Friday, 14 March 2008

The Old People's Project and the Interview

I might have mentioned that I am working for Asha in the office in the mornings and then teaching in the afternoons. The work is varied and has involved drafting letters and sending emails. The team in the office is small and everyone lends a hand where needed. While I am here, I am an extra pair of hands. As you know the work Asha does cannot be sustained if it weren't for the money coming in through donations and grants. It's important then, to get news out about what's happening in the slums and the progress being made. Shamefully I am guilty of not reading all the news and so was unaware, even though it's in the newsletter, of a new program Asha has started.

The Old People's Program
In the slums, typically families only look out for themselves. Before Asha gets involved, some women, don't even leave their homes, much less consider communicating with their neighbours. Where there is a family, at least they have a small opportunity of talking. For the elderly, with no family, they can be on their own in their home and completely isolated. It's so much worse for the women, who have spent their lives in their homes, who lose husbands and may not have children. Asha has a new program that focuses on these elderly widows. Apart from regular visits from the health volunteers, the elderly women now attend weekly meetings in the clinic. They come for tea, a little meal and conversation. In most cases, this is the only conversation they'll have all week. As Asha helps the community develop, so the interaction grows stronger and the community starts to look out for the others more.

An Interview and The Finance Project
On Thursday I was asked to interview a couple living in Ekta Vihar, the slum just near the main Asha clinic. The interview was for a brief article for the newsletter to support an update about another of Asha's new projects. The couple I interviewed have been married and living in Ekta Vihar for 18 years. The conditions in the slum were appalling in those early days. Asha has been involved with Ekta Vihar all that time and the changes in the slum have been significant. As with other slums, walkways are now paved, there are water channels, they have access to drinking and running water (not the same thing!) and toilet blocks. In addition, Asha helped to start a housing project, so most slum dwellers now have brick homes, instead of the shacks they’d previously had. This couple said that life was good now as their brick home is comfortable, their children immunized and attending school.
We all want to continue to improve our lives and it's no different with them. With a greater income, they'd be able to provide their family with more. As with many of the slum dwellers, the husbands work and earn a small income. So too with this couple, where Shahid earns an income driving a commercial vehicle. The problem is that this is rented, leaving very little real income after he has paid the rental fees.

A loan from a bank would enable him to buy a vehicle outright and have money over to start buying things they need; a fridge, gas stove and provide more for the children. You can imagine that it would be difficult for a slum dweller to contemplate approaching a bank for a loan. In Ekta Vihar, they now have fixed addresses, so it should be possible, but most are afraid to even consider approaching the bank. Even if they did, the thought of the paper work and a possibly complicated process has left most reluctant to even contemplate this.

Asha has met with various banks in the area, who are happy to get involved. The Finance Minister, Mr. Chidanbaran, recently came to speak to the residents of Ekta Vihar. He listened to their needs and explained the process to them. Even very small loans (Rs 5000 ~ £60) will mean that these families can start their own small businesses. The types 0f business they start vary; some sell basic supplies in the slums like milk and bread, some have fruit stalls and others have cycle- or auto-rickshaws. Owning these means they are not tied down to perpetual rental charges and should be able to pay back the loan and build up small incomes. After the meetings it's looking very positive and the process to provide loans seems to be underway. As these projects prove successful, Asha will start rolling them out in other slums.

Small steps, but huge progress.

A Goat's in the News

I have not taken my camera out much, I think I'm still a shy photographer! Not wanting to be intrusive or conspicuous, have erred on the side of no pictures at all. The loss is a not well photographically documented trip! Anyway, I have started to take some and will intersperse a few here with my updates, and put the bulk onto my photo blog (Fun with Images).

This first image is a small shelter just near the main clinic on a very busy dual carriage way.

I like the goat. I spotted him and then struggled to get my camera out before he finished eating the news and before I was mobbed by the slum dwellers just nearby, who love having their photos taken. The children dash out and before you know it there is a crowd and lots of pushing to get into a picture.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Little Achievements and Big Steps

I'm getting to know the kids a little better now, so the different groups and individuals don't blur and merge into each other. I wasn't quite sure how the classes with the older group was working. That is, I wasn't quite sure who'd arrive for each class. As I mentioned, this is mainly due to their exam timetable. Now I have notebooks for each of them and have a much better feel, also I'm getting a better feel for their characters and abilities, which is great.
We're having a lot more fun in the classes this week and it feels like they are learning a little. For those of you used to high tech, high powered jobs, drawing stick figures on the board and going through " These are my eyes" etc may not seem all that exciting, but when there are 2 teams and each member in the team is required to add arms, legs, feet to the figure, it can all get really exciting, specially when hands are joined to shoulders. So this is my young group and for some of them this is their first exposure to any of this, an English class, a non-native speaker working with them and all the new sounds and structures. A rerun of the game had our figures looking more like people and less like aliens. The problem with the board game is that the dominant and stronger ones control most of the activity, so yesterday we sat in a large circle, each child with a book and coloured pen and played "The Chain Drawing" game. I'd call out the instruction "Draw a head", once they had drawn the head, they had to pass the book on to the left, and wait for the next instruction. By the end of the exercise, the books had brightly coloured stick figures, dressed with trousers, shirts and hats. (Some also had an approximation of labels) They still looked a little like aliens, but what a wonderful time had by all. Each one "correcting" an aspect of the drawing being passed on to them , before adding the new bit.
Finally a breakthrough today when our youngest arrived and spoke his first complete sentence, clearly, without assistance and in response to my greeting and question.
This is a breakthrough because he has been mumbling an approximation of the words and all the childre, younger and older, offer single word responses. Sentence structure is an issue for them, as Hindi has no articles and the word order is quite different to English. So while I was really pleased with his response, there was a cheer from the women gathered at the door of the classroom, where they sit and watch.

Monday, 10 March 2008

I think she's got it...

"i think she's got it..." Well not quite yet, but the classes were much better today than last week. Thanks for the suggestions, links and thoughts sent. I have also found a website with some learning games for children. Today I gave each of the children a book to write in and a pen. So the lessons included some writing, which they seem to love, some games and a board race. All covering the bits we did last week.
Just to remind you of the scene. There are 2 groups, a mixture of ages 8 to 10 and then a mix of 11 - 15, with varying levels of little or no English. I found a few nice local children's books with nice short stories (just a paragraph long) in them, along with a few pictures. I plan to read one to them at the end of the lesson. I only did one with the little ones today and even this short story needed mime and drawing and pictures to help it along. Anyway, there was a lot more laughing and I think we all enjoyed it more. I certainly did, as they were much more involved. Now I just need to plan 8 more of those (for this week!)

I have always admired the patience and endurance teachers have and this only serves to underline that once more.

High Tea at the Ritz..

Well it wasn’t high tea and it wasn’t the Ritz, but it felt just grand and a little escape into a small piece of calm. The plan was to join Freddy and some of the women from a few of the Mahila Mandel (Women’s Groups) at their fortnightly bible study and prayer meeting on Sat morning and then to head on down to Old Delhi to explore.

I’ll do a separate piece on the meeting later. This part of the story starts after lunch. Freddy suggested I catch the Metro from Connaught Place at the hub of New Delhi to Old Delhi. That way avoiding the heavy traffic and bustle to get there. So that became part of the plan. What’s more it meant I could suss out Connaught Place and the Tibetan market on Janpath Road. All spots I wanted to visit.

The trip to the start of the Tibetan markets on Janpath is through this rough jostling area we are working and living in. This is where the really hairy driving is and the roads are chaotic with diversions and not –completed road-works, but the road seems to suddenly pop out onto broad open dual carriage way and there was a certain feeling of calm. Here we pass official residences and stately government buildings. The peace didn’t last that long as we head around and onto Janpath. Dropped just at the start of the markets I couldn’t quite face the onslaught and so turned abruptly into the Imperial Hotel. Very grand, with a majestic drive lined with very tall, stately palms leading up to the entrance and all surrounded by green lawns and beautiful flower beds. Inside is a haven of tranquility. I took a little tour of the place and settled for ‘tea and scones’ in an inside atrium. Very civilized - and good to have a little time to read and be quiet.