Friday, April 16, 2010

Apnalaya Project Office, Dumping Grounds at Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, Mumbai

I am disturbed and impressed.

I spent my morning in a mountain of rubbish surrounded by children – some playing in the garbage, others collecting it so that they can sell it and make some money. I peeked into huts, made of rubbish, sitting on rubbish and smelling like it too. I saw families of eight huddled together in a tiny room. There were little kids, some suffering from malnutrition, their young sisters tending to their needs instead of attending school. I saw women fighting over water that costs them Rs. 15 per can. The wires that lit a tiny bulb in the dark rooms were illegal, fixed by the local mafia for Rs. 60 per connection. An expensive luxury.

I was at the dumping ground in Mankhurd where 5000 tons of solid waste is deposited, sorted and recycled by informal workers every day. The primarily migrant, Muslim workers face every imaginable adversity. Everything is in short supply except for garbage and children (families are exceptionally large because of religious reasons and an absence of women’s empowerment) - lack of awareness, education, sanitation, water, electricity and opportunities. There is one government school that provides education up to grade 7, at which point most children drop out and start looking after younger siblings (if they are girls) or collect and sell garbage (if they are boys). When I was there, the government school teacher had gathered a crowd around herself and was screaming that a young boy had snatched her phone. The Apnalaya staff told me that it was her excuse to stop coming to school. Who wouldn’t be disturbed?

Earlier that morning I had walked into Apnalaya’s office and within a fraction of a minute, was handed their annual report, a brochure, a bottle of ice cold water and a much needed cup of tea. Before I could remark on the efficiency of the staff, I found myself seated across Manoj, a friendly, passionate and dynamic social worker who has worked with Apnalaya for 18 years. For the next one hour he patiently explained their remarkable work, their struggle to empower the local community and their latest decision to move away from becoming a service provider and instead focus on advocacy, awareness and training.

In the midst of scarcity and hopelessness, the Apnalaya staff bustled around, feeding children, teaching them nursery rhymes, patiently listening to people’s complaints. Most of the staff has been with Apnalaya for over a decade. Apnalaya started off providing by asking the community what they needed. Most of what the community asked for, Apnalaya tried to provide – education programs for children, heath camps, savings groups for women, livelihood training, ration cards for procurement of subsidized food, slum rehabilitation programs. Today, driven by the realization that the community needs to understand their rights and fight for them, Apnalaya is moving towards a training model where they empower the community, educate them about government schemes and facilitate collective action within the community as well as with partner organizations.

I am deeply touched by the commitment that I saw today - Manoj, Pushpa and Muhammad have been with Apnalaya for 18, 16 and 6 years respectively. All those years of doing back breaking, often thankless work, convincing parents to send their children to school, helping migrant families get ration cards, fighting for the rights of slum dwellers so that they can move into government provided flats and then helping them adjust to their new surroundings – teaching them how to use elevators and bathrooms that are situated within the house instead of on the road. 38 years of seeing an entire community graduate from abject poverty to economic stability. 38 years of seeing small, subtle, life changing changes.

Apnalaya has certainly saved a generation from misery. We hope that we can help others do it too.

About Apnalaya

Apnalaya was founded in 1972. They focus on urban community development projects in Mumbai’s poorest slums. They work closely with the community to identify critical needs and involve the local people to help plan and execute projects which include:

  • community empowerment programs that include awareness creation, capacity building and training
  • day care centres, study classes, recreation activities and scholarship programs for children
  • health camps, immunization of infants, nutrition programs for children, HIV counselling and prevention programs, general and gynaecological clinics and family visits by community health workers
  • women empowerment, savings groups for women, livelihood training, procurement of ration cards for subsidized food

Partnership and participation are key to all of Apnalaya’s activities. Apnalaya's programs are carried out by over 60 trained and dedicated community based staff who work hand in hand with 7 professional social workers and 3 doctors. For more details please refer to www.apnalaya.org


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