Saturday, 23 February 2013

Elan Valley Ranger has Tears for the children - in the slums

I went into the slum known as Shiv Nagar.....  I really was well prepared for the shanties and the litter and dirty small children running around. I felt strong that I could cope. A life of farming and surveying wildlife ensures that I am used to mucky situations and studying wildlife droppings is a part of my area in mammal recording. I saw the site a barren flat waste ground strewn with litter with boar and dogs scavenging the grounds. We were taken to the home of  Sakun Soni......... who was in his 60s and his wife ...Ramesh in her 50s their 16 -18 year old daughter Rajani (in some places the ages are not known especially if surviving day by day) ... was there also getting ready for school, once she had collected water from the tap outside.  Which is only on for 2 hours a day so the days water needs to be collected.

Sakun had a bandage tied around his head and seemed a little frail.  I looked into his milky coloured eyes ...... and felt the cost of his suffering.  He had brought up 4 children 3 daughters and a son.  They lost one young daughter to a water borne disease also years before. 2 daughters have been married.  The son works in a flour mill which is contract work unusual in the slum as most employment is usually a daily struggle.

It turned out that three days before our visit the electricity had gone off and Sakun had fallen in the dark and woke in a pool of blood and had managed to get some help from someone nearby who got him to the hospital.

We discussed many more issues and then I was outside and asked what was "I feeling in the slums". I tried to talk but I could feel the emotion rising within me and the tears flowed from my eyes. I couldn't get away the glimpse at a small boy no older than 4 (just a bit younger than my daughter) squatting down in the wasteland of litter and human excrement surrounded by foraging boar and dogs. I knew many children had been bitten by snakes and died and children and women were prayed upon by men. The lack of privacy,  dignity and safety was hitting me hard here.  And after spending the day with the school yesterday I was reminded of the vulnerability of India's children.  I thank God I have seen the good work that WaterAid and partners are doing to make the future safer for them..

The other thing I learned today was just what the partnership organisations do with WaterAid as sitting with the staff in the house it was plane to see how much they were connected with the people and just much work had been done to get to this stage. They help the people to get access to their rights and they move the government to take responsibility. ....

Which reminds me that there were diggers present cleaning out the ditches of waste.  Word had got to the government department we were on site. ...the ditches are not cleaned as regular as should be! So at least in a small way our presence made a difference that day for the slum.

Afternoon at Arjun Nagar Slum

Welcomed by singing and drums x

This slum has 400 houses and has been in existence for 30 years (this morning there were 300 households and the slum was 40 years old), most residents are from scheduled caste and schedule tribes. And it was a relief after this morning to see how a community with the help of WaterAid and Partner Organisations could lift a community and have it motivated and working sustainability together. You will be pleased to hear that every household has a toilet now and there is even a road. Health has greatly improved and the children are safer indoor. It is at the moment the only open defecation free slum! And has been sustaining itself for 3 years. the government are looking now to build houses in place of the dwellings currently there.

Meeting the lovely Asha and her husband Shibai was a real honor and enlightening experience. they have a son and daughter who are both at school and they proudly showed us the trophy `s won by the son Rahul. they are proud of both their children and hope they will continue with their education. Now there is a toilet in the school it is more girl friendly and girls are continuing whereas before they dropped out around puberty.

the community has its own committee to which the householders pay 20 rupees a month for the maintenance and water quality checks of the water points and to improve the community overall such as plans to build a play park  hospital or community hall. People are free to dream and plan now , in fact this slum has a 5 year plan in place and even visits surrounding neighboring slums to share the fact that they too can be the same.
The community corporator was elected in the ward and is responsible for 6 slums (blue Sari), she really understands the issues and it was clearly visible the respect and love the people had for her. If there is a wedding or a birth she is always invited. The corporator we saw this morning in Shiv Nagar on reflection did not have this rapport and this may help to contribute to that feeling of despair.
Children are spending less time collecting money now so there is more time to study - and well just be children :-) Now that Asha has a toilet and it made us chuckle when she told us once she had a toilet she could go out and buy a telly. There was now status to her household.

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