Every year a group of Swedish architecture students comes to Dharavi, Mumbai, to study urban infrastructure. Every year they also spend some time with our projects and volunteer with us. Maja, a student of the group was very impressed by Sangeeta, our soft skill teacher and community health worker. Find out why:
We, a group of architecture students from Sweden, went to Dharavi to study informal settlements in global mega-cities such as Mumbai. We arrived in late October and our main assignment was to try to understand the Networks of NGOs working within Dharavi; How they work, what they do and why they are needed.
At the very beginning of our stay we went on a Reality Tours slum tour to help us familiarise ourselves with the area. It was through this tour that we met Sangeeta who teaches soft skills (part of the Youth Empowerment Program) to local youth and young adults at the Reality Gives community centre.
Sangeeta also works on a program that helps children with poor levels of nutrition run by the Foundation for Mother and Child Health (FMCH), in collaboration with Reality Gives. According to UNICEF, 43% of Indian children below the age of five years are underweight because of chronic mal-nutrition. The nutrition program is a weekly program that takes place every Saturday afternoon at the community centre. Nutritionists from FMCH come to the community centre to hold nutrition clinics and cooking workshops, and to do one-to-one counselling with the mothers.
Sangeeta explained to us that if she informs the mothers on a Monday about a Saturday workshop, no one will come. Instead she tells them about the cooking class the evening before, or even the same day, only a few hours before the class starts. For us, coming from a totally different part of the world where we sometimes plan meetings months in advance, this approach was tough to grasp!
Two of us had the opportunity to walk around the community with Sangeeta to inform the mothers about an upcoming workshop. Sangeeta, always with a smile and confidence, spoke every language needed and found her way through complex networks of narrow alleys, as if she has never done anything else. We visited more than 12 different homes, Sangeeta having a dialogue with all of the mothers and the children, and it always felt like she was very welcome.
Some of the mothers were not able to attend this week’s workshop because of the upcoming Diwali; with all of the cooking, cleaning, etc that had to be done, they simply had too much to do! However, they assured Sangeeta they would attend the next one and in the end, even with Diwali, there was a great turnout.
The nutritionists from FMCH held the class while Sangeeta and another Reality Gives employee, Nazia, helped out with preparing the food and looked after the children so the mothers could concentrate on their learning.
During our stay we spoke to Sangeeta a lot; she is a remarkable woman and she is very giving. We learnt a lot about living in Dharavi, and India, and Sangeeta got to know about our situation in Sweden. We laughed a lot together. While in Mumbai, we also attended the graduation ceremony for the students who had finished their three month ‘Youth Empowerment program’. One of the students, a teenage boy, gave a short speech to thank his teachers. He started by saying, “On the first day here I was so nervous. Then I met Sangeeta, she gave me hope and confidence”. I feel that this sums up Sangeeta perfectly.