarchy appears to be playing a big role too. In one community, we met with a group of leaders who identify with the BJP, the ruling political party. The leaders were all men and we faced some obstacles reaching the women. My colleague was intending to speak with some women from the community who were supposed to be at the meeting, but did not show. At the conclusion of the meeting, my colleague asked the male leaders for some contact numbers to reach the women, but was denied. Shortly thereafter, a group of women walked up to our group. The women complained that they had tried calling and calling in order to find out when the meeting was going to be held, but the male community leaders were not answering any of their phone calls. It appears the male community leaders were deliberately trying to exclude the women. This conflict certainly poses a challenge for developing collaborative work and solidarity within the community. If the women are being disempowered by the men and restricted from being agents of community change, then it will be hard to collectively fight for the rights of all individuals. I think it is certainly a strength that the women are very interested in working with Yuva, learning about the DP and their rights, and wanting to participate in change efforts.

After meeting the women, my colleagues and I went with them to a different part of the community and went over the same material which we did with the male led group. I think an important next step is to strategize how we can work collectively with the men and women in the communities. At  a later meeting in the same community, there was a much larger turn out of community members, men, women, and children. It displayed that the community was being mobilized which was great, but throughout the meeting, I noticed that the women were very passively participating. They did not ask questions or stand up to talk with the workers from Yuva, contrary to their male counterparts. I inquired about this after the meeting with one of my colleagues. He told me that the community is indeed very patriarchal and that the men do not want women to actively participate in the change. I then asked what we are going to do to empower the women. The obstacle we face as the community facilitator is that we need to operate within the social norms and structure of the community. If we were to come in and start directly working with the women, it likely would not be well received by the males in the community which could ruin our efforts at working with the community at all. I am confident that as more rapport is developed with this community, we can utilize more mechanisms to promote solidarity within the community. Until then, we are ensuring that the men and women are receiving the same information and we are making sure to interview the women to gain their feedback and answer their questions about the DP.

Yuva also has been active in public protests opposing the inequitable DP in which protesters from the affected communities have been present. This is a good opportunity for all individuals from the community to learn about what it happening at a political level and also how it is affecting them. Protests are a good way to mobilize more of the community as opposed to meeting with just the community leaders. It has been really intriguing work at Yuva and especially the exposure I’m getting in the field!

 

My first days in the field

This week I was finally able to begin my field work at Yuva Center in Mumbai, India. Yuva is a non-governmental organization (NGO) which advocates for the rights of women, children, migrant workers, and access to education. The department I began working in is the Migration Resource Center (MRC). Many people living in villages throughout India migrate to Mumbai searching for work opportunities because they are unable to make a decent living at home. However, work in Mumbai is not guaranteed and often people are exploited by employers when they do find work here. This is where Yuva steps in.

IMG_1706

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Workers in the MRC go to nakas, areas where migrant workers go to meet potential employers for construction and manual labor jobs. Employers at nakas recruit employees on a day-by-day basis, so no work is guaranteed for the migrants and it is certainly not permanent. If they are hired, they are subjected to dangerous working conditions, low pay, and no bathroom facilities or water. If a worker is injured on the job, they are returned to their families and do not get any secure form of rehabilitation. To make matters worse, employers often will not pay the workers at all or do not pay them as much as they originally agreed to pay them. When Yuva workers go to the nakas, they inform the migrant workers of their rights because many people are unaware that the exploitation they are subjected to is illegal. If individuals are being ripped off by employers, Yuva can help them gain the money they deserve. This can result in cases going to court, but oftentimes when employers are confronted about their exploitative practices, they provide the owed funds so it doesn’t escalate to the legal system. Women, in particular, are often hesitant to speak up against the employer in fear of not being able to find work again or because they may be harassed by the male employer(s).

At the naka, there are a large group of men sitting on one side of the street and a large group of women on the opposite side. Employers come between the hours of 9AM-11AM to recruit workers. If an individual is not hired during that time, they do not get work that day. When I went with a fellow student from India to the naka, I could not understand what was happening at the time because they were all speaking in Hindi. We only met with the female migrant workers that day and provided them flyers with a hotline to call if they wanted to make a case against an employer. About five or six men approached my fellow colleague trying to figure out what we were doing here. I was really curious to learn what they were approaching us for. I could not tell how they were perceiving our presence at the naka, but it turned out they were just curious. That is not always the case though. Employers often hire leaders or middle men to recruit female workers. I was informed by my colleague that sometimes the middle men will get angry that Yuva workers are coming to the naka. This is because the middle men are receiving commission to hire and possibly exploit the women. However, the day that we went, the middle man told my colleague that he too was being exploited by his employer. A lakh, or 10,000 Indian rupees (their currency), was withheld by the employer. Two other women also gave voice to the exploitation they were subjected to. Hopefully Yuva will be able to help these individuals get the money they deserve. Yuva is also working to get water and toilets provided for migrant workers. They have advocacy campaigns attempting to get the state to make this part of the political agenda, but I’ve been told it is difficult as politicians do not see this as a salient issue.

The Food Security Act in India provides subsidized food rations to individuals living in poverty. This Act is relatively new and many people living in impoverished villages are unaware of it. Yuva will go into the villages and provide information about their right to the food rations and compile a list of individuals and families eligible for this benefit. My colleague and I attempted to go to the Food Ration Office with a list of potential recipients. It was really difficult to find the office and we traveled for about an hour and a half in search of it, transferring from train to rickshaw, and speaking with multiple people trying to find the place. Come to find out, the address provided to my colleague was incorrect so we had to travel back to the office and wait to do it a different day.

The following day, I went with two of my colleagues to a different village attempting to find the panchayat’s office to provide a list of individuals in need of food rations. A panchayat is a group of leaders who represent a specific caste. Panchayats only exist within villages, not in urban areas. I’ve learned that the practice of the caste system is more defined in villages than metropolitan areas. We traveled about three hours to reach the village. It was challenging because rickshaw drivers were demanding significantly inflated prices for rides. My colleagues believe this is due to the fact that they were with me, a white westerner. A school aged boy who witnessed one of our negotiations with a rickshaw driver came up and told us that it normally costs ten rupees to take the rickshaw to our destination. The rickshaw driver wanted us to pay 100 rupees. After all our time traveling to the panchayat office and negotiating with drivers, we finally arrived only to find out the panchayat office was closed. Day two of an unsuccessful attempt at helping individuals get food rations.

I think it would be easy to get frustrated and annoyed putting in a lot of effort and to get nowhere. It seems to me that this type of situation may be common in this culture. In the U.S., we might be likely to google the hours of an organization or perhaps call to set up a meeting before making a long drive. That is certainly a privilege in western society I think. Here you can’t exactly google the hours of a village panchayat. You just have to take your chances and hope for the best. I really appreciated the flexibility of my colleagues and their lack of frustration or hopelessness. If this happened in the U.S., I would not be surprised if workers were really ticked off this happened!

After the village, we went to a brick guild. I really don’t think I can put into words this experience. I have never seen people exploited on a level like this. For me, hearing about the brick guilds reminded me of one of those things you see on a commercial that makes you think, wow, I can’t believe that kind of stuff happens in the world. But then when the commercial is over, it kind of becomes out of sight out of mind. Seeing it firsthand though reminded me exactly why I am choosing a career in social work. This is something I can’t turn a blind to. So let me explain how the brick guilds operate. During British colonial rule dating back to centuries ago, certain castes were exiled from their villages, got their land taken away from them, and had no protection from their panchayat or the state. I’ve been told this could have been due to a multitude of reasons. Without anywhere to go and no protection, these people had to settle with the lowest living and working conditions. Many got subjected to bonded labor, as in the brick guilds. What happens with bonded labor is an employer puts money up front and the workers have to repay it via labor. They manually make concrete bricks living under tarps with minimal access to food and water and no toilet. The workers are working to “repay” the employer, but they still can’t get their needs met. Now they’re in debt to the employer so they have to keep working for him (Yes, him never her. Women cannot have this position in society). Then, the employer demands more work for less money because he simply can. The workers and their families end up in this cycle of perpetual indebtedness which has lasted for generations and generations. The workers and their families live on the guilds until monsoon season starts and then they are sent for work somewhere else.

Piles of finished bricks on the guild

Piles of finished bricks on the guild

It is kind of hard to tell, but these bricks are being burned. This is the final stage of the brick-building process.

It is kind of hard to tell, but these bricks are being burned. This is the final stage of the brick-building process.

An area of the brick guild

An area of the brick guild

Some of the brick guild workers would talk to my Hindi-speaking colleagues, others would not. One of my colleagues told me that the workers have been warned by their employers not to speak to outsiders. The conditions on the brick guild were absolutely atrocious. The workers looked ill, frail, and malnourished. Everyone was covered in dirt and the makings of cement. There were stagnant pools of polluted water with children in them. The homes were nothing more than tarps hung on top of logs. These people’s lives consist of sleeping under these tarps and manually making cement bricks which is indeed physically demanding and hard labor. When I volunteered in Ecuador a few years ago, we built the foundations of a playground and had to manually mix cement for about 40 hours in two weeks. The sun was hot and it was physically exhausting. I can confidently say that it was the least favored part of the volunteer experience by my group. In the brick guilds, making cement in the Indian heat is a daily lifestyle for decades of these individual’s lives. I was truly astounded that this could possibly be real.

The bricks are their work. The tarps are their home.

The bricks are their work. The tarps are their home.

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Currently, Yuva is working on creating child care centers on the guilds so that children can get some sort of education and be watched over as the parents are working. Two of my colleagues were successful in their efforts to get a child care center implemented at one of the guilds. They found out it was approved on one of their last days of their field work. Kudos to them!!! Without the implementation of child learning centers on the guilds, children will likely have no education. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how and why the government has not stopped this type of labor, but I will be sure to include it in my blog when I figure it out.

My first week of field has exposed me to some of the social problems India is experiencing right now and the challenges NGOs face at combating them. I am really curious to see what these next few months will teach me because I feel like I have really taken in so much since I have come to India a week ago. I know it took a long time for me to start blogging, but now that I am finally working in the field I will be updating it weekly. Thank you for reading this. I really believe it’s important that the world is not sheltered from the harsh realities that exist and that the NGOs, humanitarians, and advocates out there are acknowledged for the challenging work they devote themselves to. Peace and blessings 🙂

Airplane.

Just about one month until departure!

My field placement is being organized through the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, India.  It is comparable to UB linking an international student with an organization for an internship here in Buffalo.  The semester at TISS starts later than UB’s which is why I will not be travelling until February. I am sure this next month is going to fly by and I will feel like I am leaving in no time!

During this next month I will be continuing to work with my cultural liasion. She is from India and a former student at TISS. I do not know what I would do without her helping me prepare for this trip! Lately, I have been reviewing articles on community development in India which have been an aid to the knowledge I gained during my community social work class last semester. I have also been prescribed readings on the caste system in India and tools to utilize as a community worker.

Many times when I tell people I am going to India for an internship, they remind me of how impoverished it is and that it is very dangerous. There are many people who encourage the trip too. I understand that I need to be aware of my surroundings and that my safety is paramount during my stay. I anticipate this experience to be challenging and out of my comfort zone. In fact, that is what I am looking for. I have lived a life as a privileged white female which I have no complaints about. At the same time I have a deep-rooted desire for the experience of life in a completely different way than I know. I want to work in the slums in Mumbai because I want to understand what it is like. I want to witness their resiliency and appreciate their sense of community.

When I volunteered in Machalilla, the residents were so happy even without running water or electricity. They had a sense of community that made me feel welcomed and nurtured. Financial struggles were certainly challenging for them, but money did not run their lives. I cannot say if it will be similar in the slums of Mumbai, but I guarantee that the people I will be working with will leaving a lasting impression on me. I am confident that my mindset and openness will enable me to be an effective community facilitator during my field placement.

I have been waiting for this trip for over a year now and I cannot believe it is almost here! I am ready for take off!