My hand is braced against the wall my feet awkwardly balanced on the plastic chair, to my left the Dj is spinning a new track and soon Akon’s “Chammok Chello” blasts from the speakers encouraging screams from the crowded room. The dance floor fills, hands reach to the sky unscrewing imaginary lightbulbs and lighting up smiles across the room. I rest my camera on my shoulder and watch in amazement as a group of Nuns dance their way through the crowd, their beige sari’s twist and twirl amongst laughter from the girls and my prior views of boring and disciplined Nuns goes out the window.
Hours earlier I found my self giggling as large speakers and Dj’s decks were moved into the Catholic Orphanage wondering what it was going to be like throwing party with a bunch of Nuns. It turns out no matter the religion or discipline, Indians just like to dance and listen to loud music.
The month of December has been busy for our community in Mumbai with several events being held in our gardens and school. To start the festive month off, with our new friend Kailash of Morpheus Human Charity, we turned the school garden into a carnival like atmosphere. A magic show, puppet show and juggler entertained a huge crowd of children and parents. Kailash’s group has been working with DWP since Diwali and we have become a great partnership. With generous donations from them we have been able to start a fruit distribution program in the school which not only provides healthy snacks to our school children but gives employment to Maya who desperately needs it.
A few weeks later DWP/Janvi and our friends at “Little Starz” planned the next event in our community. Sudha (Little Starz) has been a long time supporter of Janvi, (providing the school uniforms for the kindergarten kids and countless entertainment events over the years for the community) was interested in holding a “talent contest”. The word was put out and for two weeks the upper level of our school was packed with children learning new dance moves and perfecting old ones. Dec 18th was showtime and with “Little Starz” generous support we were able to completely transform the new garden (which DWP built last trip) into a dance venue. Balloons garlands were strung throughout the garden and a huge stage complete with a backdrop gave the event a professional feel. A red carpet was laid out for spectators, speakers were set up and our dancers gathered while hundreds of people streamed into the garden. Midway through the first few performances word had spread and well over 700 spectators from the community sat, crouched and hung onto the fencing trying to get a glimpse of their friends gyrating on stage. Solo performances by children as young as 8 yrs old graced the stage and rehearsed group dances by teenagers rocked the crowd. Several impromptu performers couldn’t help but get excited and by the end of the evening well over 20 groups had had their time in the spotlight. Our panel of judges had a difficult time but with the help of the enthusiastic crowd handed out gold, silver and bronze medals in several categories. The evening was capped off with gift distribution to over 400 children, all made possible by “Little Starz”!
Try as I might it just never seems like Christmas here in Mumbai and it often comes without warning, even though stores and businesses hang tinsel and give a nod to the Christian holiday. Kids in the community have been building small and large mangers, filling them with handmade cardboard figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There are few Christian families in the community but the kids love to celebrate all the religions with robust energy with a hope for some chocolate or treats. Heading to the school in the early morning of Dec 23rd Ashley and I received a call from our head teacher Usha complaining that we had not decorated the school or done anything for the kids yet? I watched as Ashley’s eyes rolled and we both smiled realizing that she was right, I quickly stopped the rik shaw at the closest store. Filling our bags with shining streamers and decorations we arrived just after 8 am and began quickly decorating the upper level. Children dressed in the best clothing they could find, excitedly ran between our legs as we hurriedly decorated. Ashley dug through last years Christmas stuff and found a Jim Reeves CD and soon Christmas Carols echoed off the pipeline and through the lane ways. Some local volunteers from a nearby college arrived and brought with them 100 red Santa hats. Moments later the school looked like Santa’s workshop as over 75 kindergarten children ran wildly in circles loving their new hats! Games were played, carols were sung and small chocolates and sweets were given out.
To round off the Christmas month we looked again to Morpheus Human Charity and decided that we would come together for another event, this time out of our community. A month ago, Ashwini (see this post http://dirtywallproject.com/blog/?p=1868) was graciously allowed to move into the Nava Jyothi home for girls. We had several meetings with the Nuns, viewing the home and hoping Ashwini could get a fresh start in their home. (I will be writing a full post on Ashwini’s new life in the coming weeks). Kailash and I decided on our last visit that it would be a great idea to help the Nuns and the girls in their care celebrate Christmas this year, also enabling us to visit Ashwini again.
With our earlier event being such a success with the kids in our community, we decided to hire the magician and puppeteer once again. The Nava Jyothi home has been running for more then 50 years and has seen 37 marriages to rescued girls. Girls in desperate situations (either orphaned or in violent/unfit situations are taken into the home, given education and a loving, supportive environment until they are 18). The girls leave the home with the knowledge and confidence to make good decisions for themselves. During the event many of the ‘graduates’ joined us for the program and spoke highly of the home.
The homes 35 girls dressed in beautiful party dresses danced for hours to pulsating electro music, hip hop and Bollywood hits. At one point, I walked from the home to the main road by the Church and stood for a moment looking up at the Church. Our music system, blasted from the home and the noise rolled through the empty pews of the church and spilled onto the main road. Vegetables hawkers and families walked by, busses burped diesel and India rambled on. Just behind me and down the driveway one hundred or so girls and women from unimaginable backgrounds, danced, their past momentarily forgotten in a blur of colours and laughter.
Christmas has never had anything to do with church or religion for me but has always been a favourite holiday. Amongst the commercialism in the West, people do come together and think of those that have to go without. DWP donors have come together this month and donated funds, enabling my family and I to spread holiday cheer to a community of thousands here in Mumbai. We have partnered with our friends, Sudha and Kailash, and turned our donors’ money into a million smiles.
On behalf of our community, my family and all the girls living at Nava Jyothi we wish you all a Merry Christmas!