Monday, March 20, 2017

From slums to sandcastles

"I’m very lucky to work for two fantastic organisations here in Mumbai. I am currently completing a fellowship with Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) and the Indian branch of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). In particular, GPM works in under-served rural villages and urban slums in the state of Maharastra. We focus primarily on education, health and nutrition programmes. By addressing these three areas, we can change lives and give someone the ability to make choices about their own life. A privilege many of us don't even recognise we have.

Another privilege that was once pointed out to me, during my time in Ghana with Tzedek, is travel and movement. Throughout most of our lives we will, at some point, visit somewhere outside of our own neighbourhood. However, for many of the children GPM works with this is not the case. Their experience of the world is almost entirely limited to life in Kalwa slum. Despite Kalwa being no more than 30 minutes from one of the world’s largest cities, Mumbai, almost none of the children from the slums will have been to see it. They will never have been to a park, museum or even a library.

To do something about this, the JDC works with GPM to create the JDC GPM Internship programme. This programme empowers young Jews form the local community to run weekly ‘Sunday Fundays’ for the children GPM works with in Kalwa. Volunteers plan educational and fun sessions that take place all over Mumbai. They could visit the science museum, aquarium, or an art gallery, maybe the gardens in Malabar Hill or, like this week, go to the beach.

Dressed up and super ready for the day, 21 kids, aged 5-12 years old, excitedly waved and shouted hello at us from the bus as it pulled up by Chowpatty beach in south Mumbai. As they got off we were greeted with high fives, smiles and shouts of “hi teacher!”. I’m not sure I can do justice to the look of excited happiness on their faces as we walked/ran/climbed the walls towards the entrance. However, as we reached the edge of the beach, the group at the front, abruptly stopped. Unsure, they looked to each other and then collectively took a leap of faith. They had never seen or felt sand before. These kids had never been to a beach before. This initial trepidation was quickly forgotten as the playground came into sight. There are no real open spaces in Kalwa slum, especially not ones with playground equipment, or without rubbish.
The volunteers from the internship spent time teaching the kids about different sports; cricket, basketball, football, hockey, etc. We then played relay races and running games. Everyone was shouting, cheering and laughing - volunteers, teachers and kids, together.

After lunch where, obviously, popards and gulab jamum were in the highest demand, we started going down to the sea. A small group of four held Maayan and my hands as we walked down to the edge of the water. Along the way Maayan explained, in Hindi, that this was the sea, and not a river or lake like you have in Kalwa. Understandably, Nikita, who was holding my hand very tightly as we approached, was a little intimidated by the sea and putting her feet in the water. So, the volunteers dipped our toes in the water and soon everyone followed. As the water washed over their feet there was a collective laughing, giggling, shriek of pure joy. After all the kids had gone to the sea, we returned back to the group only to be greeted with a very loud and enthusiastic request to go to the sea again!

Watching these amazing, beautiful, inquisitive children discovering the beach for the first time was just wonderful. It often feels like, in Mumbai, a positive only exists as a result of a stark contrast to a negative. But this Sunday, for a few hours, that was not the case at all. They were just kids at the beach, playing, laughing and having fun.

I feel so blessed to work with organisations and people that make these experiences possible, and that I was included. How special that for one morning our only job is to bring happiness, new experience and opportunity to these children. The smiles on the kids’ faces at the end of the day is testament to what can be achieved with little money, but a lot of time, care and effort from dedicated, hard-working people."

Lucy Cohen,
JDC JSC Pears Fellow 2017
GPM Volunteer Coordinator and Development Project Manager

Monday, March 13, 2017

At the Sanjay Gandhi National Park

by Nissim Pingle director of the JCC, Mumbai India

"It was an early start to our day as we set out for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park one of the oldest heritage points, located in Borivali; a great choice by GPM-JDC intern Ruby Ezekiel. After breakfast the children took a ride around the park on the Mini Train also locally called the “Van Rani” meaning the 'Jungle Queen'. The kids then spent time playing the Song game “Antakshari”, and later enjoyed themselves by playing on the slides and swings. Next the children gathered together for sessions on hygiene and cleanliness where they learnt the right technique of washing hands and also tried it out themselves using the soaps and tissue papers that were provided to them. It was a lovely lunch experience as the children sat down on benches with trees shading their heads and a beautiful lake by their side. To complete the meal the kids were also given ice candies.

The second half of the program was high up in the Kanheri caves located at the heart of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. These caves date back to the 1st Century BCE (more than 2000 years old), and are home to massive Buddhist stone sculptures. A wonderful hilltop view of the jungle and a troop of monkeys jumping over trees was a treat to their eyes. And watching the kids laugh with joy and clap to the monkey moves was the best gift a GPM-JDC volunteer can get. After a short tour around the caves they children left for home. We also gave them 2 soap packets each and a packet of berries to nibble on during their journey back to the Kalwa slum."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

GPM Welcomes Subhash L. Mahale as Educational Field Officer for the Love2Learn Program

Subhash Mahale
Mr. Subhash L. Mahale has joined the GPM team as Educational Field Officer for the GPM Love2Learn Program in the village of Ashte in Dahanu Taluka in the Palghar district in Maharashtra, India.

Mr. Mahale, a 31-year-old father of two who holds a BA in humanities as well as a Teaching Diploma, was born and raised in Ashte village. A member of the progressive Konkana tribe, he is passionate about education and social change, and is a veteran community organizer. He has been a program coordinator on issues of women’s empowerment, health care, and children’s education, He has many interests, from sports like Kabbadi, Kho Kho, or Cricket, to dancing the Gauri Dance or Adivasi Tarpa dance typical tribal folk dances of the area.

“We are thrilled to have Subhash on our team,” said Kenneth Dsouza, GPM Director in India. “His
Subhash and a village class
wealth of experience, combined with his deep knowledge of the region and connections with the people, make him a wonderful asset to the organization. I am sure that with his help, we will continue to make significant development inroads improving the lives of the families and children in the area.”

Mr. Mahale’s duties will include:  Daily supervision of the Love2Learn classes and the Ashte English Pre-school in all aspects of education, nutrition and health care;  Implementation of the ASHTEgreen12 farmers program; Welcoming visitors, volunteers, donors and well-wishers; Organizing events such as Love2Learn Annual Day, Farmer’s meetings, Surveys for the English Nursery Pre-school; and Liaising with local educational authorities, government officials and health officers.

GPM offers a warm welcome to Subhash as he joins the GPM India family!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Don't be afraid, come back to school!

Its been two months since Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) teachers first stepped into the village of Pasodipeda and frightened all the children. The children were so frightened that they ran to the nearby forest and hid.

Its not that GPM teachers were acting scary or that they were wearing terrifying outfits that frightened the children. The children ran away because they were not used to seeing strangers in their village. You see, Pasodipeda is a remote tribal village located in an even more isolated and secluded area than the 20 villages where GPM has been doing development work for the last two years. The village is so cut-off from the world around it that the children, aged 8-12 were not accustomed to seeing strangers in their village.

The teachers arrived at the behest of the Modgaon Regional Government Educational Officer. The government official heard about the GPM Love2Learn program in the area and asked GPM to consider running the Pasodipeda local government school as the current teacher was unable to continue. Seasoned GPM teacher, Anil Mahala was excited to tackle this challenge and travelled the forty minutes through winding dirt roads to Pasodipeda. Anil is exceptional in the area as he earned a Diploma of Education and he has taken over the village school as principal and teacher.

So back in the forest, parents gently convinced their children to return to classroom (“don’t be afraid, come back to school”) and gradually introduced Anil to the children.  Slowly, Anil won the hearts of
Anil and one of the classrooms at Pasodipeda
the children and the GPM-run school in the Pasodipeda village has been running with full attendance for the last month.

Learning outside can be a lot of fun
This is an exciting development for Gabriel Project Mumbai. Working closely within government educational structures, being appreciated for the innovative teaching methods and being recognized as a strong valued partner in the region is an important part of creating effective and long-lasting grassroots community development in under-served communities.

We wish Anil a lot of success in providing the children of Pasodipeda with years of fruitful and exciting learning while receiving good nutrition and quality healthcare – hallmark elements of GPM’s Love2Learn initiative.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

GPM Launches the Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program in the Slums of Mumbai

Gabriel Project Mumbai is thrilled to announce the launch of the Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program in the slums of Mumbai. The program will provide emergency nutritional intervention to save the lives of 300 malnourished children per year who are under the age of five.

The program is named in memory of Dr. Gerald J. Friedman, a New York-based physician who practiced medicine for over 55 years and specialized in diabetes, cardiology and internal medicine. During World War II, Dr. Friedman served as a young army doctor in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and was struck by how severe malnourishment affects the growth and development of children.

The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program was made possible thanks to the generous support of The Estelle Friedman Gervis Family Foundation, an organization named after Dr. Friedman’s beloved sister, Estelle. The Foundation's support is in the form of the largest single donation that GPM has ever received. The Foundation provides support services for needy children, including children in orphanages, those with physical illnesses or disabilities, developmental delays, or in stressful life situations.

“Both my uncle and my mother would have been very proud to support the Gabriel Project Mumbai program so that we may assist children in living full and productive lives with their families,” says Foundation President, Barbara Gervis, Estelle’s daughter.

The malnutrition program will take place at the Shravan Health Center in the Bhaskar Nagar slum neighborhood. The clinic was opened by GPM in August 2015 in partnership with the local NGO Doctors for You. The center provides a full range of medical services, primarily to children and mothers. These efforts enable this 200,000-member community to receive accessible, affordable, quality health care.

The malnutrition program was conceived by the doctors in the clinic, who were concerned about high incidences of malnutrition among their patients. This is a harrowing problem in the slums. According to the World Bank, the prevalence of malnourished children in India is among the highest in the world, and has dire consequences for the children. Malnourished children have more infectious diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, experience stunted physical and mental development and have higher mortality rates than children who receive proper nourishment.

The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program will be using the universally acclaimed Integrated Child Development Program (ICDP) protocol to treat severely malnourished children.Through this program, which is advocated by WHO, the UN, and other emergency relief organizations, children undergo weight and height checks, upper arm circumference measurements and other physical and cognitive development measures, in order to diagnose the severity of their malnutrition.

The Center doctors will then treat the children with a three-month comprehensive nutrition program that helps kick-start the child's physical and cognitive development. The children receive nutritional supplements in the form of Hyderabad Mix and Ezee Paste. These are powerful protein-based food treatments specifically designed to treat malnourished children. In addition, parents in the Malnutrition ICDP program are provided intensive nutritional counselling in order to help families emerge from dangerous cycles of malnutrition.

“There are currently 300 children who have been identified as being malnourished and were waiting to receive treatment,” says GPM Founding Director Jacob Sztokman. “The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program will be a godsend for them and for their parents, and enable the children to stave off life-threatening hunger. We welcome the Foundation's significant and multiyear commitment to ensuring the future of these children and trusting GPM to provide impactful vital programs like this one. ”