Day 3 on the YOA India Study Tour saw us visiting the Kripa School in Gurgaon. The school was founded by Sanjeev Nagpal, the son of the owner of Grace Home (the home in which we are currently staying), which exists to prepare children from the surrounding slum areas for school.
The children were very well behaved, waving and smiling and saying “Hi Ma’am!” with enthusiasm when we all said our hellos. A few children stood up and did some reading, others sung, and two boys even danced for us. We then proceeded to sing them “Waltzing Matilda,” “A Home Among the Gum Trees,” and taught them the Hokey Pokey, which had them laughing at us.
We had brought along a packet of chips and a juice box for each child, and they sat patiently while we handed out the snacks to all 58 of them. Around this time a few mothers had come to pick up their children, and after a few shy waves and giggles, they then performed traditional Rajasthani songs and dances for us, which the children loved as well.
All in all it was a lovely day. When you hear about slums and their disadvantaged inhabitants you are generally overcome with horror and sorrow, and while of course those reactions are warranted and the slum situation is abysmal, our day spent together was very joyous. The children were laughing and the mothers were smiling and dancing, and I think it was this humanity that really solidified the realness of the impoverished areas. Poverty is not this unreal dystopia where all you see is deprivation and helplessness, it is a very real human situation, which brings with it people with great hope and potential, who have to deal with the crushing weight of poverty on a daily basis.
An issue with poverty and the impoverished, I believe, is people’s tendency to label the issue as an individual fault, rather than a social establishment to which we all directly and indirectly contribute and benefit from. Placing yourself within the an impoverished environment, and interacting with it’s inhabitants directly should be enough to make you realise, if you didn’t already, that poverty is not an individual fault but a weight placed upon those unfortunate enough to be born within an apathetic society.
I have studied human rights and specifically slum development, but books and reports and studies will always be removed from social issues on a very important human level. Coming face to face with children who are taking part in a home-grown development initiative provides a weight to your understanding of poverty in a way that statistics never can. It also, for me, showed the importance on local grown initiatives, rather than having Westerners come in and interfere with a problem they only understand on a technical level (I hope the only lasting impression we had was a love of the Hokey Pokey).
I am not a huge fan of the Western Saviour complex, or volunteer tourism, in which people step in and out of a social issue as they please, and I think it is important to note that we weren’t there to gawk at the less fortunate, rather we were there to interact and understand the faces behind a corrupt social institution. I think we made a connection between all the academic talk and real life, and I think that is an integral step to changing attitudes and behaviours towards the poverty issue. It was only a day we spent together, but what an important day it was.
Caitlin Cataldo, Melbourne