My shoulder rubs against the pale green wall of the school, and crumbling bits of paint fall to the ground behind me. I squeeze past a row of teen age kids, who are eager to get a look at the foreigner amongst them, and I smile, prompting laughter and giggles. I pass classroom after classroom, filled with row upon row of children, sitting at old wooden desks, surrounded by damp walls covered in flaking paint. The boys jet black hair is oiled tight to their head, the girls hair is braided and looped and tied with floppy, pressed, ribbons. Maybe, in these classrooms, sits a handful of India’s next generation of doctors and engineers.
I reach the main gate, which is a rusted metal door. Twenty women stand on the other side, clutching the bars. The scene resembles a women’s prison, and I hesitantly reach for the gate and slowly swing it open. A swirl of colourful sari’s part, and I move through the group of waiting mothers, and then I feel a hand on my arm. I turn around to see a Muslim woman in a full black burka. She releases the piece of fabric covering her face and smiles quietly. I recognize her as Javed’s mother. (Javed is one of her four children, and just last year had open heart surgery which nearly ruined the family financially). I reach to shake her hand, which she offers to me, shyly. I tell her in broken Hindi that I have paid for her son’s yearly school fees, and she smiles and thanks me. Then I begin to tell her, that as a surprise, I have also paid her youngest daughter, Yasmine’s, school fees. She looks confused for a moment, and then her eyes well up with tears and she offers her hand again. I clasp her hand in both of mine, and tell her, “You are most welcome”. I am humbled to be of help, and as I turn to walk away, she thanks me once more, and dabs at her eye with a piece of fabric.
June is the start of the new school year in Mumbai, and a very busy time for families, and all NGO’s working in the education sector across the city. DWP currently has nearly 60 sponsor children, from grade one to college, in about 15 different schools, throughout the area. Each June, parents looking for help, crowd the doors of Janvi’s centre, bombarding Ashley with stories of hardship and financial woes in a bid to get their child sponsored. Discover Urjaa, (run by Vanessa and Vignesh Manjeshwar) runs an amazing sponsorship program through Janvi’s centre, with Ashley at the helm, sponsoring over 200 children. In slum communities, almost everyone requires some help, but determining who needs the most help, is the difficult , strenuous and a frustrating part of the work. As Discover Urjaa reaches their threshold of children that they can sponsor for the school year, DWP steps in and takes on some of the cases that they could not.
Every day, for the past week, I have set out from the community, my notebook in hand and back pocket filled with worn Indian rupees, into the soaking wet streets of Saki Naka. Although I have visited these schools several times over the last few years, navigating the small network of alleys, jumping over huge puddles and dodging traffic is forever difficult and time consuming. When heavy rains fall suddenly, and without warning, I find myself huddled in shop doorways with groups of strangers, all quietly and happily waiting for whom ever is in charge, to turn off the tap, so we can all resume our lives and get back to the hustle of the maximum city.
I arrive to each school, find the fee counter, and lineup behind mothers and fathers, also waiting to pay. I encounter stares and intense curiosity where ever I go; a white spec in a brown landscape.
I practice my Hindi in my head as I wait in line, and finally it’s my turn. The rehearsed line is ready, sitting on my tongue. My mouth opens, and the practiced Hindi words that sounded so good in my head, come out garbled and backwards. I smile embarrassingly, and feel awkward as the grumpy woman behind the counter looks up for the first time and sees my white face and smiles condescendingly. I repeat the child’s name over and over till she tells me to stop, and then she quickly flips the pages of my damp notebook, looking for the records, feeling the burning stares of impatient mothers behind me. Five more minutes pass, and finally I reach for the rupees in my pocket and count out the full years fees. I’m handed my receipt, and I feel a sense of accomplishment and excitement. I turn around and realize, no one cares, or is particularly happy, that the guy with the “golden” hair and the speech impediment, has managed to do something right. I smile awkwardly for the hundredth time that day, and head for the exit. I immediately get lost again in the labyrinth of water-clogged alleyways, until a small girl takes pity on me, and walks me to the main road. I turn to thank her but she is gone, quickly disappearing into a row of tin shacks. A large truck thunders past, smashing a three-inch deep puddle, covering me in brown water and mud. I pull at my shirt, and wipe my face, but it doesn’t matter. The sky opens up, and soon I’m soaked again, searching for cover and the next school….
In the past week, DWP has paid the full year fees for 18 children at 6 different schools across the Saki Naka area. I am working hard at reviewing last years sponsor children, and paying their fees, and I have also added three new cases this week. I’m a sucker for a heartbreaking story, and I find myself nodding and committing to new cases before I’m ready, adding to my workload, and the overall cost.
While DWP has been busy attending to the educational needs of individual cases, I have also purchased 250 school books (nursery rhyme, picture, and notebooks) for Janvi’s kindergarten class in Saki Naka. Each child has been given 3 books, and pencils, to help reduce the cost for their parents, and to encourage more parents to enrol their children in kindergarten to give them the chance at an education.
* I would also like to thank DWP’s friend, Jaita Guha, from Mumbai, who, last year, arranged for 11 students to be sponsored via friends and colleagues. This year she has doubled her efforts, adding another 13 cases. She’s personally responsible for filling an entire classroom!
bombay, charity, children, Dirty Wall Project, donate, DWP, education, fundraise, fundraising, girls can be, India, janvi trust, Kane Ryan, mother, Mumbai, non-profit, Photography, saki naka, school, slum, sponsorship, travel, volunteer