December 29, 2014

Reality Gives: Our Visit to Dharavi in Mumbia, India

Within hours of touching down in Mumbai, India, hubby and I took a trip across town to visit with residents of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world. It is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, diverse community with a population of nearly 1 million. Unlike similar slums in the region, Dharavi has a very active (but informal) economy-- the leather, textiles and pottery goods produced there by the residents are exported around the world. Dharavi also happens to be the slum featured in Slumdog Millionaire, in fact, many of the actors in the movie are from there.

I was greeted by Joseph Bird of Reality Gives-- a sister organization of an ethically run tour company called Reality Tours & Travel. Reality Tours was created in 2005 by Chris Way and Krishna Pujari. Their main objective was to show the positive side of the slums and to break down negative stereotypes about its residents.  They also saw it as a way to employ locals, increase income for the residents who sell products and services, and as a way to raise money for the community (80% of tour profits are invested in Dharavi). 

taking notes at the Reality Gives headquarters with Joe

Slum tourism is a controversial practice that draws heated debate on all sides. Some claim that it is exploitation of impoverished locals, while others claim that it is a particularly potent form of empowerment. From what I can tell, Reality Gives' initiatives are doing just that—empowering locals, especially the women, and searching for and implementing solutions. 

Read On>>>
After discussing the community's needs with its residents, in 2007 Reality Tours established Reality Gives and set up a Community Centre in Dharavi to provide English and computer classes, using tour revenues.  They also began running the kindergarten, first and second grade classes within Dharavi's Royal City School.  Reality Gives identifies interested women from the local community, who they send on a year-long, accredited teacher training program.  These women are then placed in the classrooms to implement child-based learning techniques.  This not only empowers the women, but creates sustainable and long-term solutions for Dharavi's educational needs.  They are currently serving 381 kids with one teacher to every 15 children (as opposed to 1 to 50 or more, in other areas) and hope to expand through the 4th grade by 2016.

 Reality Gives has also established a Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) to, 'assist teenagers and young adults who have been sidelined or ignored by the mainstream education system, or who are struggling to find employment'.  To meet this need, they have developed materials and curriculum to provide local 16-30 year olds with the tools to improve their quality of life by continuing their education or helping them find jobs.  Free of cost to students, YEP is a 3.5 month course that consists of English, Computer training and Soft Skills (life skills such as public speaking and developing healthy self-esteem). 

Reality Gives has more initiatives than I can list here, but along with the women and youth empowerment programs, I really enjoyed learning about their girls football teams.
 "Growing up in Dharavi, many girls take on a lot of responsibility in the family home from a young age. Helping with the cooking, cleaning and other household tasks often mean girls get fewer chances to participate other events happening within the community and there can considerable social stigma surrounding them when they do.

The Girl’s Football Program aims to make it acceptable for girls to play sport within their community, to offer them escapism, fun, the opportunity to compete and the chance to broaden their own personal development."
The girls are not only playing football, but learning leadership and responsibility.  It's truly awesome and the girls were absolutely beautiful and hilarious!

The VIEW--

learning about their numerous initiatives-- also, Joe said to ignore his weird, ginger mustache, lol.  He's actually growing it to raise money for another initiative! #GingerStache 

Next, we headed over to Raj and Hansa's house for a home-cooked lunch! They are residents of Dhavari and considered lower middle class. Their home was full of stainless steel pots, they had stone counter-tops and amazing flooring. Their living conditions were better than most in Dhavari.  They were very proud of their home, very generous with the food and with their time as well.  Most of the homes we saw in the slum were modest but impeccably clean (just like in Gugu in South Africa). 

the sights and sounds while walking through the alleyways of Dharavi

traditional food from NW Indian, prepared in a traditional way #Gujarat

My face, tho! The food was delicious, but like most Indian dishes, it had my eyeballs sweatin'.  Plus, Raj was watching us eat and I felt compelled to show my gratitude by eating erry'thang, with a smile. 

look at Raj looking at me! lol! (Dr. Daddy's razzle dazzle, tho! #HairCutSteeze)

There are 15 people who live in Raj's home and the adjoining house (where his brothers live).  It was very generous of them to share so much food with us. 

Krishna (co-founder of Reality Tours) popped in for a quick lunch and to meet me and Hubby!

Next up, we headed to the Community Center to meet with current students and recent grads of the Youth Empowerment Program!

Fehmida graduated from the English program and the Computer training program.  She shared the importance of learning English as a young Muslim woman, and how it will benefit her family and future children (who she can teach as well). 

Yusef, on the right, graduated from the YEP program and comes back frequently to help other kids.  Reality Gives helped him secure a job with Vodaphone (cellular company). 

Karthika, 18, another recent graduate talked to us about the benefits of learning English and the new opportunities that she plans to take advantage of.  She loves the sports programs offered by Reality Gives and participates regularly.

Reality Gives has a computer lab with 15 PCs!  Mayur, my other guide, as well as a graduate of the YEP program, set them all up and installed the software on each one.   He's actually being trained to take Joe's job when he moves back home!  #LongtermSolutions

The crew at the Community Center!

Finally, we headed over to the soccer field to see the girls in action.  Unfortunately, another program was taking place so we never got to see a game, but we did get to meet about 60 young girls.  We.were.swamped.  I'm pretty sure they'd never seen an African-American before and they had so many questions about our hair and our style of dress.  They wanted to see pictures of our house, and wanted to know our favorite foods, animals and colors.  They were particularly taken (and terribly confused) by my ripped jeans.  They thought it was absurd and absolutely hilarious!  Almost every girl I met had to question me about 'my holes'.  They also wanted to touch my hair-- to feel the texture and to see how it 'grows like that'.  They did the same to hubby!  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I'm pretty sure I had little hands in my head for like 20 minutes, lol. 

They loved practicing their English with us.  They kept repeating hubby's name in his voice, albeit very exaggerated. lol!  They also taught us a really cool new handshake.  Hubby and I've been doing it ever since!

My #BombayBoogies 


the girls had to see their pics, and hubby obliged

back to the whip...
Here's a video of the sights and sounds on our way back to find our driver.  Tell me when you realize that this is actually a street!

*** Reality Gives would appreciate any donations (of your money, time or prayers) to their initiatives, especially the ones surrounding the school and Youth Empowerment Program.  Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated!***

 Last but not least--
shout out to the homie who got us there and back in one piece #WhereTheSeatBeltsAtTho

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*** GIVEAWAY *** 
I'm giving away a $100 ROMWE giftcard and a year's supply of Henna Sooq's Red Raj Henna (12, 100g boxes)! All you have to do is comment on all the India related posts that have the 'CurlyNikki WorldWide' logo at the bottom.  On Jan 5 (at 5pm EST), one lucky commenter will be randomly chosen to receive the funds, and another will be randomly chosen to receive #AllTheHenna! Good luck!

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