Saturday, 24 February 2007

A Little Bit of Singing

It's all over. We're off to bed for a few hours sleep and then to the airport at 3am to catch our flight home. Sad and emotional farewells were the order of the day, following the grand opening ceremony for the clinc, complete with the cutting of a red ribbon, this afternoon.

As I have mentioned in previous entries, there is so much to tell you and I'll continue to update the site with entries for the next week or so and of course share a few photos.

Before I head off tonight, I wanted to tell you a little about yesterday morning. We finished off the rooms and murals, which Sam told you about. Collectively we are quite proud of our murals! and it was fun doing them too. A finishing touch to the entrance was a giraffe, which Sam drew and painted, for measuring the heights of the children and in particular, adding marks for the at-risk pregnant women. (Pregnant women below the height of 4'10" are considered high-risk)

The clinic has a small courtyard and there is a largish entrance area, with 4 rooms off this, 2 to each side; a doctor's room, a well-baby clinic, two children's' resource rooms, and a toilet and store room. Once we'd finished off the doors and skirting boards, we started hanging round, different members of the team involved in different things in and around the area.

As the children started gathering, asking me to take pictures, I tried to engage them in conversation and get them singing. They were very shy to and so we shared names and ages and basic details about themselves. (Lots of "sign" language and gestures!) Mostly girls around 11, there was a scattering of ages ranging from 5 to 12. Wanting to sing with them, I pulled Andrew in to help. Those who know Andrew, our vicar, will know his great musical talent and so will not be surprised that he came equipped with a song, actions and great energy! We kept repeating his first 'Noah' song until Andrew was exhausted and the children had finally joined in, giggling and following along as they did. Then he and Caroline racked their brains for more songs with actions. It was great fun and the crowd grew quickly. When Andrew retired breathless, they shyly suggested they wanted to sing for us and so finally they sang a few for us. We finished with more songs and Val, Andrew Caroline and I playing hand clapping games and singing until lunch. It was a very special time and there was much laughter.

Bye for now. Will talk again when there is a reliable Internet and no queue!

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Sam's Blog Entry no. 1

Hi, I'm Sam. I'm 14 years old and the youngest of our group. Today we went back to Zakhira. This trip was focused around the painting project, renovating the Asha medical centre. We had pretty much done the walls with the bare colours, which were the frames for our murals.
During the first half of the day, half of the team went prayer walking in the slum. The team prayed for a very sick woman who was recovering from an operation. Unfortunately she wasn't getting better and could barely eat, so she was painfully thin.

Today me, Sue, Libby and Andrew (my dad) carried on with the murals, which are being painted onto the rooms in which the children play and go to school in. On the first room we are completing a jungle scene, the concept designed by a member of St Stephen's School. On the walls of the other room we are painting Noah's Ark. Val did some very artistic animals, she had the talent of creating figures freehand and her turtles were particularly impressive. I mainly did the sketches, and Sue was very good at outlines and precised paintings, something that I am not so good at. Dad faithfully did the leaves.

The first thing I noticed when I first entered Zakhira was how cute and playful the children were. The thing they love more than anything is having their picture taken! If you have a camera on you it wont take long before 30 odd slum children are assembled in front of you, posing with their brothers and sisters. These children don't often have good healthy fun, because they mainly have jobs such as rag picking, or scrap metal collecting, or bending aluminium strips into industrial shapes. For a whole days work they receive about seven rupees - the equivalent of about 10p.

I am looking forward to tomorrow as we will be finishing the murals and showing the children who I'm sure will love it. All for now, Namaste! Sam

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.

Monday, 19 February 2007


Where to begin? No idea, but a single computer, a connection that drops in and out and a queue behind me means I'll just give you a very brief update for now. I'm also not able to bring you any photos while I'm away, so you'll need to wait for those for now.

I was going to say "in a few words" but I can't. The past three days have been quite an experience. Today was our first slum experience and I really want to tell you about that, so I'll leave our arrival, Saturday and Sunday's events to another entry. Suffice to say we have had a gentle introduction to Delhi and have loved it all. (Air pollution aside - the air quality is shocking)

Today, Monday, was scheduled as our first day in the slums. We met after breakfast to pray for the day and talk briefly about fears and concerns. Really in the end we were all just wanting get started, so while there were a few concerns the main feeling was of anticipation.
Our first stop was Asha Headquarters, where we met some of the Asha team and were walked through a presentation of the work Asha does and the progress they have made. It's unbelievable what Dr Kirin Martin and her team have done here. I will do more entries on that talk and our morning meeting, but I want to get right on to our first touch of the slum.

We will be working in the clinic in Zakhira. This slum is split into two stretches. Both are sandwiched between the railway line and industrial sites. Before Asha moved into the area 4 years ago, there were fatalities as the children and woman would cross the railway tracks to get water from the other side. In the past 2 years they have improved the site by leaps, and now have paved walkways and gutters for the waste water. One of the most significant improvements are water pumps in the slum. This now means they no longer cross the tracks.

We were met with garlands of flowers and a wonderful welcome by the women in the courtyard of the clinic where we will be working. Many of the key workers in the slum spoke about the work they do, which is all part of the empowerment program that Asha runs. (I so badly want to write and write and write, but have a people breathing down my neck for the machine, so I'm struggling for words! - unusual for me...)
This is primarily a Muslim slum and so in the past many of the women were not allowed to leave their homes or if they did, moved about with their heads and faces covered. For them to be walking heads held high and head scarves thrown back is huge thing. They are all beautiful with colourful dresses and quick, shy smiles. For them to stand up in front of a crowd and tell us about the work they are doing in the slum is also enormous. If you find that my words are mostly about the women and children, it's because this is who Asha is working with. It's the women who are making the difference here.

I have to go, I can't do this pressure, but before I do I want to tell you about the children. They were just delightful. As we listened to the stories, I started to take pictures of the women and the children. The wonderful thing abut the digital camera is that you can instantly show the picture to the group. After the talks, we were shown around both slum sectors and took loads of pictures. Mostly of the children. Hunkering down and taking a photo, and then showing them the results was wonderful. They giggled and laughed and rushed around us. As I turned to look at other members in the team, they were doing the same. Everyone talking to the women, listening and learning about the life they lead and the work they do in the area. Those of us with cameras, also having fun with the children. What an experience.

Our programme is to paint Tuesday to Friday, with a visit to one of the other slums on Wednesday. We'll also be walking with and talking to the people who live their lives in these places. We need to be done by Saturday lunch time, when there is an official opening. We also plan to do 2 afternoons of workshops with the children. I can't wait. The most powerful thing these children can receive, after the basic nutritional, medical and health needs, which is where Asha is helping, is English and computer literacy. With that, they have a chance to escape this life and move to something better. Now there's a thought...

Gotta go. More later.