This year we stayed in Mumbai. We’ve been volunteering for four years now, and the other three times we volunteered, we were teaching kids in schools. This program is called SNEHA. Sneha was much different. Instead of just educating kids, Sneha does what is called a lifelong cycle.
They start once the baby is in the womb, the baby grows up, and then they go into the adolescent program. After the adolescent program, once that woman has had a baby, then she and her baby do the same process again. Sneha works in one of the biggest slums in India.
One of the biggest slums in India is called Dharavi. While Sneha was educating us on how their program functioned, we explored the neighborhoods that were inside Dharavi. We were told that Dharavi is a very special slum. The reason why they are so special is that as a community, Dharavi earns about one billion US dollars. We were told that they had different professions in the communities. We saw the leather, the broom, and the pot making neighborhoods.
The culture in Dharavi is also extremely different. I was a little uncomfortable when I was walking through the small lanes of Dharavi, because of my surroundings. In America, we buy our vegetables from a grocery store or a supermarket, but in Dharavi, they sold everything on the streets. They sold clothes, meat, vegetables, brooms, and they even gave haircuts on the street. With that in mind, it was very hard to walk through. It was disturbing because every five minutes we would see raw meat just hanging by a wooden pole, or vendors cutting off the head of a fish right in front of us, or even just trying not to get run over by a goat, or being chased by a chicken.
While I was walking through Dharavi, I experienced the real reason why Sneha does what they do. The kids in the neighborhood are always smiling. Even though their conditions of living aren’t very good, they still have a smile on their faces. While we were walking through their neighborhoods I was very confused. I didn’t understand how the people that work the most, get the least. Every time we go to India we will see people hauling heavy barrels from one place to another, but yet at the end of the day, they get about three or four dollars. Even though they get such a little bit, they will always have smiles on their faces.
Sneha taught us about how their different branches function. We had the opportunity to watch Sneha in action. They showed us how they inform pregnant women on how to stay healthy. We also saw how they hold meetings in a public hospital. They hold free dispensaries so that people that can live a healthy life. In addition to pregnant women, Sneha works with adolescents. Our family worked mostly with the adolescent groups. The first time we were there, there was a small talk with the kids on how to prevent malaria at the source, and then after that, we played games for about an hour. Before we started to play games, the kids were asking us questions about our lifestyle, and where we live. We also came to the realization that no matter where we lived, we all spent at least an hour on our phones and social media. We got to know the kids more when Shoe Box came in. Shoe Box is an organization that gives kids a chance to be creative. Shoe Box does this through creative labs that the kids work on for three hours. All of the kids that we worked with were very creative. One thing I really liked about Shoe Box labs, was that you didn’t need to know a certain language to be creative, and gain inspiration. It was another way we could connect without using any words.
A few things that I’ve learned throughout this year were how you can never tell a book by its cover. While we walked through Dharavi, we saw multiple houses. These houses were about the size of my bedroom, and some were even smaller. This is where they do all of their cooking, sleeping, and eating. While I walked through I also saw that even though all of the homes were very small, most of them had refrigerators and TVs. Even though their income is extremely high for a slum, they still live in a slum. They can’t afford a house with rent. It made me understand that no matter how much one can and does make, it doesn’t necessarily change the way, and where they live. As I was walking through India, I realized that there is very little that people in slums can control.