Thursday, 22 February 2007

Health Care and Empowerment

At last I've got a moment and an Internet connection at the same time! (and hopefully time to tell you some more)

Our heads are full, are hearts are full and our emotions are all over the place. Every day is a yo yo of emotions. We move from laughter to despair, from joy to sheer disbelief that there are people living in these conditions today. The joy is from the hope and from the sheer fun and happiness when the children warm to almost any interaction. They are delightful.

We have been painting and have made great progress in the clinic in Zakhira. Our days have consisted of the team starting the morning in Zakhira, painting. Once we've done a chunk, half the group then changes, the women into their Salwaar Kameeze and the men scrubbing up a little, and does a prayer walk. Then lunch is followed by a reversal of this, with the morning painters doing the prayer walk and the rest painting again. There is such need in these homes and they are so varied, so these prayer walks are very draining, each of us affected by the needs at different times and in different ways.

How Asha Works
Yesterday we went to another slum, Maya Puri. This is the slum that Libby worked in last year, on her last visit to the slums. There were many happy reunions as we arrived at the Maya Puri clinic. We spent the morning hearing from the team leaders, as we had on Monday at Zakhira, but if I relate this to you, you'll get an idea of how Asha moves into and works in a slum. (I have been taking notes in the evenings, so hope I get this accurate!)

Maya Puri is a slum that runs the length of a railway track, as so many of them do, and is the biggest scrap yard in Delhi. At one point we stood on the railway tracks and the slum stretching between 2 bridges is 2 kilometers long. There is a another huge stretch beyond the bridge, which we did not visit. When Asha arrived at Maya Puri, 9 years ago, in 1998, the people in the slums, particularly the children, were dying of diarrhoea, TB, malnutrition, pneumonia and mother and infant deaths at birth. Asha starts with a mobile clinic and there are 2 areas they focus on: Health care and Empowerment.

Alongside the medical team, the Asha team immediately starts trying to talk to the women and telling them about how they can be trained as Community Health Visitors and Lane Volunteers. A Lane Volunteers looks after 25 - 30 families in her lane. She is responsible for visiting all the families in her lane and knowing all their needs. She must visit her lane families daily. These women, when Asha first arrived, wore long scarves or veils covering their faces and never left their homes during the day, only being permitted by their husbands to do any washing or ablutions at night. Maya Puri had no water, no toilet facilities and mud or sand lanes running between the dwellings. The toilet was the railway line.
It took Asha workers eight (8!) months to get a gathering of 6 or 7 women who were willing to be Lane Volunteers... and so the first beginnings of a Mahila Mandel ("Women's Group") was formed.
The Mahila Mandels in the Asha slums are the power houses of the community. Slum barons, the police... everyone take advantage of the slum dwellers before these groups are formed. To get any thing done they had to pay bribes. In Maya Puri we met some of the women from 2 of the Mahila Mandels. The groups have 28 - 30 women in them and the women now have great respect in the community. They have weekly meetings, with the lane volunteers bringing lane issues to the fore and the women discussing and voting on how they should be managed. There is someone taking minutes (most are illiterate) and a treasurer. Yup, they all pay a nominal amount into a kitty monthly and the group decides how it is spent. The women in Maya Puri raised and sent funds to the Tsunami Disaster Fund.

One of the major issues was to get the 2 toilet blocks, which are now used by the 10 000 dwellers, installed. This feat took no less than 3 years, with the local authorities quibbling about why there was a need! There are now concrete walk ways and gutters between the homes, drinking water and ground water pumps. All these from the efforts of the Mahila Mandel, the women groups in the slum.

In 2002 Asha helped all these women's group to become registered charities. This means they each have a legal identity in their own right and they visit the police and their local counselors and fight for the changes in their communities. Just astounding.

I have run out of time and still there is more to say. I do want to mention, that while all this may start sounding magical, the shock at arriving in Maya Puri yesterday morning left us silent. The entrance is through the scrap heap and the filth is indescribable. I have never seen such dirty children and men working must have the dirt ingrained, never to be moved. The site is industrial; machine grease, water, mud, oil and metal parts all around. Goats, children, hens and welding and banging all a cacophony of sounds and smells. An enslaught to the senses and emotions.

After the morning meeting, we had a walk through Maya Puri, the staff were very supportive and walked touching and talking to us all the way. Their support and quiet talking as we walked through the homes was what we needed. We moved on to the other side of the slum, where the children were scrubbed and the women once again in beautiful colours and smiling. The contrast so stark and showing us the true impact of the lane volunteers and the women's groups.

I have not told you about the prayer meeting in the afternoon, the singing and the testimonies told and heard and the fabulous fun face painting with the children. (I have now taken a few hundred photos, predominantly children and women) I have not told you about the heath care programmes or Delhi. So much to tell, so many experiences.

That's enough for now.

1 comment:

Reena said...

Hi Sue,

I am a SQL Developer user and attended several presentations by Kris Rice at the RMOUG earlier this month. There were several references to you. As I was reading your blog entries I saw a link to this blog and out of curiosity clicked on it and read this blog. Thank you so much for doing all you are with ASHA. Like you said, 'small steps' make a big difference. I am originally from Delhi, so this is truly a heart felt thank you. It is sad that people living there consider the slum-dwellers 'untouchable'. I am really touched to learn that the women are being empowered and they have made a difference already.

God bless you.