Friday, September 18, 2009

Volunteer Speak - Smita

Volunteer experience by Smita Singla

My first visit to Unnati and Disha…my first visit to the children who study in these education centres and the first one to the parents of these children.

I along with a group of volunteers went to run-down areas in village Jharsa, areas marked by poverty and substandard living conditions. First we met migrant labourers who stay in make-shift tents near the upcoming buildings where they work for a livelihood. We then went to meet rag-picking slum dwellers. For once, I was appalled to see their living conditions. Closed my eyes and thanked God for having provided me with what all I have today.
We all know that for these communities, children are a potential source of income to the family. So it is very hard to convince them to send their children to school. But I was amazed to see the effort put in by AID volunteers to make things work. From my interaction, I learned that Unnati and Disha are preparatory education centres, each with a regular salaried teacher from 9 to 1 on all the weekdays. Here, the children are taught the basics of English, Maths and Hindi. At Unnati, teenage girls are given sewing classes for an hour after the study hours to enable them to become self-reliant. What’s more! Children who perform well at Unnati and Disha are sent to regular private schools such as Vivek Public School, DPS and Literacy India Kristina Makara Vidyapeeth for free. I could see passion in the eyes of fellow volunteers, people who have been volunteering for over a year with AID Gurgaon. Couldn’t stop admiring the patience and consideration with which they listened to the problems of these people. A community of migrant construction workers told that their children had been missing school for over a week, for they had contracted typhoid due to contaminated water supply, thanks to the recent rains! It got us concerned and we made it a point to arrange free medical check-ups and medicines for their children as soon as possible. Another woman shared how after her husband had deserted her, she cleaned utensils and did the sweeping in nearby households to make ends meet for herself and her 12 year old son. Because that was not enough to fetch them the basic essentials, her son had to work as a rag-picker only to earn a meagre 50-100 rupee a day. In such a scenario, it would’ve been irrational of us to expect her to send her son to school during the day. So we suggested that she send him to the evening classes, another arrangement in place for the boys who work through the day.
These are just few of the examples. I can go on and on. Every single moment I spent with those children and their parents was an experience for me. I could see a twinkle, a joy in their eyes. They felt wanted and cared for. I thanked God for providing me with an opportunity to do my bit for these disadvantaged angel-like souls.
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own surroundings, our own cities to remedy this kind of poverty….The combined efforts of millions of concerned citizens could do wonders to help the impoverished.”

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