I’m Rita, a newcomer to the CRY blog, and a volunteer at the office in Mumbia. Coming from Canada, everything in India is new to me. As part of the University of Lethbridge Tourist/Study group we’ve been trying to organize various tours to learn more about India. On Sunday May 13th, we went on a tour to visit the Dharavi Slums.
At first I thought that this was highly unethical and a totally North American ignorant thing to do, but I quickly opened my mind after meeting with the guides who were 2 truly amazing guys who grew up in the very slum we were visiting and were really just telling us about their home. With the money that they earn, they are saving a percentage to create small schools to teach english and basic skills to the children of the slums.
Anyway, I should also mention first that slum is a really stupid word used to describe these beautiful clean and wonderful communities which over 1/2 the population of Mumbai call home. It is not a SLUM as we would think the word implies. The guides split us into two groups and our guide, Dave, took us first to where the community recycles. Hundreds of kilos of garbarge arrive each day and there are people there to sort through it and find whatever is useful to fix up and sell back to companies that they have contracts with. A large industry is in plastics where they find whatever plastics are recyclable and bring them to be crushed and sorted (by colour) and melted down into “pallets” that they show to companies which buy certain colours of plastics to be made into bottles and containers and whatever else.The process by which they get the plastic to a re-saleable state looks to be gruelling work in pretty unsafe conditions. There are no hard hats, work boots, or gloves to be seen, in Canada this would be unheard of and a company could even be charged a fine for unsafe practices. At one point I saw a guy welding a plastic crushing machine (which is something that the community invented themselves and now produces to export) with NO welding mask!! It was insane!! How is he not blind??Anyway, I won’t describe everything, but we also went through a steel drum recycling area, a clay pot making area (where potters make pots on a wheel), a textiles area where they are making shirts and pants and other fashions, a Bakery (which smelled SO good and was my favourite area), and also a leather tanning area where also the men were working with chemicals and no gloves! The most awesome was the area where women were rolling out papads. They were sitting on the concrete ground in a courtyard type area with their babies sitting all around. They were all laughing and talking away. They roll these papads and then dry them on these upside down basket looking things in the sun. They make 90 killos a day which I think Dave said sell for 100Rupees. 90 kilos when 1 probably weighs less then 5 grams!!! Anyway, it was amazing to watch. Their babies were so cute. Later we walked through the more residential areas where lovely smells of food cooking and insense burning was wafting through the narrow corridors where we walked. I should mention that their are no vehicles in most “slum” areas as the passages are SO narrow. I could barely squeeze through in some parts. Also there were kids playing everywhere and eating freezies and ice creams and running up to us saying “Hello! Hello!!” and asking us where we were from, showing off their English skills. There was no shyness here:) The experience opened my eyes to a different way of life that I have never in my own life come across. I was amazed and relieved to find that the people in the slum are happy and healthy people with children who eat ice cream and chocolates and they work really hard. The sense of community here is something to be admired by all walks of life. Of course there are problems in the slum that are unsettling and need to be fixed such as proper sanitation, access to water, safety in the workplace, education of the children, among many others. However, I will end this blog post here so as to leave you with the other hand.