Monthly Archives: April 2018

An Experience to Cherish for Life

By Pragya Tripathi

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“The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein

The power in these words seem truer after my four weeks journey with SAATH. It was life changing experience to meet those people about whom you keep hearing from social media and NEWS channels. And what was more overwhelming was that people who came out of those situations are now part of the program and helping others.

I remember my first day at Saath, as it was International Women’s Day and there was a celebration for all the women who are part of Saath as beneficiary. The celebration had many competitions and food, but one competition really stood out for me. It was drawing competition the theme for which was ‘I am beautiful because….’ and women’s rights. It was good to see the thinking of all the ladies and girls and how much they were aware about. On the second day I visited various centers and cooperatives run by Saath and was so happy to see such humble people. The people who work on the ground were so optimist, full of life and wanted to make difference in the lives of the people. Saath takes pride in having more number of female workers and you could see in the field. In every activity you could find them, running center, cooperatives, training the students, mobilizing the communities almost everywhere. And every woman I spoke to had only one reason to work “I don’t want to sit at home, Didi.” They wanted to bring change in their life or in the lives of their daughters.

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I then started working on three tasks of my project. My first task brought me in touch with the students and trainers of the Beauty and Wellness Course. I interviewed 18 women/girls and each story had the only lesson, you need to have courage and heart to fight your own battles. A ray of hope was shown to them by Saath and they used it to transform their lives. I developed a video communication based on the life story of the four trainers who are real inspiration for these students.  My second task was more challenging as it was on interviewing and understanding the lives of the children enrolled in the Child Friendly Spaces program run by Saath. This initiative is for the children of migrant workers who cannot be enrolled in the school because of migration, unawareness and lack of documentation. Saath helps these students by starting an informal classroom at the construction site itself to make these students reach basic level, help the parents in documentation and get the students enrolled in the government-run schools. The space is not just for learning but also provides meals and shelter while the parents are working at the site. Lives of thousands of children is being impacted through this initiative. Children who had dreams of becoming officer, doctor, engineer can now see means of fulfilling it. One among such child was Anwar, whose life I shadowed and captured in a short video. My third task was to capture all the Saath programs in a short video. The orientation on the first two days about all the programs run by SAATH helped me to execute this task also successfully. The main challenge was that people were doing great work on the ground and I wanted to capture it flawlessly.

I would especially like to thank my mentor Vama Ma’am for her constant guidance and support and helping me identify correct methodologies to go about completing the tasks. She also helped in my personal learning and my project would have been incomplete without her valuable advice. She gave me an experience of how to work as a marketer – capture emotions and feeling of people and to develop communications based on it. I would also like to thank Priti Ma’am, master trainer of Beauty and Wellness course, who introduced me to various trainers and students and I shadowed her for two days to various centers in Ahmedabad. She herself is a story of inspiration and is also the inspiration behind the video of my first task.  I am also thankful to Kunal Sir and Nishant Sir for giving me insight on beauty and wellness course and Zuber Sir and Kamini Ma’am for their support in helping me to cover the CFS program. Getting correct statistics in my videos would have been impossible without support of Sharda Ma’am and Priyanka Ma’am and I am thankful to them. I would also like to thank Shikha and Pankaj for the orientation and constant support for all administration work. Everyone was so simple and humble and full of energy for the work they do.

I am glad that I got an opportunity to work with Saath for my DoCC (Development of Corporate Citizenship) project. Saath (in Hindi and Gujrati means ‘together, co-operation, a collective or support’) is truly living upto its name by extending its support to the marginalized section of the society in all the impact areas required. I would be more than willing to extend any kind of support to Saath even after my project stint and the experiences which I gained here will be with me as life lessons.

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Slum Does Not Equal Homeless

 by Loren Breen

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DukeEngage-Ahmedabad 2017

After 15 years in the United States education system, I thought I had at least a general understanding of life in other countries. I still remember sitting in my AP Human Geography class during freshman year of high school; I was learning so much about the way people live. Of course, we discussed India in depth in regards to migration, urbanization, population growth rate, health care, etc. I foolishly assumed that my foundational knowledge of urban slums in India was decent since my exposure went beyond the depictions in Slum Dog Millionaire.

Even after being in Ahmedabad for just over a week, I can wholeheartedly say I was totally wrong. I perceived slums as a dangerous place to live and pitied these people because I assumed they would rather live anywhere else; I viewed slum dwellers as destitute and homeless. I thought I was coming to Ahmedabad to do charity work. Through my Western, American, and privileged lens, I thought slum dwellers needed welfare because they couldn’t support themselves. I am so grateful the staff at Saath Charitable Trust took the time to educate me and introduce me to their community partners, the inspiring people that reside in slum pockets of Ahmedabad.

Slum does not equal homeless. Anywhere from 40-60% of Ahmedabad’s population lives in a slum community at a given time. The people in the slums pay rent for their homes, have jobs, and want to improve their communities. Mr. Rajendra Joshi, the founder of Saath, spoke to all the DukeEngage India-Ahmedabad program on Friday, June 23rd, and this was a key point he addressed. Mr. Joshi said that Saath began as a youth group playing volleyball in one slum here in Ahmedabad. After volleyball, he would talk to the young people and asked them what they wanted to see changed about their communities. That’s when the Integrated Slum Development project was born. These young people said that the biggest issues their community faced was lack of infrastructure. Because slum fall into the gray area of the informal housing sector, there is no precedent on how municipal governments can provide infrastructure, or even if it was possible. When asked how Saath could help change that, these young people went out into their community, going door to door, to ask people if they would be willing to pay for a proper plumbing system. Almost unanimously the residents of the slum agreed that plumbing was necessary and they were not only willing, but capable to contribute financially.

Saath helped sponsor a pilot program for low cost plumbing in this slum pocket. It would cost 6,000 Rupees ($93) for each household to receive running water and plumbing. Saath facilitated an agreement between the slum community, the municipal government, and a corporate donor so that the cost would be divided equally amongst the three. Each household would pay 2,000 Rupees ($31) and the other 4,000 Rupees would come from the municipal government and local corporate donor. Because of this community effort, Saath assisted in getting approximately 700 households and 49 slum pockets the infrastructure they needed.

If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will only eat for a lifetime if he lives near a body of water with a lot of fish and can afford the market rate of fishing poles and bait. If you ask a young person what they would like to change in their community, and offer guidance, they will make it happen.

Saath didn’t stop there, they continued this approach of community needs based assessments to facilitate affordable electrical connections in over 5,000 households. After the initial 1,200 home pilot, there was 100% compliance with paying the monthly bill and the electrical company permanently lowered the initial connection cost to 5,000 Rupees from the original 10,000 Rupees. Community contribution has been a part of Saath’s model from the beginning. The financial contribution empowers the slum dwellers to improve their community because they finally gain a sense of ownership and accountability.

Today Saath has grown into a full-fledged NGO that employs 300 people and continues to empower the entire community of Ahmedabad. When I asked Mr. Joshi what he thinks is the best approach to an eventual goal of eliminating slum pockets in Ahmedabad his opinion was insightful and unique; he said he does not agree with the philosophy that we should attempt to shift all of the people out of the slums at once and raze this communities. He believes that the most sustainable approach is to slowly develop the slums and help these communities gain access to the resources from which they have been systematically excluded. Instead of trickle down, Saath subscribes to the bottom up mentality with an emphasis on market-based strategies for addressing the needs of urban and rural populations.

Saath has been working on this inclusive development approach since 1989; 27 years later with over 40 active and completed projects, Saath aids in almost all aspects of community development. Everything this organization does stems from its original mission, from those chats after volleyball games: community needs assessments. Saath is the Hindi term for together, society, and friendship.

Slum does not equal homeless. Slum does not equal people looking for a loop-hole and a way out of civic contribution. Slum does not equal a problem that needs solving. Slum equals a step in the right direction towards ending homelessness. Slum equals a motivated community that is happy and thankful for what they have. Slum equals parents migrating for work so they can save for their child’s education. Slum equals affordable housing for rural farmers and their families with dreams of living in the urban community. Slum equals the happiest and most grateful children I have had the honor of meeting.

Charitable Trust

by Gina Kovalik

As of today, we are a whopping 2 weeks in and already 1/3 through our shortened program. Through the ups and downs of attaining our visas, I feel as if I have just now accepted the reality that we are in Ahmedabad, India.

With this realization of our location, I have also begun to reflect upon our work so far with our partner organization. Although I had poured through their website when I was deciding on the program and after I was accepted, I had no idea the truly thoughtful nature in which SAATH works to develop slum communities. I have come to the conclusion that much of the organization’s function is in its name: SAATH Charitable Trust.

The “SAATH charitable” part of the name is fairly self-explanatory. As an NGO, they seek to give to the community without any monetary incentive. The “trust” part of their title is more intriguing. Although the term “trust” is used in more of a legal sense to describe the type of NGO we are working at, I am convinced that it also perfectly describes their attitude toward their work. The organization is centered around a mutual trust between the organization and the community, and that has clearly lead to the great success since their founding in 1989.

From the very beginning, the organization was founded out of the needs of the community. During one of our speaker events with SAATH founder Rajendra Joshi, he claimed that for the first few months, all he did for his organization was play volleyball. Through playing this game and building relationships with local slum residents, the first visionaries of SAATH began to diagnose the concerns and thoughts of the youth, around which they designed their organization. Hand in hand with this original youth group, SAATH facilitated a way for those living in the slums to connect with both government and corporate donors to improve sanitation, which was a major concern at that time.

This system of mutual trust has continued until today. SAATH listens to the community, regularly going from door to door to hear thoughts and concerns of those living in the slums. By doing so, SAATH shows a respect for the humanity of such marginalized members of society. And in return, community members become willing to accept SAATH’s help in job skills, financial training, or community networking.

One of the biggest questions I had coming into my specific DukeEngage project was on how I would be empowering women in a society that maintains what we consider traditional, patriarchal values. Working against what was common culture did not seem like a sustainable way to help a community. Instead, I can see now how SAATH’s network of trust enables community members to understand the importance of independence for all women. Instead of undermining values, SAATH field officers converse with families, sharing stories of women who were able to better provide for their families thanks to job and life skills training.

As such, I found during my one lesson so far that much of the hard work of my teaching here has been done for me. The women and girls that come into the livelihood centers are self-motivated and ready to improve their own situations as they have the support of their families. They are the ones improving their own economic and social situation. My role is simply to help facilitate that process.

SAATH’s method has given me a new outlook on service. To make a real difference, NGOs cannot come into a community offering services that at a glance seem helpful. To create a sustainable difference takes months of community cooperation. But through honest conversations and perhaps a cup of masala chai, a trust is built that can potentially lead to a better quality of life for those served.