As we arrived at the Seelampur slum I quickly noticed that it was in a worse state than Trilok Puri where we've been all week. There was still a lot of filthy water about from flooding late last year and there was a lot more rubbish and debris scattered about. The greeting we got was far from subdued though - showered once again with petals and garlands of orange flowers placed around our necks by the children. They were clearly very excited to see us and provided yet another photographic feast - my lens was not wide angle enough to cope with the heaving throng of kids wanting their photo taken! I am struck by the amazing contrast between the squalor of the slum and the vibrant colours worn by the women, and the boys all in jeans and shirts - everyone looked well dressed and clean.
Asha works with 2,000 families in this slum of which 80% are Muslim. Their main focus was originally healthcare but there has been a recent shift towards education and enabling children to finish school and even get into college/university.
We sat and listened to updates from various groups: the Women's Association now has 200 members and has helped train women in various aspects of healthcare, including 32 "birth attendants" (midwives). This has helped many women not only help others through access to vaccinations such as tuberculosis, but also to learn to read and write as they keep health records.
Then we heard from the students. All of them are the first from their family to ever get into college. Asha has helped them prepare for exams, fill applications, buy books and even cover fees. They talk of how this has given them a real boost in confidence, a "change in personality". They are studying subjects such as political science and various languages. All of them seemed to have much more clue about what they would like to become than I did when I was 18! Many want to be teachers, government administrators, lawyers and even politicians. It really is an amazing feat for them to have got into college and onto a ladder that actually has a hope of being climbed, rather than being locked into a seemingly hopeless environment. I can see that education really is the key to longterm change.
We then heard from some of the younger pupils, all of whom now aspire to go to college. They were all so grateful for how Asha had helped and to us for supporting Asha, proudly showing us text books that they would not otherwise have been able to afford.
We were really impacted about how these kids want to help others: they will each a adopt a lane and visit people there to check whether they've accessed health services that Asha could provide (eg polio vaccines), they visit the elderly, and talk to parents whose kids are not in school - explaining the benefits! They clearly value their education so much and any new opportunity they are given - opportunities that I know I have taken for granted. These kids, as young as 11, even speak to government officials and go on protests with placards to facilitate change.
This was all a lot to take in, and only by lunchtime! Someone commented that not a day goes by when they don't remember last year's team - our visits obviously have a much greater impact than we can grasp. Everyone seems very thankful.
After lunch we went on a slum walk to visit various families and pray in their homes. The homes are generally tiny and overcrowded and it was hard to believe that some of the smiley students and kids actually live in such hovels.
From the slum we headed to Old Delhi to wander around the market and past the Red Fort and a large mosque. We got into rickshaws which proved to be an adrenaline rush as at one point we we heading into oncoming traffic... but standard procedure here... no worries...
Lots more to say but I'm knackered and need sleep!
Jeremy and team