Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Different World

“Hellooow! How are you?” screams a little girl, about 6, as she runs towards our group with her hands outstretched. We all take turns shaking her hand, and asking how she was in return. She had the biggest smile on her face, while her beaming mother is standing right behind her, nodding gently as each of us shuffle by. This scene is repeated over and over again, as children of all ages dart out from hidden doorways and alleys, yell “HI!” with a high pitched voice and a quick wave of their hand, before disappearing back into the alleys and crowds. This was not some playground, or neighborhood park. This was in the depths of the largest slum in Asia – Dharavi.

Dharavi, with over a million inhabitants, is the largest in Asia, and was recently featured and made famous in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Located in the city of Mumbai, it generates an economic output estimated to be about US$665 million per year, although most of its population earns less than Rs. 300 or US$6 per day!

The slums are everything you imagine it to be - dirty, smelly, crowded. A maze of narrow passageways barely wide enough for two people to pass each other; trash strewn about everywhere; and when you come close to one of the canals or 
rivers, the strong stench of human excrement fills the air. But in spite of it all, I saw a community of people with the will to put up with anything to give their children a better life. Amid harsh working conditions, recycling plastic, tanning leathers, and making ceramic pottery to name a few, everyone we met greeted us with a smile and nod. From women rolling poppadoms to children picking through heaps of trash, they found it in them to pause, to wave, and for a moment, to show the world a little piece of their lives.

Reality Tours and Travel:

If you are ever in Mumbai, I highly recommend the Dharavi Slum Tours by Reality Tours and Travel. All proceeds go towards a Kindergarten and Community Center run by Reality Cares, a non-profit organization. There is a strict no photo policy during the tour. For pictures and details of the tour, visit their website.


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