Saturday, 5 April 2008

Saying Goodbye to Zakhira

My last day in the slums and in Delhi was a little crazy. I bumped into Rani at the Asha offices in the morning. Rani is one of the Asha administrators, overseeing the work in a number of slums, including Zakhira, where we painted the clinic last year. I had really wanted to see the women I’d met last year and had talked about visiting that week. However, through a misunderstanding I thought they were too busy to see me on the Thursday and they thought I’d agreed to visit. On Friday morning Rani told me the women waited all day with garlands and I never arrived. Horrified I asked Rani to call the slum and let them know I was on my way. This was Friday morning, just before 12 and I was due to be in Jeevan Nagar by 2 for our farewell party. A quick glance at the map of Delhi showed me that they were at opposite side of Delhi, but I knew I had to go. Besides, I had wanted to say hello to the wonderful women we’d met last year. So an auto driver was briefed on directions and we set off. I did not realise that the journey was some 30 kilometres away and that it would take the better part of an hour to get to the slum. Also, when we got lost, I had no idea of where we were or what to do. The auto driver was no help, so we managed to get a third party involved, and using my mobile, tracked down one of the folk at the Asha offices who was able to give directions. With much hand waving, Hindi and gesticulations at me, there was finally enough information provided and we made out way to the slum. The women were waiting, having been warned of my pending arrival, ready with their garlands and a warm welcome. It was great to see the old faces and see how well the clinic we’d painted is being used. It did not look like it had only been painted a year before. The children’s resource rooms are grubby from many fingers and feet and the constant traffic, but I'm happy with that, as it means they have a space they love and can use.

It was also great to see computers in the rooms and the children using them. I only saw 2 in each room, though the young teacher there said they have 6 at Zakhira. I asked see what they're doing and the new young teacher there showed me their materials. The kids do computer literacy in English and start from the very beginning... “this is keyboard, mouse, hard drive…” Some are making great progress and are creating word documents and working with the drawing programs. Asha’s next venture is getting Internet access into the slums where they have computers and Zakhira now has this access. I’m really pleased about this, as they can now learn more about the world beyond their walls.

I settled down to chat to the women and have a quiet cup of tea, trying to still the loud ticking of the clock in my head, reminding me that I should be heading for my own slum and the farewell we’d planned there. Still I was really pleased that I’d stopped by and shared tea and caught up on a few stories. One of which reminded me of the really slow pace at which all these remarkable changes take place. Zakhira is divided into 2 sections. Both lie along the railway line, but the second of these is a little rougher than the one where we worked in the clinic. This second slum did not have any toilet facilities and they were building a new toilet block while we were there. When I asked how it was going with the toilet block, I was told that the inauguration ceremony was due to take place the next week. A year on and only now are they ready for use!

Apologising for my flying visit, I got back into my auto and headed for Jeevan Nagar, not realising my journey would take another hour and a half. When I arrived at 3pm, the kids had been waiting patiently for me for some time.

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