Anita Williams takes a family trip to view i-india projects in Jaipur.
Our involvement in i-india has become a big part of our children’s lives in Singapore. They’ve often asked what life must be like for an i-india child. At last they were able to meet their “second family” of brothers and sisters on our recent trip to Jaipur.
An overnight flight to Mumbai and then a connecting flight meant we arrived early in the morning. Charlie’s reaction to seeing camels, elephants and pigs roaming freely on the streets was priceless. Our tiredness was replaced with an excited anticipation.
A couple of hours later, we reached Bagrana village, a relocated community of rural and urban slum dwellers. The i-india founders, Prabhakar and Abha Goswami, were waiting for us with big smiles and hugs. The families at Bagrana live in makeshift houses of mud, sticks and cloth, and survive the best they can. Through i-india, these communities are provided with education, medical attention, food and water.
When we arrived, school was in session in the newly built classroom (funded by a Singapore donor). Children of every age sat immersed in the lesson, eagerly responding to the teacher. After three hours, a hot meal of rice, dahl, vegetables and roti was served. The children sat quietly and waited while everyone was served, then closed their eyes in a prayer of thanks before eating.
Charlie fulfilled his dream of being the hose-holder on the truck and giving the 200 or so children an alfresco shower – the cool water was a welcome relief in the hot, dry desert. Children with newly donated toothbrushes merrily cleaned their teeth – the not-so-lucky ones used their fingers. Our children were of great interest to the Bagrana community; despite limited English, they shared conversation, stares and smiles.
Ladli, which means “loving girl”, is a centre where girls and boys learn vocational skills in jewellery and tailoring. At the Ladli girls’ home, we were given a colourful welcome with rangoli (traditional decorative art) and garlands of rose petals, tikka and rice. Ladli is a haven from the streets – a place where each girl receives schooling as well as lessons in computing, dance, and health and hygiene. All those who attend Ladli are paid for their work and receive a hot meal daily. In this environment, the girls begin to shine with hope and confidence.
Ingrid showed the girls how to make paper beads with glue and wire; the girls then taught her how to make jewellery. Later, they gave Ingrid a beautiful bracelet made from the paper beads as a thank-you gift, happy and grateful for a new skill learnt, and the afternoon was spent playing music and dancing to Bollywood tunes. I bought many lovely Ladli pieces to bring back to Singapore.
The Ladli boys’ home is funded by Tanglin Trust School. It was in full swing when we arrived, with many boys from about 15 to 18 years of age industriously sewing bags, doonas, dressing gowns, purses and more. They proudly showed us their creations and were pleased to see I was in a purchasing mood. (The sewing work was perfect, though some of the colour combinations suggested that a bit more guidance is needed!)
We also spent a wonderful day at the Jhag Children’s Village. There, 225 children attend the Prem-Pathshala School, a project supported by i-india Project Australia. The students eagerly showed us their workbooks with their exercises in Hindu, English and Maths. Later, the “BPL” (below poverty line) children, with their neat hair and spotless uniforms, enjoyed a rare ice-cream treat; some of them wanted to take their ice creams back for their families!
After school, two buses (funded from Singapore donors, Norton Rose and White Lodge Schools) were boarded with much waving and smiling. For most of these children, this education is all they have ever received, so it is joyfully embraced. Even some of the rich residents want to send their children to Prem-Pathshala School, but it is strictly for the most disadvantaged rural children.
After school in the boys’ home, Charlie took an art class with 54 shelter-home boys. They listened to the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire and later, when their art pieces were completed, they held up their creations while swinging and dancing to the music. Games of cricket and football erupted in the dusty dry sand outside.
At the girls’ home, over a hundred children from the four combined homes gathered to greet us. In Hindi, they sang a song: “Do good in life, and if you can’t do this do nothing bad.” The girls, orphaned or unwanted, sang with passion, some with eyes closed, some maybe remembering their own personal experiences. They laughed and squealed at the bubbles we blew; like a big family of sisters, the atmosphere was harmonious and happy.
Thanks to the i-india shelter home, children now have the safe and happy childhood that was previously denied to them. They appear acutely aware and appreciative of this. We had so much fun, despite the language limitations.
Currently, i-india has 200 children in its care; and another home is about to open in Jhag, funded by Street Child Project Singapore. Money raised from “Ponzi for a Purpose” in Singapore will help to pay the running costs of the home. It will enable an additional 54 girls to be taken in from the streets.
Umeesh, i-india’s counsellor and social worker, has been with the organisation for 18 years. He gratefully acknowledged our collective efforts and expressed hope that one day i-india would have 500 shelter-home children – he believes they can manage this.
Later we visited the Gudri women’s community, waiting in bright saris under a tree and ready to show us the beautiful rugs they had made. These women hope to achieve self-sufficiency through selling their gudris in the market place – it’s a project funded by Singapore donor efforts.
Meanwhile, their children sat in a colourful mud brick building listening to i-india school lessons, beautifully hopeful and happy, despite living in tents and wearing the only clothes they own. After class they finished with an interactive song. The i-india’s School on Wheels buses reach out to over 600 children every day, providing a hot meal at the end of each lesson. It may seem that these children have very little, but compared to the abandoned millions of street children in India, they have it all. This is a country grappling with so much; it’s no surprise that every visitor leaves with overwhelming emotions.
Founded in 1993, i-india is an NGO based in Jaipur; initially there were three children; now, over 3,000 children are being helped in some way by the many i-india projects. Our support through Street Child Project and i-india Project Australia is directly making a tangible difference for many marginalised children. Through collective efforts, in an environment of trust with transparency, much can be achieved.