Day 3 – December 23, Part I

It’s 5:30 AM. Today, is going to be a long day.

We visit another school in the outskirts of the city and more like in proper Haryana (a state on the border of Delhi). This school is already very different. We pass by closely packed one room houses and plastic tent and pepsi stand shelters that make up a slum. I imagine that some of my students live in homes like these, and I realize that it takes a lot to squash a child’s happiness and energy. I know some of my group members have been getting frustrated with their students, but it’s hard to get frustrated with them when you know they have such a stressful situation to deal with at home.
We meet the head of the Arpana Tuition center. It’s different from Nai Disha in that it doesn’t run an primary or secondary level school. It’s like an after school tutoring center that people pay a small nominal fee for. The differences are immediately striking – the students are considerably more disciplined because they are beaten into straight lines and arrows by their government school instructors. Our kids on the other hand run around as free as any American student. The headmistress/ founder tells us a lot about the place and its origins – apparently the surrounding community used to be a slum outside of AIMS/a nice area in Delhi and due to complaints, the slum was dismantled and the community was moved to single room government housing development. Prior to this, the Arpana project had spent a great deal of effort to establish a repertoire with the community leader and had set up an easily accessible tuition center. With the move, they faced difficulties building and buying facilities to restart their program. Eventually they were successful, even though, not surprisingly, they ran into a whole host of problems dealing with bureaucracy and the government and its corruption. At some point they got the ball rolling again.
Shakuntala maam tells us of a story about one girl that had saved up money and approached a tailor to be taught tailoring, but the tailor refused to teach her. Somehow she persuaded him that she would be a committed student – and with financial help from Arpana, she began her apprenticeship. In a few years she became a skilled tailor and earned some money on sewing wedding related clothing and material. All the while, at home, she had an alcoholic and unemployed father, with a mother that was working very hard to feed her husband and two daughters. Her father was very discouraging of her entrepreneurship but she plowed on regardless. At some point her parents found a suitable marriage match for her and finalized it the point of engagement. This girl was not too fond of this guy, and so she told her parents that she wouldn’t marry the guy. Her father flipped and told her that there was no chance she could cancel the engagement because he’d already dished out 2000 rupees for the premarriage dowry. She asked him what he had gotten all up in cahoots about when she could and would rather pay him that money back and do what she wanted to do. She ended her engagement and worked on. Eventually, she found the right man for herself and with the help of Arpana, she’s conducting herself a decent wedding in a couple of months. In the meantime, despite her issues with her father, she decided to spend most of her savings to buy a home for her mother and sister. She didn’t feel it was right to leave them behind.
Next, we head over to the community hospital, where AIMS doctors rotate through at least once a month each. I isn’t clear whether the hospital are run on this volunteer staff entirely, or whether it is some sort of combination. The hospital is certainly inspiring: the people are friendly and they seem to have their work in order. After that, a few of the mothers accompany us to show their homes to us. We step in a one room home of a resident–Aishwarya. She hefts a big-eyed, small nosed infant on her hip, but there are six more family members that are out and about at the moment but call the room their home as well. What is amazing to see is that all of the residents have immunization cards that have been administered by the hospital we’ve just visited. On the card is a detailed list of immunizations that have been taken and that still need to be taken. Krithika, my good friend/trip member, and I are pleasantly surprised at the detail and follow-through with the immunization cards. Considering the way our guide interrogates one mother about why her baby hasn’t had the latest round of shots, it seems like the community prides in its ownership over these cards, and the health of themselves and their kids.
On our way back to the cars, Krithika discovers that our guide is a migrant worker originally from Tamil Nadu, a southern state in India. Embracing one another, the two converse in Tamil and hold hands all the way back to our meeting point. While I gaze at a towering smoke stack, seemingly distant because of a thick shroud of smog, I gather that the women had migrated from Tamil Nadu eight years before and has since seen limited improvement in her life. For a moment, I wonder if there are any migrants from Andhra Pradesh and my ears perk up, hoping not to hear Telugu in the streets and makeshift shelters.