Take 9 Lisburn A-Level students, 3 teachers and a Head-teacher. Mix with an inspirational charity, ASHA, and place to rise in the poorest slums of Delhi. The result? Thirteen lives and a school community, well and truly challenged.
October 23rd marked the date of departure. We had been team-building, fundraising and inoculating for 14 months. Representatives from the charity, ASHA, had been sending preparation materials and Health and Safety talks had been delivered on the perils of Delhi’s drinking water, packs of wild dogs and monkeys and holy cows!
By the time the Richmond coach pulled up to the WHS gates to transport us to our flight from Dublin, we were buzzing with anticipation, ready to roll up our sleeves and to engage with the inspiring work of Dr Kiran Martin’s charity, ASHA.
Our allotted slum, Mayapuri, is based in an industrial area of factories and scrap metal breakage yards. Our first sight of the slum was marked by the mounds of discarded rubbish and the stripped carcasses of cars, vans and tuk tuks. The grease and grime was thickly ingrained in the hands and faces of the men stripping back car chassis and reclaiming every available wire from circuit boards. But the most shocking sight was the small, shoe-less children, armed with magnets on sticks, crouched and picking through the fetid refuse, scavenging any morsel of metal to be sold and melted, bringing a small income to their family. These dirty-faced youngsters raced to meet the Western faces descending from the cars, flashing beautiful wide smiles, holding out little hands to be shaken and asking for photographs to be snapped and shown.
Our nine students in clean, Indian-styled salwar kameeze embraced the children, moved by their open welcome and warm greetings. This was our first lesson in the community-building power of the values expounded by ASHA. The name of this charity means Hope, the value at the heart of their work. It was this hope that was the overwhelming feeling that we experienced throughout our 10 day trip.
The ASHA resource centre in Mayapuri delivers pre and post-natal healthcare to all people in the slum. They fund a full-time trained nurse, the tireless and gutsy Thresi, to work with and to train Community Health Volunteers, (CHVs), to deliver inoculations to each child, to prescribe antibiotics and to oversee the general health of the entire community. Even the children are trained to identify the symptoms and to treat with home-made remedies any diarrhoea-related illnesses. This has had such an impact on the slum that there have been no diarrhoea-related deaths there for three years.
ASHA has been working in Mayapuri for twenty three years and on our first day at the resource centre, we were invited to listen to the Mahila Mandal, the women’s pressure group. The charity structures these groups, training women and children (the Bal Mandal groups), to find a political voice to canvass their local government for improvements in infrastructure and facilities in their local area. Twenty three years ago, the Mahila Mandal spokeswoman told us, there were no toilets in the entire slum. The ladies covered their faces with veils and had to relieve themselves in the public park where factory workers would molest them. Thanks to the work of ASHA, the ladies have succeeded in pressuring local government to build public toilets with running water. The ladies now feel safe to walk with faces uncovered and to go about basic hygiene routines unbothered and with dignity.
Our main role in the centre was to work with the children selected by ASHA to have extra lessons in English. The Wallace pupils had worked extremely hard to prepare teaching materials in advance, worksheets, flashcards, posters, and their enthusiasm and care in the lesson deliveries was very touching to observe. The Mayapuri children were like knowledge sponges. Their faces lit up when we gave them a pencil and a yellow exercise book in which to keep their notes. They are so happy with so little, a sobering lesson to us as we live with such wealth, waste and excess. We also taught the children new games, (wink murder and dodge ball were top favourites), taught them some songs and delivered arts and crafts lessons. Loom bands have finally hit Delhi, thanks to WHS!
But for all of our input into the lives of these children, we have gained so much more in return. The generosity, contentment and determination of the adults and children working with ASHA, to build a better future for themselves, their families and their community is inspiring and humbling. Tarun is one of over 800 university students that ASHA is supporting through their studies this year. He is in his third year of a Business Studies degree and hopes to save enough to start his own printing press business in Mayapuri. You see, his father is a printing press operator and earns around the average for a Delhi slum dweller, £1.50/day. Tarun wants to employ his father and other slum dwellers and pay them a fair wage, thus helping to raise the living standards of his community. This is the testimony of the work of this charity. This is the testimony that we want to share. This is the recipe for a life well lived in the spirit of ASHA, the spirit of Hope.
For more information on the charity go to www.asha-india.org
Last modified: November 12, 2014