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).
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 girls are not only playing football, but learning leadership and responsibility. It's truly awesome and the girls were absolutely beautiful and hilarious!
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."
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).
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!