I wrote this experience some years ago when I still was in India in 2009. I found it again and published it now here on the blog. It’s a nice memory to have learned from and the people I met are not forgotten.
“I used to be surprised how cold a cold season actually feels like. Whenever, in the hot season, you would like to have it to be cold, the more you want it to be warm in the cold season. I was near Delhi and the season changed already a lot. Even though it wasn’t at the coldest, I was already freezing. The room where I was working was actually the bedroom of a volunteer who wasn’t there that much in daytime because of his work, so I used it. I was part of a task force, making an educational database, and my specific task was to write English tasks for it. Most of the time it was sitting in that room, writing and thinking things out. The walls of that room, on the top floor used to feel as a heater but now it was as being in a fridge.
The moments to come out of the room were very nice as the sun still was quite warm during the day. At lunch, we sat outside on the roof terrace, eating our meals and enjoying each others company. The roof terrace had a multi purpose. It was our place to eat, there was a whiteboard so it could be used as a classroom, and there were lines between 2 rooms where we hung our clothes to dry. I think that everyone knew from each other what underwear we wore at some point – the students must have known this as well I think!
The school was standing right next to a slum, as it is an Academy for Working Children, or AWC, run by Himana People to People India. An AWC has as function to give primary education for slum children or for migrant children who came along with their parents who are laboring at a nearby factory to send the needy money back to their families. The building was 3 floors high totally at the outskirts of one of Delhi’s suburbs. Well, it wasn’t really a suburb but a newly developed city in a different province that became so big that it almost needless attaches itself to Delhi, together with all the problems that you can imagine.
When you look out from the terrace you can see the narrow streets, houses of workers who are migrated from other states, living under circumstances I wouldn’t like to be in. To the left was a slum area, partly for people who want to live like they do and partly for people who don’t. It was a strange awareness: people living in tents that are flooding each time when the rain falls more heavily than normal. They recycle everything that you can imagine, most of their trade is picked up by the kids. I have been told that they actually make quite a good deal with all that junk, which is materialized with golden jewelry that the adults constantly wear. Gold doesn’t looses its value as the Indian currency may drop and rise all the time.
I didn’t feel so sorry for these people in the end, as I expected to feel, because I have seen that they aren’t really ‘poor’ as I thought they would be.
I felt much more sympathy with the children of migrate workers. Families far apart from each other, living in impoverished buildings, children taking care of their youngest siblings being completely away from ‘home’ for an indefinite period of time.
One of our tasks was also to participate a little bit in the classes. There were many kids in the AWC. Like in all possible situations, there are always people where you almost automatically come closer with than others. Also in the oldest class. There were a few kids with whom I had some kind of contact with. Not that it was easy as there is a language barrier, but they could express themselves as well could I. When I was helping them, sitting on the roof, under the already dried underwear, I had the idea to visit one of the kids, as an investigation or experience, to have seen how they live, where they live and share that story.
That idea she also liked. She was a girl of about 11 years old. Always happy and always smiling. She was one of them coming on the foreground and trying to tell what she and others mean if there was a need to. She was one of the ones with who I could have some kind of conversation with using English as language instead of body language alone.
She invited me to come to the place where she lives. After school was over I met her at the entrance and off we went. The first part of the walk I knew as I have been walking there before. It was next to a road that they dug up to put new sewage pipes inside to drain all the monsoon rain away preventing areas to become flooded. But it has been taking so long that it won’t be finished and in use for the next I-don’t-know-how-many-years. There are barely places to walk, jumping for traffic everywhere and when you would jump too far out you will be pinched through with iron bars deep in a big hole that is used for strengthening the concrete that they still have to make during the next I-don’t-know-how-many-years. This actually happens often, and the company already paid more to victims than on making the construction sites safer.
Soon we went of this road and she led me through streets where the upper middle class are living. Left, right, right, left, right, left, left, right, left, OMG!! I hadn’t got a clue anymore how to get back! Suddenly the houses we over and the narrow streets with poor quality buildings doomed up in front of my eyes. I still cannot believe that those building are standing as the concrete looked quite weak to me. It was dirty, stinking, dark, narrow, and grey. This in contradiction with the wonderful smiles of the kids who were running around, the colourful clothes that were hanging to dry and the friendly atmosphere that was hanging in the air.
She led me up stairs to the little room in the back corner of such a building – there’s where they are living. Father, mother and her packed in a room smaller than 15 square meter.
Inside their room she invited me to sit on the bed and she, with a friend from the same building, joined on the floor. She made it somehow clear that a part of the family still is living in an other state with her brother. She, as being a girl, had to come with her parents to take care of everything. She already had lived there some years and when she was telling about her life, her tasks and her family, she started to look sad.. Clearly she missed them. Her friend also saw this and took her hand for a second or so. She seemed to be happy that I understood and for the fact that she could share her impressive life story that she already has at the age of 11.
For a few minutes we were all looking silently to the floor all in our own thoughts thinking the thoughts as they were passing by.
Then her ‘free time’ was over and she tried to make clear that it was time for me to leave. The sun was starting to set and I had to find out how to come back to school.
“You go home and you go to school”
– “okay… yeah sure!” Not knowing what she exactly mend.
“Come, come! You go home and you go to school!”, she said with a big smile as she understood that I didn’t understand.
In her enthusiasm she took my hand and let me downstairs and all the way to the point from where I could see the main road again.
“You go home (pointing at me) and YOU go to school! (pointing at herself)”, she said determined with a big smile on her face.
– “Aaaahhhhh ‘I stay home and YOU go to school’; now I understand!” and I started laughing.
So we said goodbye and I continued the walk back. The sun was about to set and the nice warmth changed rapidly to a chilling temperature. Satisfied with having seen this I went to bed and the next morning I saw her again with the same happy smile as she used to have.”