Monday, 25 February 2013

Day 7 - Part 1 - Slums, Dogs But No Millionaires

My time in India has been full of highs and lows, messages of hope and stories of desperation, however all the way through I have felt deeply honoured that the people I have met have been so open, honest and giving.  This journey for me has been massive so as I write about my last full day of visiting people in their homes, I do so with a heart that feels like bursting with emotion, a mind so full of memories that struggle to piece them all together and feeling that I am ready to get back to the UK to spread a positive message and give these people hope that others are listening.

Today I visited two slums in the city of Bhopal, each of the slums were so vastly different, so I am again going to split it in to two parts and post one today and the second tomorrow.  I know that when you read this blog update you will find some of it disturbing and difficult to deal with, but it is my main hope that you will be inspired and as hopeful as I am and see that at the end of the day, just like you and I the people of the slums are just looking for a better way of life, they just come from a very different place.

View across the wasteland of the Shiv Nagar slum in Bhopal
So on with the first part: Our first stop of the day was at the Shiv Nagar slum in the city of Bhopal, this is a large slum with around 3,000 households and a population of 15,000 people. We arrived around 9am, the bus drove across a large area of wasteland, littered with rubbish, people walking, pigs, cattle and dogs wandering and animal/human faeces.  I could see alongside this wasteland, stood rows of small buildings, some made of corrugated metal and others of bricks, a number of the roofs were covered with tarpaulin, bamboo, straw and scattered bricks, this is a very different place.

Vidhya, kind hearted and
welcoming, sadness is her eyes
We exited the bus and were immediately introduced to the local WaterAid partners working in the slums, I along with my group of 3 others (Matt from Anglian Water, Celine from Northern Ireland Water & Richard from South East Water) were introduced to Liddy, she was to be our translator and guide for the day.  There was no community welcome, no presentation of gifts and no speeches, we were here to learn today and make minimal impact on our surroundings.  We were then quickly taken off to meet the household where we would spend time learning about life in the slum and the issues around having poor water quality and sanitation.  We met with a women called Vidhya, she lived in one of the small slum dwellings, along with her husband and 3 children. her home was close to the edge of the slum, therefore it took just a minute or so to get to.

Collecting water amongst the waste!
Alongside is an open drain stacked high either side
with household waste.
I struggled here to hold my emotions
Before we got comfortable we were asked if we wanted to join Vidhya in collecting some water from her nearest supply, of course was our response.  We followed Vidhya to a small open clearing, amongst open drains and rubbish to where a flow of water was available.  It really was awful, can you imagine getting your drinking, cooking and cleaning water from a place where you needed to practically crouch amongst years of waste to collect it?  I didn't need to imagine, I did it.

I have repeated this so many times in my blog but it doesn't stop me being aware of how much I have taken for granted.  Often when we think of such conditions we link back to the 17th century, however this is happening today, as I sit here writing this with my cup of coffee, using safe hygienic water, this is happening.

Once the water container was full we headed back to Vidhya's home, I carried the 30 litre stainless steel pot and was surprised again by just how heavy these things are.  Once back at the house we took seats on a ridge outside and began to have a chat with Vidhya and some of her neighbours.
The single cot where all 5
family members sleep
just 4 foot by 6 foot in size

Vidhya had been without electricity for the last 5 days and was finding things tough, she has 2 girls at school and 1 son who does casual labour when he can find it, she was expressing that the lack of electricity meant that she was not able to feed her family properly due to not being able to grind wheat in order to make flour for bread, she had been living on a diet of rice.  She also said that the school exams were coming up in March and with no lighting at night her daughters were not able to study, this worried her as she wants her children to gain an education, this may give them the chance at a better life.

We asked Vidhya how long had she lived in the slum...  She told us that she and her husband Pappu had moved from a village 20 years ago in search of work in the city, there were no jobs outside the city and they needed an income.  Vidhya explained that life here is tough but there really isn't much choice, 'in order to go to the toilet we have to walk out into an open communal area and go, this is embarrassing and unsafe, our only other option is to use the communal toilets but they charge 5 rupees per day per person and with a family of 5 we are not able to afford this (this is around 40 pence), the toilets are also dirty and smell.'

We were told of how truck drivers parked up at night alongside the wasteland next to the slums, they would drink and take drugs, the women would be threatened by these men who would verbally abuse them as they tried to discreetly go to the toilet.  Sometimes the women would be physically attacked but because of the darkness they would not know if it was one of the people living in the slum that had done it or someone from the outside.  Vidhya worried for her daughters safety and for their health.

Vidhya and neighbours
How bad does it get at times we asked Vidhya, 'it's terrible' she explained, 'in the rainy season the waste water runs through my home, we get sickness and we get diarrhoea frequently and have to run to the open wasteland to go to the toilet.'  Vidhya then told us that she had lost a 3 year old child due to diarrhoea caused from the poor standards in the slum, my heart sank when I heard this, I knew this happened, of course I did, but to be sat face to face with someone that had watched a child die due to an illness that could have been prevented is very different than just being aware this happens.  I held back my shock and offered up our sorrow for her loss.  Another woman, one of the neighbours spoke up to tell us that her 3 day old baby had died due to the diarrhoea, it is happening all the time they explained.  This was so hard to deal with, we had heard the statistics that 2,000 children a day were dying but now I was seeing for myself what the reality looked liked.   In just a few minutes we talked about sexual abuse, child deaths, sewers flowing through homes, loss of dignity, restricted food supplies and difficulties with education, most of which could be dramatically improved with simple water and waste management.

We felt that we had asked enough of Vidhya and she had been kind enough to tell us a lot, we invited Vidhya and neighbours to ask us some questions.  The question that came back was powerful:  "people come here all the time, especially around election time, they make promises and they never keep them! So what are you promising us?"  I could see where this question had come from, time and time again these people had been let down, they had suffered greatly and now they had a bunch of foreign people sat in front of them asking questions about their water etc...  I answered on behalf of our group "we are not making any promises, we are here to learn from you, to take your stories back to the UK and to raise awareness of what life is like in the slums.  It is our hope but not our promise that people will listen and that we can raise international pressure on your government to spend money where it is needed"  (I write this blog for this reason, so that I can raise awareness, so can I ask that you share this blog, help me raise awareness and give others the chance to improve their quality of life).  The answer I gave pleased all, we were told by a neighbour that they thought we were like Krishna, sent by gods to help, I very quickly responded "we are just people from the UK, here to learn and do what we can". The thought that they could possibly liken us to their gods makes me feel really upset, I am really just someone that wants to help, I am a selfish person in many ways, I am full of imperfections and I do stupid things from time to time.  Being linked to any god was too much for me.

Water being collected from
small holes in the water pipes
We asked Liddy if we could be taken for a look around the slums so that we could get a better feel for the environment...  We were led down small walkways, through open drains, piles of dirt, dogs running freely, along with boar, people collecting water from small holes made in pipes and past home after home in a very tightly squeezed area.  We reached the area where the people went to the toilet to find the local council had sent in the heavy machinery to clean up....  Strange isn't it, that the place has been left for years, no rubbish collections, no waste clearance and then today as a group of British people arrive, so does the clean up team.  There were even people sweeping the paths!

With the sudden activity the crowds began to grow, therefore it was felt that is would be better to cut the visit short and leave 30 minutes earlier.

The small lanes between
I left this place feeling drained, they were so hopeful for their future and so sad for the past and current living conditions.  I am not ashamed to say that I broke down in the evening after this visit, I cried uncontrollably for the losses of these people and the fact that I felt I just could not do enough, in fact as I write this I am fighting back the tears again.  I am far from being a god, I am far from being the best person I can be, but for these people, I along with the others in my group represented hope.  This suddenly felt like a massive personal burden to bear, but I must remember my part is to do what I can, to honour these people by not forgetting their story and ensuring I raise the awareness, in order to make the changes needed.

To find out how you could help, or find out more about WaterAid or even donate please click on the link below:

WaterAid International
WaterAid UK

Please come back to follow my remaining journey in India.

People wash their clothes on the streets
Open sewers surrounding the slums
The timely arrival of the clean up team!

1 comment:

  1. I have just got back from shopping buying everything I need and maybe more to keep me going till I again go shopping, my house is warm and fairly comfy I used the toilet as soon as I came through the door which is a nessasity for me safely and warmly. I then sat down put my laptop on in my comfy chair my well fed pet cats curled at my feet the kettle of clean safe water on the boil for a nice cup of tea and saw James had written his next blog so with coat still on I have read it ,I know my son, I know every word he has written is true I know every tear he has is genuine, I too am now shedding tears for these poor people even though tears is not what they need right now. As a person of my age and health I can personally do nothing physically about it, but I promise you my son I will in future be lobbying our and the Indian Government to change things for these people If the authority's can do it on a day WaterAid is visiting they can do it all the time I always knew we were lucky in this country thats why I dont complain about my lot to much But my goodness I did not realise how lucky The Bravery and strength of you guys going there and telling it how it is ,I dont think I will ever complain again My goodness how could I even manage to walk far away at night from my home for the basic need of going to the Loo, I cant imagine it let alone have to do it. These people are not asking us for millions of pounds in aid they are not wailing and begging for help they are calmly sitting down and asking for help to help them selves I can only pray that the right people will now not only hear their voices but also the silent voices of the poor dead little children My job this afternoon is surfing the web (those that know me well will know this is not a problem)and try to find the people that should be hearing these voices and doing something about it thankyou James for your reports and giving me a goal to meet once again in my fairly ordinary comfortable life