Slumgirl diaries

Trip Start Nov 20, 2012
Trip End Dec 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
Les Aravis Combloux
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of India  , Mahārāshtra,
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bombay, now Mumbai, a hot sweaty mix of swanky millionaires, angrily honking taxi drivers, giant balloon sellers and millions of poor low caste Mumbaikars. Twelve and a half million inhabitants call this City their home and and an astonishing 55% of Mumbai's residents can be found in the slum areas under extremely poor and difficult living conditions. This city is India's financial powerhouse, fashion hub and nightlife flagship. It is the ultimate expression of India's incredible diversity and dramatic contrasts.

Arriving on a hot afternoon to a hotel where I had made reservations, only to learn that my room had been given away to "someone with a similar name to mine" followed by the managers intense headroll. Luckily I found a fabulous hotel with a real bed and hot shower! This came as such a welcoming surprise. To take a hot shower and sleep on a mattress for the first time in a month was divine. Located just around the corner from the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Mumbai's most famous landmark; the Gateway of India, I am in the thick of it all.

The city is an island that is connected by several bridges. Mumbaikars spend a lot of time lingering on the public promenade that stretches for several kilometers around the city where one can see the sun set and rise over the Arabian sea. Big trees line the roads around Colaba (the most southern tip of Mumbai) where old Victorian buildings are inhabited by residents, shops, countless paan sellers and chai wallahs. The Gateway of India is the place to people watch as thousands of people come to this monument every day. The square surrounding the monument is filled with giant balloon sellers, cotton candy, photographers, doves, tourists and locals alike. Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhists. This is the melting pot of the city. Lined with some of the most exclusive clothing shops and expensive restaurants, this place draws the rich and famous. I almost choke as I get my bill at the Indigo, which lands on over Rs1000! That is about $18 and the most I have ever paid for a meal since I got to India. And for all of you who have read or are reading "Shantaram" by  Gregory David Roberts- yes I did go to Leopold's for a beer. So cool!!!

About two months ago I met Tara Roberts, the founder of GirlTank. We clicked and when she heard I was heading to India she mentioned that she needed pictures of the amazing Changemaker Aarti Naik, that lives and teaches in the slums of Mumbai. Needless to say I was all game!

An hour and a half taxi ride from Colaba, I arrive in the area of Munlund. Aarti greets me and we head into her home in the slums. Laundry and buckets are lining the dark and narrow alleyways. Curious faces peers out from several windows and doors. Half naked kids are running around, playing in the gutter. Aarti's family home is a windowless 5x5m (15x15 feet) room that serves as a livingroom/bedroom/kitchen. At the moment she and her parents are sharing the space as her brother and sister now are moved out. A ladder takes you upstairs to an even smaller space where Aarti teaches her students. We chat and have some homemade lunch on the floor, everyone laughing as I too try to eat with my hands, the Indian way. I am secretly hoping that my stomach will accept the food like a native. I mean, I have managed to stay healthy this far!

This is Aarti's story;
four years ago the now 24 year old, was a drop-out from high school. There was no guidance in the state-school system (where classes often exceed over 100+ students) and Aarti failed her final exam. With little to no support from her parents, as girls education is very low on the priority list in most poor families in India, Aarti was banned from more studies and she ended up sitting in  her home, making satin flowers earning Rs9 a day (17cents). Saving up over a few years, one rupee at the time, Aarti had saved up Rs 4000, enough to re-take her final examination. This time she passed with flying colors.

After much begging and convincing, her parents finally agreed on Aarti going back to school for an education. Based on her experience, Aarti felt like she wanted to help the local slumgirls with their studies. She started "SAKHI For Girls Education" (Sakhi means female friend who inspire and support) where young girls learn reading, writing, speaking and some basic math. In a country where poverty and the caste system is widely spread, the only way to climb the social ladder is trough education. -"Education gives girls and women independence says Aarti, and that is the most important thing"

Today Aarti is teaching 28 slumgirls in her upstairs "class room" and she is pursuing a BA in psychology trough a correspondence course. Her dream is to start a "Girls learning Center" in every slum community where SAKHI will build the educational capacity of slum girls.

An incredibly busy young woman with a heart of gold. The community calls her the slum whisperer and that suits her just fine :)

Peace, Love and Slumgirl Power!
Yours truly

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