Sunday, January 23, 2011

Follow up to 'sickening contrast'

So I called the NGO I had promised myself I'd call. Deepgriha. They are based just outside one of Pune's slums/poorer areas. And have been around since 1975.

The place is bare bones, stark and yet full of life. Women and children bustling in and out.

Women are usually domestics dropping off their babies and very young kids in the day care being run by this group (again bare bones, a place for the children to be safe. That's it.)

Women may also be those coming in for literacy lessons or to see a doctor in the clinic.

Children might be part of the day care, or coming in for the one meal the organization provides to kids that they sponsor. Similar to other organizations that ask you for $25 to sponsor a child for a period of time, Deepagriha also has a program for children of low income from broken homes or who are orphans or who have lost one parent and are essentially living with relatives. Rs 10,000 (around $200) supports their education and living, a couple gifts for Christmas and Divali along with one meal, eaten at and provided by the organization.

Right away I ask for one girl child I'd like to sponsor. What I really like about the program is that they encourage you to stay for the ride. i.e sponsor the child ideally until he or she is independent--which is at 18 or so.

Many from the program have gone on to college and many want to give to the organization by sponsoring other kids. Nice.

There are rural projects where kids live and study. They are trying to get solar and wind companies to fuel those residences.

Projects are planned to help farmers harvest rainwater and such and educating their children about seeing agriculture as a modern occupation and not a burden to be afraid of. I ask to be involved in fundraising for this. My contact gleefully agrees.

I go back to the day care room. A small 7X8 or so area with sheets on the floor for naps. A handful are napping. some are playing with the ayahs there watching them, chattering amongst themselves.

A little girl about my son's age is at the door, with studs in her ears, smiling broadly. I stoop down and hold her. Heart wrenching and yet heart warming. I ask if I can donate clothes and toys. Sure, they say.

I spend a lot of time asking what their needs are. They have just lost a grant writer. I offer to help out in that area. And offer to ask friends for donations since I have seen what they do and plan to be involved.

Yesterday I conferenced with a volunteer from the UK who has been working as their grants person for five months. She is to send me the work she has done so I can see how I could help. Instinct tells me there is a LOT to be done. Can I do it? Should I volunteer more time than I can give? I'll do my best, I say bravely. I haven't written a grant but I know what it entails.

The room of volunteers is entirely white.

All the volunteers are foreign, I am told--the ones that come for a period of time anyway. Employees are dedicated locals but somehow volunteering just isn't in the Indian psyche.

Most of their donors, foreign (from abroad. Indians too from abroad but very low local involvement.)

I am appalled, ashamed.

I promise myself to do my best to help.

Make sure you see what it is that we do, Ashlesha, my contact tells me. People get stuck in the office with their computers and it becomes easy to forget what we do and whom we touch. Absolutely right. Will do, I say.

Soon it will be time to put my money where my mouth is. I wonder if I can.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sickening contrast

My driver drives me through a nice part of town.

A joggers park is being made here, he says eagerly. This is a quiet place, the kids can play without fear. There is no traffic although the town center is not far away. Posh, he declares. And only good people seem to live here, he says with some authority. The buildings are nice and I say I'd be interested if his agent friend can show us some places. Oh yes, he says and we drive towards my son's school where I have to pick him up in fifteen minutes. A joggers park, I think. That sounds like fun. And the river flows in front of the property. So no construction will ever block the view from these buildings. Not bad, I think, not bad at all. Might even be worth considering.

At the traffic light, we wait for a green. A beautiful mother sits on the side of the street. Her two sons are about as old as mine. She kisses the baby and holds him high up in the air. A blonde woman walks by carrying a soda or some drink, occasionally sipping on it distractedly. She looks at the woman and kids, hands her soda to the mother who takes it with one hand and with the other continues playing with her infant who giggles with abandon.

As my car leaves, I see the older child, not much younger than my older son sipping the drink. The blonde woman walks away. She is fervently searching for something. She has forgotten the young family, her drink, the baby, the boy. The beautiful mother. I want to stop, talk to the mother but I don't. The signal changes. The car moves away.

I should have stopped. I should have said something.

Instead I take out my phone and make the call I have "not had a chance" to make all these weeks to the organization I have been meaning to speak to. Women's and children's literacy is their focus.

I make plans to see them in a few hours.

I have to do something NOW or else a part of me will just wilt away seeing such sights.
Or worse, I might get used to seeing them and God forbid, I just might even not feel like crying at the sight of them. And that would never do.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Plastic Bag Menace

I hate to be fussy but what the hell am I supposed to do with my plastic bags? I never or lets say seldom, very seldom use plastic bags for almost anything I buy but one can't help it, they follow you everywhere. You buy milk, its in plastic bags, grain, plastic bags. I carry 7 to 8 cloth bags with me when I shop but I always end up with at least a couple bags. Provisions from stores come in plastic bags. You get the idea. They follow you no matter where you go.

End result, I have a big bursting bag full of small and big plastic bags of various kinds.

Now I obsess about recycling and every last pin that can be recycled is. But the plastic bags. No one wants to take them. Throw them away is the advice. For cows to eat and die on. For the environment to choke on.

And so I went online. I found lots of silly advice. Reuse your plastic bags for doggie poop, use them as freezer bags. Give unto me a break. These solutions are great for one or two bags per day. What about the dozens we collect everyday.

Then I searched some more and found this company Conserve. They buy plastic bags from rag pickers in Delhi and turn them into handbags. Noble. Yes. Useful to me? Resounding yes...well maybe. They don't mind getting raw material, as it were, from us. I plan to send them a sample of what I have. Fingers crossed. Maybe I can be a regular supplier.

Conclusion. My plastic bag waste just might be transformed into pretty handbags that have buyers in all parts of chic Paris and around Europe. Ironic that no Indian retailer stocks the bags that are made here.

My husband jokingly says we should start a kachra (rubbish) courier company and get like minded people to mail their rubbish through us. Right. I give him a wry look.

You can laugh at me all you want. I am looking for the nearest post office as we speak.

Environmentalism across state lines, here I come.