Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Week 2: My first time in the slums

Adina Lichtman, a proud member of the 8th Cohort of JDC Entwine-GPM volunteer program in India, chronicled her experiences in a series of evocative letters to her friends and family.  Adina, a student of Social Work and Art at NYU and is Hillel Community Service chair on campus, captured some powerful and touching moments during her time on the program, caring for vulnerable children living in the slums, connecting with the Jewish community with the JDC and experiencing the wonders of India. GPM will be publishing excerpts from her diaries in a series of blog posts and photo essays.

--Read Adina's 1st week here--
--Read Adina's 2nd week here--
--Read Adina's 3rd week here--

Week 2: My first time in the slums

WOW. I can’t believe how quickly two weeks have flown by.

The fact that my intolerance for spicy food and my pounding heart beat when crossing streets have finally subsided, I think this means I am almost fully used to the culture here. Except for hanging out of trains, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get used to that... But I did stand near the open door!

Fun fact about Mumbai - there are 59,410 people per square mile here. To put that into perspective for everyone - there are 29,953 people per square mile in New York City. And 953 people per square mile in Sydney, Australia. This place is packed! It makes NYC feel sooo quiet!

But I love it. Everyone here is really so nice, and even though people honk their cars EVERY SECOND no one actually looks the least bit frustrated! Traffic here doesn’t seem to bother anyone here, it just gives them a chance to honk even more which they love to do!

This week was my first week in the Kalva Slums. I think I am definitely not at a point where I can internalize what I see daily yet. But to give you all a little bit of what the daily routine is like, I will describe what I see. We go to the train station in the morning and walk across the tracks. Behind the tracks are a few shacks and people selling vegetables. We walk through that area and there are far fewer cars and auto rickshaws and motorcycles. However all of a sudden there are flocks of pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, cows and bulls. We walk through this area for a few minutes till we get to this wider path where there are no shacks around it, we walk for about ten minutes on a path where on both sides are piles and piles of garbage, some of which is burning. Around these garbage piles there are kids running around on them and climbing on them and many children and sometimes adults using these piles of garbage as a bathroom, with no real form of privacy.

On this twenty minute walk to the slums, as we are walking in to it, everyone else is leaving. Most are dressed pretty nicely that you wouldn’t believe the place they are coming from unless you saw it for yourself. They are all leaving to go to work in the city of Thane or in Mumbai itself. This means that most of the kids are left alone with no adults to look after them during the day. When I walk through the slums there are so many children running around and hardly any adults around. Then we get to the classroom. My favorite part of the day!

All the students jump up and say in their adorable accents, "Gooood morning teacher, thank you teacher" and get all excited for what we are about to teach. Their smiles can literally brighten up the world. I have never seen students get so excited about learning and about their teachers. They have such respect and such gratitude for everything we do with them. I have never heard the word thank you so much in a classroom!

The classrooms are very small with no real light except for the light coming through the door. They sit on mats in the floor and everyone including teachers takes off their shoes when they come in. The classes have around 35 kids in a class. Their ages range from 5 to 13 all in one class. They all speak Hindi or Marati so we have translators in the classes for us as we give our lessons. This week was international week and we taught about 4 different countries and how they dance, eat and greet each other in these different countries and what their flags represent. Our primary job in the classrooms is to teach them about things outside of the slums that they wouldn’t normally learn about but that people outside the slums all know. This week we plan to teach them about the Olympics, rain cycles, different seasons and ocean life. There are 6 other volunteers here with me and we all split up into 4 classes for the lessons.

After me and the six other volunteers have spent about 2 weeks in Thane and Mumbai, we needed a little bit of a break for Shabbat from all the noise, so we went to a place called Matharan which is about 2 hours away all the way up in the hills. They keep this place as a pollution free zone which means no cars or buses are allowed up it. There are only two ways to get up the mountain – either by a trolley which looks like a toy train that goes up only once a day or by horses. It was getting close to Shabbat so we had to ride horses up the mountain! This area is the most beautiful area I have ever seen, as we were riding up it was sooo peaceful and quiet. For the first time in a very long time I heard birds tweeting and rays of sunlight were coming down shining through the leaves of the trees. And best of all - MONKEYS! EVERYWHERE!!!!!!! Except WARNING you can’t hold food outside or they will jump on you and snatch it out of your hand! My friend Shira experienced this first-hand. There are as many monkeys in the area as there are squirrels in Washington Square Park - which is A LOT! The views were incredible from the top of the mountain over looking all the valleys! I squeezed grapes and made grape juice for Shabbat! I filled up a whole jar, and made it in the bathroom of the hotel in Matharan over the sink!  It was so much fun - Shabbat was lovely there, so peaceful and relaxing.

This week Will also be starting a weekly Parsha lesson in the shul on Wednesday nights for some of the adults in the synagogue here who requested it.

All the best,

(Adina's next blog post will be uploaded shortly. Revisit this blog for the next exciting blog entry!)
Adina and Ilana at Chowpatty Beach - agreat place to eat

1st week teaching in the slums

Mango milkshake-Yummy!

No comments:

Post a Comment