Wednesday, August 20, 2008

28 children across 4 slums admitted in NMMC School, Aiorli

Hi friends,

No adjectives will be able to describe the happiness which we all have experienced today (or rest of you will experience in a while).

19th August,
we received the 20 affidavits from our new friend Vandana (Advocate) and then passed on this good news to all the parents.

20th August:
Energy was definitely at its peak but still I could feel some nervousness that how will I manage so many parents and kids in the school together. Will all of them come? What if not? What if late? What if they defected? Etc.
But Frankly speaking, today I really feel blessed. There definitely is some power always by my side that pulls me out of the woods…. at least in this project :-)
Our efforts for convincing at least one parent to be present on the 1st day did fructify. This was the first stress-buster! Though one defaulted but she made sure that her comrade (relative-cum-neighbor) takes care of her kids. So we deliriously made the parents sign-off the affidavits.
However this exhilaration was hit by the impending storm and consequent pain when one of them sadly reported about the refusal of one family to send their 2 kids to the school. I mean, how can these happen? Just yesterday night I had personally spoken to the parents of the kids (Lakshmi and Krishna). Both sounded encouraging and excited about this process. Then what caused this revulsion?
Fortunately, Arun made up to the time (halfway from his office!) and that too luckily with his colleague’s bike, so we could rush immediately to that slum to unravel the mystery. Finding the 2 kids roaming around and their mother lying lazily and chatting with her friends, I couldn’t control my anger and simply went rant and rave on her. But the bitter truth of her predicament made us realize that there’s always the other side of the coin and that it should be turned to get the complete picture. I felt ashamed of my ruthless behavior towards her after listening to her problem.
She’s close to 9 months pregnant and probably the only ‘responsible’ parent of their 3 kids (Krishna, Lakshmi and a 2-year old). Her husband is a drunkard, notorious for shirking his responsibilities. He, now, wants her to go to his native place for her delivery and obviously this helpless lady can’t keep her kids on their father’s drooping shoulders. Strangely, this guy cajoles her wife of getting the kids admitted to the school there itself.
But all of us are (and even this diffident woman is) not unfamiliar of the credibility of the words of a drunkard. For some time her anecdote left us totally flustered because there was no one here (she doesn’t trust her husband) in Mumbai to take care of their kids during her hospitalization (and post-hospitalization) period.
Have any solution? We didn’t have at that time and so we directed her to press her thumb on the affidavits and while leaving, asked her to immediately come to the school with the kids. Fear of defection again crept into our mind and we took a u-turn, made the 2 kids seated on the bike and asked their mother to be present at 1 pm in the school to complete the formality.
We could manage the admission of 20 kids in less than 15 days. Great coup! But definitely not coup de grace. The fear of Defection still haunts us as experienced on the first day, today, itself, as shared by Dream India with us. We are still walking on the tight rope. Fruition is still the long way. I can still recollect the teacher grumbling about these kids as ‘to-be-defaulters’, these parents’ enthusiasm as an ‘ephemeral’ emotion. But then I challenged her who’s she to predict all this before-hand? We are there with these kids to assist them and we are there with their parents to shepherd them. Was I wrong? Was I over-reacting?
No! Perhaps because we have cleared part of this journey and each event, each interaction, each setback has taught us a new lesson. By getting their kids to the school we have circumvented our first milestone—that of decreasing the ‘emotional distance’ between these underprivileged people and us. Now we are in a better position to be heard.
Remember the mail Varun had sent us nicely painting out the road-map. It’s the correct time to tread on it now. Sustainability is the key-word. So we need to timely and rightly harness these opportunities now. So that, as once exemplified by Sankara Iyer in his email earlier, these zealous efforts don’t go futile; this arduous achievement doesn’t become part of the history in 3-4 months.
Some of you reading this mail may feel that we have not done any worthwhile or any contribution in this project. You are wrong! I know what I have gained from each one of you. I can justify my statement but some feelings get tarnished when expressed. Each one of you is an ‘active’ core team-member or leader of this project. It may be just that till now you didn’t get some time to mull over it a bit. It’s completely fine. All of you have all the four necessary qualities- Passion, Energy, Courage and Commitment. But dear friends, now this project commands your fourth trait to be more dominant.
Let’s surge ahead and show that this admission process was not just any hasty step but a crucial planned door-opener for our project.
Plz spare some time to look at the 2 photo folders attached with this mail. It will speak out 2 u what no one can!

Photos :

Kudos to everyone!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Independence Day celebrations!

Hi friends…

Happy Independence Day.
I know it’s been long to talk to you. This mail will quickly update you with the goings so far.

On 13th August evening, Arun & I confirmed with the parents and school teacher Mr. Shinde about their meeting scheduled on the other day. 

So 14th August morning, Mr. Shinde accompanied me to the slums. (Actually all the adults & even the teenagers in the slums leave for their daily casual work latest by 8 am and return back late evening in either totally exhausted or drunken state. So the only time to have a healthy discussion with them is early morning.) Shinde talked at good length and high spirits to the parents about the importance of their kids’ regularity in school and all the basic facilities a student gets in the school. As expected we got a great response with almost everyone acknowledging the necessity of disciplined behavior.

On 15th August morning, Priyanka joined me for the slums at 7.30 am to properly enlist the names and ages of the kids to be admitted to the school. While on the way, I just thought of celebrating this important day with the kids and so shared this with the friends. After jotting down the details of the kids we headed for school, hoping for getting a classroom for this activity in the noon. The environment there unchained all our school memories. The students, teachers and local VIPs had gathered there for the flag hoisting ceremony. Fortunately we could attend the whole function. Sight of the whole lot of political figures and the bragging speeches about their parties’ triumphalism and extreme patriotism then incited us to harness the opportune moment to showcase them our common goal which could then give a leg-up for our project. We figured out our action, with all facts and figures and that are now in almost a cinch of getting about 20 kids admitted to the school. The startling scene was however that the figure talking boastfully (on whom we thought of betting upon) played a truant! This was clearly perceivable from his vacuous body language and indifferent attitude. Perhaps he felt we were poking our nose into ‘his’ business! May be we caught him with his pants down by presenting his unchartered territories! The positive part is however our efforts didn’t go futile and we could manage to invoke some knee-jerk reactions. Some of them then personally lend their ears to us, showed the spacious hall which we can use for any of our future activities and then expressed their ‘strong’ and ‘sincere’ support to our efforts concerning education for the slum-kids. One of them stepped ahead promising to ‘rally’ with us around the slums to spread the message of education. Other promised to get us an admission into the college for an eleventh standard pass out boy but then also enquired if I had a Voter-ID? (Are these people really so caring or are just trying to grab their pound of flesh by leveraging upon our mission?).Anyways, Caution is truly the keyword for us!

Frenzied with these experiences, we headed for collecting all the materials like crayons, flags, chocolates etc for the kids and penned down our tentative event-schedule. Mind-boggling response! We had expected about 20 but surprisingly 35 kids thronged into this event. I still remember the way all three of us- me, Priyanka and Beena had to rush around to make up for the shortfall of items at the eleventh hour. We sang our national anthem, asked what they would like to be by first explaining them the role of all the professions in the society, asked them to draw out their likes with colors. We dint have player but then the mobile tunes/songs could manage to twist their bodies. Finally we relieved them with flags and chocolates. If it had not been for both of my friends, I wonder how I would have been able to manage and overrule the whims of these smart naughty kids.

Things described above would have definitely painted an encouraging picture before you. But let me tell you that when we all were having fun with these kids at one place, there was one brave girl Madhuri humbly displaying her fortitude.
(Madhuri is a puny girl of about 7 years whose parents have inflicted their other 3(out of total 8) children on her. This smart girl has a great aptitude for learning but their parents cannot send her to school because she has to take care of their complete house and her 3 brothers/sisters daily when they are out to work. A 7 year child bogged down with the 7-tonne responsibilities!)
It was when I went into the slums, while on the way to school, just to ensure that no kid gets left-away for the event, I saw her lying on the bare floor in her house. I called her aloud to join us but after not getting any response I crept in to sense the matter. She was not crying but her eyes and cheeks couldn’t conceal the truth. Stammering, the pain came out and I somehow managed to get something to cover her. I got out immediately to look for help from neighbors but was rebuffed by vacuum. About 10 meters away I saw a woman, her distant neighbor. I took her to Madhuri and was shocked to see waving her brother’s cradle with one hand as well as managing her sister with the other. I made her lie down and requested the lady to look after her while I get some medicine. I had heard of medical stores kept open even during bandhs and strikes; but Airoli medical store-keepers seem to be oblivious of their actual responsibilities and more inclined to enjoy the government holidays. However by god’s grace I could find a medical and then rushed back there to find Madhuri out of her home to appease her crying sister. I dragged her back to home, gave her half the dose of metacin and ordered her not to get up. This time I could feel some relief in her eyes and also building up of some faith on us. I gave vent to my anger on the woman about her negligence; she gave a pat reply—“They don’t listen to us”. Her response not only left me dumbfounds, but also was a manifestation of the lack of trust and friendliness and care among these people. Averting any further arguments, I fled away by again requesting her to give Madhuri the other half dose, if needed.
I am sure any one of us would be equally shaken if he/she faces such a blood-curdling incident. What daunted me more was the indifferent attitude of these people in dire times even among themselves. This clearly tells us how carefully we need to tread our path. If a 7-year old feeble girl’s pathetic condition fails to move the emotions of her old neighbors, just think of the disappointments which we – just a few days old friends-turned-strangers may have to encounter while dealing with them. So dear friends, I am sure you would have derived your own important inferences from this incident but I would like to add one more— don’t keep any expectations!

After this brush, it would have been really very difficult for me if Priyanka and Beena would have not joined in this event. Their passion, energy and commitment reloaded me again with the energy and we could successfully bring some more cheers and smiles to the kids. Great applause for both of them! (Priyanka has captured some cool snaps of the event. She will be soon sending it across.)

On 17th August, we gave the details of kids, draft-affidavit and Rs.2000/- to a high court advocate (Vandana) who has promised to get all the affidavits done by the next day without any consultation/service fees. At first, I was little bit surprised by such a quick encouraging response but it was today when I met her personally, I got the opportunity to know her properly. She is a very energetic and determined lady very active in all such social activities especially women-related issues. I would request you to go through to get some more details. What I could gauge her from 15 min talk is that she is willing to support us for any activity we would like to take up for such cases.
I told her that we are a group of few friends who have just kicked off this theme & we were desperately looking for something for women too as I have met few teenager girls and around 25-30 age band women in these slums who have to toil very hard just for few bucks. We were anyways planning some sort of vocational training to these girls/women for better life and ‘protected’ environment. And much more. Her response simply drove me delirious. They are ready to provide all the resources—place, office, funds, sponsors, technology, legal assistance etc…And they have great influences too. So it’s just that they want some committed and passionate minds like us to utilize all these things. Its like we tell them the design of our platform and they create it for us to perform! Isn’t it great?

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