Last week USAC as a whole briefly visited the Nagar Slum, the biggest slum in Bangalore, where we will be completing our service learning. As a group of twenty foreigners, we strolled through the slum’s maze. Children waved hello and heads turned as we walked down the path. I definitely felt eyes on us as we walked towards the activity center, a place where where the Center for Social Action (CSA), hosts a daycare, tuition (tutoring) centers and a transit school in the slum. I am not sure what I was expecting before I visited the slum. Maybe there would be lots of trash or broken/unstable roofs on homes. While both of these held true and I even saw a roof with lots of trash stacked on top of it, I was surprised by the amount of colors on the buildings and how many people I saw outside. As a community in poverty, the slum was not dark and gloomy as I had thought. Many of the buildings were painted with bright colors and it definitely felt more uplifting and happy. None the less there were some buildings that embodied more darkness. One building seemed like an apartment complex made of all concrete bricks. It was not painted, just plain concrete gray. It had very few windows for sunlight, and until I looked inside did I realize this was not a building in construction, people actually lived in it. Each room was smaller than any room I stayed in growing up and was almost like a small dark cave. I wish that they were able to let more sunlight in their homes and have a bigger space to live in. Still, I am thankful that these families have a strong shelter to protect them from the monsoon rains and protect their belongings.
Aside from this, women were cooking in front of their homes or washing clothes on the ground while kids were playing games with each other or sitting by their mothers. There were also goats everywhere. The goats took me by surprise because I assumed that having an animal would be more costly, but I’m sure its agricultural benefits outweigh the costs. Along with the immense amount of goats, I saw many dogs. One in particular had a large amount of its leg cut open. It’s tail was wagging still as it saw us walking towards it on the pathway, but my emotions drowned with sadness as I saw its leg completely cut open. If I knew how to fix a dog wound, I would have done it right then and there. The poor dog couldn’t get up at all, and I couldn’t even imagine how this happened. Thinking of home, I couldn’t remember a time where I saw a stray dog in my neighborhood, let alone one with its leg cut open.
Now I finally arrived at the activity center feeling both sadness for some of the things I had seen and gratefulness for all the things I am lucky enough to have. The short orientation was informative, and I learned about some the the programs they offer to help the youth and families here. Some of the programs under CSA sponsor kids to go to school and daycares to have a safe haven to go to during the day. CSA gives these sponsored students backpacks, books, uniforms and education for free. Once old enough they may even move on to attend university to continue their education. Lots of the children here have complicated family lives. We were told that many families have fathers that do not contribute much income due to spending the money he makes on himself or drugs and alcohol. This leaves the mothers to go out and work to provide for the family as well as the job of taking care of the children. This is where CSA steps in with centers for the children to go to while their parents are out at work. I love how this program can really move the youth and help to encourage them rise above poverty while becoming more educated about the world around them. I only wish I was here longer to help out more.
After orientation, I was waiting outside the center to leave. I saw a little boy and a little girl play with a plank of wood and a small plastic ball. They were kicking it around and hitting it as if they were playing cricket. Suddenly a car cam through, and the ball they were happily playing with was smashed flat. My heart broke when I saw this. While they may not have much, they were making due with what they had, and seeing their faces change from happy to confused and sad as they looked at their “ball” was devastating. I remembered the times when I was young, playing with my sister in the street with a bat and ball playing a made up game that was a cross between baseball and soccer. Had our ball been run over by a car, we would have ran into the garage to grab a replacement. Although this little boy and little girl’s ball was not exactly a ball anymore, they through it on the ground and tried to continue to play. This just shows how even as kids, people are able to make the best out of their situation. While not having much, being optimistic and still making due can still be enough to be happy and have fun. I am definitely more thankful for what I have and these experiences have made me re-think all the times I have thought that I didn’t have enough.
I look forward to volunteering for the next few weeks, and although it is not much time, I know I can try to make positive impact. I am also excited to learn and absorb all aspects of this community.