Sunday, 12 July, 2009

Blending Spectrum: On Location

The first day I walked into the Nizamuddin basti as a volunteer in August 2007, a group of excited children came running towards me and asked me if I was a new didi. Then each one of them eagerly introduced themselves to me and greeted me; some brought flowers, some gave me a hug, and some just could not help smiling. It is that one experience that has stayed with me ever since, and makes me go back to Nizamuddin again and again. Over the past two years I have seen many volunteers come and go but, like me, those who decide to stay on are the ones who built that very special bond with the children.

The Nizamuddin basti is a rag-picker colony with about thirty families living in it, some Muslim and others Hindu. Because of their economically disadvantaged background, the upbringing of these children is often unpleasant. Frustration caused by the lack of basic necessities in the area is released through violence, and in their years of innocence these children are exposed to a much darker side of life than we ever are.

A slum child’s eagerness to learn gives us all the positive energy we need, on location. After about two months of teaching the children about hygiene, one day this little girl at the basti came up to me and showed me her hands. She told me that she had washed them because she did not want to fall ill. That, for me, was by far one of the most heartening experiences.

Still, there are some problems we encounter on a daily basis. The attitude of the parents is one such problem: they are not always comfortable letting outsiders interact so closely with their children, but this attitude is changing as the parents are beginning to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Communal tension is another problem that we have tried to address over the years as these children imbibe intolerance to other religions from their home environments. This attitude is difficult to deal with as it is deep rooted and reinforced by families, however we have been able to address it to the extent that whatever their home environment may be like our classroom is a place of secular learning where they sit together and work with each other.

The change I see is very slow, but the trust a child builds in me gives me the courage to do what I am doing and have a vision for these smiling faces.

Devyani Dutt

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