David versus Goliath

By Alexandra Birladianu, Senior Manager Communications Aangan Trust / LGT Venture Philanthropy ICats Fellow

On the 4th of November I went for the second time to the Govandi slum in Mumbai. Govandi is situated next to one of the biggest and oldest garbage dumping grounds in Mumbai. Daily, heavy trucks bring garbage, contributing to the traffic and pollution in the area.

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The wall  – Photo taken by the girls

Because of its status as an illegal slum, the population has no access to key services. There is a heavy presence of local gangs and mafia. Violence is normalized.

The slum comprises a migrant population of approximately 3,000 households consisting of 18,000 people. The key livelihood option is working at the dumping ground, with families having children as young as 7 and 8 years old starting to work there; “zari” work and catering are other industries present in the area.

I think subconsciously I have avoided Govandi. The first time I went there I felt really sick for a few days after. After this visit I got rashes on my arms and fever. I think that the fumes from the huge garbage dump in the vicinity of the community combined with the Mumbai heat made me sick. And people live here. 18,000 men, women and children live in Govandi every day, a lot of them working at the dumping ground.

But my visit was a happy one. I was excited to be there, meeting 10 adolescent girls for a photography workshop. I had my iPhone and two digital cameras with me; and tips and tricks on how to take compelling photographs. Our mission was very important! Map the unsafe areas in the community, take photos and prepare for an exhibition where the local police was invited. The girls would show them the unsafe areas in the community and set a common plan of action. Because they want to go outside and play! Because they want to walk safely to school! Because they want to use the one toilet in the community without fear of sexual assault and harassment!

We talked for an hour about what makes a good photo, about using natural light, framing, breaking patterns, natural lines, focus and all the other things I could think to share from my experience as an amateur photographer. The most important advice though was to stay safe and try to have fun.

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Community – Photo taken by the girls

People in Govandi don’t like to be photographed and it is “forbidden” to take any photos close to the garbage dump. The girls had to be very careful. It was glaringly obvious that I was a foreigner so our mission wasn’t easy. I sneaked a few photos with my phone while my Shakti girls walked boldly to places that scare them at night, in the evenings and every time they have to walk by them. Together they took around 400 photographs. We walked from more than an hour around the community.

I witnessed child labour, pollution, sexual harassment, thinking all the time that child protection is a David versus Goliath battle. There was nothing I could do immediately to stop the child I saw doing “zari” work but I knew Aangan through its Shakti, Chauraha and PACT programs is fighting a big battle every day to make a difference, stop child labour, child marriage, trafficking, harm and abuse. It is a long hard fight!

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The dumping ground – Photo taken by the girls

When I got home and started going through all the photographs I got even more excited. My girls paid a lot of attention during the workshop and they are extremely talented. It was hard to just choose 20 photos. But we did it, together with Deepika, our Strategy and Advocacy Coordinator, Nishaat, our Program Associate and Divya, our National Coordinator. After minor editing the photos were ready for print.

The exhibition took place the following Sunday. Still sick, I could not attend. My colleagues told me about its impact. The girls talked with the police officers, parents and other members of their community, showcased their work and explained why those specific areas are unsafe. They talked about how their life is affected, how it makes it difficult for them to attend school, play, walk around, go to the store or use the toilet. And everyone listened. In a community deeply affected by sexism, everyone listened to the 10 adolescent girls who took action.

Now they have a connection with the police, they are not afraid to approach them with their issues or complaints. Hopefully they will feel safer in Govandi, go to school and live a normal life.

Working on the ground with Aangan has been the highlight of my fellowship. Women and girls empowerment in India has many faces and Aangan is doing a wonderful work fighting this battle.

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My Shakti Girls

This post was originally published on November 19th on the LGT Venture Philanthropy ICats Blog.

About Aangan:

Aangan is a child protection organization that promotes safe communities for children with a focus on children in dangerous or difficult situations and environments. These are children imperiled by their exposure or vulnerability to isolation, neglect, violence, hazardous or exploitative work, early marriage, juvenile offending, trafficking and abuse. We enable safe communities where children, adults and governments work together to prevent and respond to the harm that these children face.

Follow Aangan on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, regular people child protection stories, and more.

About Alexandra:

I am an ICats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”.

Mumbai’s transformers

By Team Mirror

Mumbai Heroes honoured by the city’s who’s who at a starry show.

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Filmmaker Shyam Benegal felicitating Vasanti from PACT

On Saturday evening, Mumbai came out in great numbers to celebrate the achievements of its five heroes, whose quiet, yet formidable achievements had until recently gone unsung. In a ceremony held on the expansive lawns of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), prominent Mumbaikars from all walks of life helped celebrate the efforts of five individuals, who together are transforming the city and positively impacting the lives of its citizens in ways both overt and implicit.

The evening kicked off in earnest at 7 pm with Indicus, a two-member group comprising Anuraag Dhoundeyal and Karan Chitra Deshmukh, enthralling the gathering with their various Sufi renditions. The weather, as Mirror columnist Mahinder Watsa noted, remained thankfully pleasant, and by the time our heroes and guests took to their chairs, the atmosphere at the museum was already marked by a sense of convivial anticipation.

Read the full story on Mumbai Mirror. Originally published on .

The Fabulous Five

 

Readers’ votes are in and the jury has spoken. Presenting the five Mumbai Heroes.

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After thousands of reader votes and hours of jury discussion, Mumbai has its Fab Five — the unsung Heroes who make this city tick.

This follows an almost a month-long process where Mirror identified 27 heroes, and profiled their work and its impact. While it was almost impossible for the jury to choose just five winners from the 27 nominees (they admitted as much), they hardened themselves to arrive at the final decision after over two hours of heated discussions.

The five are: Sampuran(e)arth, a collective of three engineers who gave up their lucrative jobs to clean Mumbai and to create wealth out of the gargantuan 10,000 tonnes of waste it generates daily; Parents and Children Against Trafficking – PACT, a group of 12 women from the Wadala Transit Camp who ensure children from their community do not become victims of trafficking and child marriage, Bhau Daji Lad honorary director Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the Save Aarey campaigners who got the state to move the proposed Metro car shed elsewhere, and Rajaram Joshi, a voluntary life-guard who saves those who jump or fall into the Vashi creek.

Read the full article, published on , on .

 

12 women: A pact for protection

Mumbai Mirror By Gitanjali Das | Mumbai Mirror

A lack of education has not stopped a group of 12 women from steadily transforming the Wadala transit camp. Together, they battle against child marriage, trafficking and a high dropout rate in their community’s schools. Past victims themselves, they work closely with the NGO Aangan, which works towards strengthening India’s child protection system. Their intent is clear — they don’t want future generations to suffer the same fate they did.

The Wadala transit camp is home to a population of approximately 22,000 migrants. Some are project-affected persons. Others had lost their homes to false promises of redevelopment. With the state refusing to recognise their existence, law and order has only deteriorated in this community. Child trafficking is an open secret. From a young age, children drop out of school to work as busboys, while others sniff glue in dark alleys. The fear of sexual predators has forced families to confine their daughters. Many girls aren’t even allowed to attend school.

Read the full article here.

By Doing One Simple Thing, This Woman Changed A Child’s Life For The Better

The children who clean our homes, the ones who look after our children. The ones that walk the streets all day, waiting for the traffic light to turn red. The ones forced into marriage, the ones that bear offsprings not much younger than themselves. The ones who are neglected, abused and abandoned by their families. The ones with no support and no fight left. These are 40% of the children in our nation with no childhood. These are the children we see all around us.

We often see these kids and think, “I want to help them!” This moment of reflection soon turns into paralysis and helplessness- “How do I help them? Where do I start? Even if I reached out, there’s no way I could help all of them! Anyway, I don’t think I could make much of a difference.” With that, this moment of reflection passes and we carry on doing whatever it is that we were before we paused.

But there is a lot we can do…

Read the full article on YouthKiAwaaz.com. The authors, Deepika Khatri and Mahi Khakhar, are the Strategy and Advocacy Coordinator and the Executive Administration Associate at Aangan.

Roohi Mitra

India’s Trafficking Story is Full of Missing Little Pieces

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Chandauli for the first time, a two-hour drive from Varanasi. For the past year, I’ve been following Aangan’s work there with vanvasis, a Scheduled Caste group who live off the forest. I had a mental picture of what I was about to see – deeply malnourished children with too-large heads and protruding bellies, their parents collecting wood and betel leaves from the forest to eke out a living.

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To reach the village, we got off the main road, onto a dirt track, now almost indistinguishable after heavy rain. From there, it was a one-kilometre walk to the village, wading through knee high water to reach the first clutch of houses. The village is in a valley between hills, and transportation is virtually non-existent. In other circumstances, purely as a tourist, the setting would have lifted my spirits – mud houses with low, thatched roofs, a few buffaloes, streams and an air of quiet, bucolic.

At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. The rudimentary school and malnourished children didn’t surprise me. Nor did the men and women sitting outside their homes all day, no claim on their time, no work to tend to. As I spoke to a group of women from the community, it began to hit home.

Read the full article on TheWire.in. The author, Deepika Khatri, is the Strategy and Advocacy Coordinator at Aangan.

Notes from the field: Hopes and dreams on International Youth Day

The United Nations’ International Youth Day, celebrated every year on August 12, is an opportunity to highlight issues faced by young people around the world.

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Snapshot from International Youth Day in Bihar

In the current global climate – the refugees fleeing crises in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the instability in Africa, and the financial woes of Greece and the rest of Europe – children and the youth, as always, are the worst affected. Yet, even in such adverse circumstances, it is the youth who are the drivers of development and change.

This year’s theme – “Youth Civic Engagement” – is particularly relevant for the children in the communities that Aangan works in. Most of these children live in bastis or hutments, which have little by way of access to basic services such as water supply, electricity, schools, hospitals or even toilets. International Youth Day is, therefore, also an opportunity to recognise and promote the participation of young people in the development of society.

Snapshot from International Youth Day in Uttar Pradesh
Snapshot from International Youth Day in Uttar Pradesh

Through programs aimed at building their resilience and knowledge, and supporting them to negotiate with adults and the government, these children are empowered to raise their voices on the issues that impact them and their communities. They can play a vital role in shaping their society because no one can represent their communities better than them. Their thoughts and ideas, therefore, matter a great deal, and this idea is something that must be inculcated in both adults as well as children.

Therefore, on August 12, children in 10 communities across four of the states that Aangan works in came together to discuss the issues pertaining to their community that they would like to tackle. Through role-plays, songs and debate, they spoke of how they can use their skills and talents to bring about effective change in their neighbourhoods.

Snapshot from Mumbai
Snapshot from International Youth Day in Mumbai

Raghav*, 15, said his community would be much improved “if everyone kept their own homes clean”, and did not throw garbage everywhere. “It spreads diseases,” he explained. “If we stopped littering and made sure the water supply is not contaminated, a lesser number of people will fall ill, and we won’t be spending so much money on hospitals and medicines.

Apart from more immediately actionable issues such as cleanliness, hygiene and open defecation, children also spoke about the sexual harassment girls faced in their basti, gender equality, and why education for girls was of vital importance.

A mother, a wife, and a sister are all first and foremost girls. No society can function without girls and women. Then, why are we so oppressed and considered lesser than men?” 15-year-old Pooja* asked the room.

Santosh*, a 14-year-old youth representative on his school management committee, stressed on the importance of educating every child, regardless of their gender. “Boys who don’t go to school end up loitering around and whiling away their time. So many of them start doing drugs. Education is important, most definitely for girls, but equally so for boys.

In many of the communities that Aangan works in, children have already worked to get streetlights installed, hand pumps repaired, out-of-school children enrolled in school, negotiated with government officials to improve sanitation services, and helped families gain access to government services and schemes. Through their actions, entire communities have benefitted.

Initiatives such as these most effectively demonstrate the power of youth, and the change they are capable of.

*Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity.

The author, Samyukta Maindarkar, is Communications Associate at Aangan.