Monday, 25 February 2013

Reality Gives Ambassadors...Jake proves that kids can change the world!

Jake is an 11 year old boy living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In December of 2012, Jake and his family travelled through India and had the opportunity to do the Dharavi Slum Tour with Reality Tours and Travel in Mumbai. It was an incredible experience, one which had a big impact on Jake.

It was also one that prompted him to want to do something to help those living in Dharavi.  So, when planning his 11th birthday party in February 2013, Jake asked his friends not to bring him a present but to instead bring a donation towards Reality Gives.  He told his friends about the tour he had taken and the work being done by Reality Gives so that they would understand what he was trying to do. Eventually he had raised CAD 180!

This is Jake's way of trying to make a difference.  He has been giving up his birthday presents in favour of collecting donations for a charity since his 8th birthday, supporting the Terry Fox Run, The Red Cross Society, and now Reality Gives.  Jake would love to see other kids do the same can change the world!

Reality Gives is very grateful for Jake's support and hopes more kids and grown-ups will follow his way of creating a change. If you want to be a Reality Gives ambassador, find out more here: or get in touch directly: 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Reality Gives connections...Dharavi Diaries helps women who were affected by massive fire

At 3am on January, the 22nd the residents of Naya Nagar, the pipeline area close to Sion-Link Road in Dharavi noticed a fire which soon became massive and burnt more than 25 houses down. Read more here.

Dharavi Diaries is a new innovative project that works in this area and is especially concerned of the women issues. They have started with a short movie about the evictions of the families who live at the pipelines but soon created a much bigger vision - to create a sustainable livelihood program so that the women can rise out of poverty by themselves by creating well-designed and desirable products out of recycled materials. It was started by the film student Nawneet who will document the whole process to communicate the needs of the community to the world.

We recently got in touch with Dharavi Diaries to source products made by the women. When the fire burnt down the houses and thereby all the work materials of the women involved in the project Reality Gives bought four sewing machines for Rs 27,000 so that the women can go back to normal life as soon as possible. Shabnam Sheikh and Hameda Sheikh received two of them.
Shabnam after the fire.

Shabnam is a widow in her late thirties who lost most of her household in the fire. She could only take out her eight children who were in deep sleep at that wee hours. She has been working as house maid in the nearby neighborhood and earning a living. Two of her elder sons work in the recycling workshop and help in the livlihood. Her youngest daughter, Kashish, only goes to the school at this time. Dharavi Diaries gave Shabnam money to buy Kashish her school bag, school dress, books and shoes which were burnt that unfortunate morning. 

Hameda in the rest of her household.

Also Hameda is a widow of 42 years. She lost most of household items like bed, few utensils, sewing machine in the fire. She could save some of the cloth items and few utensils too. She has been making a living by giving home tuition of Urdu language in the neighborhood. She has got one daughter and two sons. She is 26 years old and married. Two of her sons have drug abuse problem. She is having problem to deal with them single handedly. Dharavi Diaries started a dialogue with them.

Shabnam joined the workshop at first to learn basic design skills and make laptop bags, travel pouch, tablet cover, wallet and purse etc from recycle material. Later Shabnam brought Hameda to the workshop. They want to make more of these products and increase their income. This will help them to bring their kids back to school and also provide hygienic food.

Dharavi Diaries have been in touch with them constantly to help come in terms with this difficult situation. They provided food to them for few days before the food was distributed by individuals and agencies.
The future plan with these participants is to look for orders for products they are making and sell them. This will build their confidence and increase their income. Thus it will help them to send their kids to school and give nutritious food too. Dharavi Diaries also plans to do a Product Design Lab in Dharavi where the product designer from around the world can come and exchange ideas with the women and workers in Dharavi.

The houses of these women still lack a proper structure and they are missing a lot of household materials. Get in touch if you would like to help, either by providing items for their homes or by connecting them to product designers and product distributors so that they get more orders in soon.

Find Dharavi Diaries also on facebook: 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Reality Gives Stories...YEP Student Yogeshwar travels the world

Yogeshwar is a former student of Reality Gives’ Youth Empowerment Program. When I first met him in June 2012, he told me a little about his background - find the blog post about it here. He had passed his HSC in Commerce and went to work at Matunga Labour Camp. He worked as a garment maker for three years and then went to work as an airport security guard. He had wanted to study further, but time away from education meant he had lost his motivation. Instead, had an ambition to remain in the security field, but to work abroad. For this, he knew he would need to improve his English, and this is why he had enrolled in the Youth Empowerment Program

His determination to move forward in life was very clear. During my time as a volunteer with Reality Gives, Yogeshwar stood out as an exceptionally motivated student. He requested additional conversation classes and worked hard to maintain long conversations in English.

His hard work soon paid off. Soon after I left Dharavi, I received an excited email from Yogeshwar letting me know he was off to the USA. He had been selected to work as a security officer for the cruise company Carnival Cruise Lines. He had signed up for a six-month contract and left almost immediately!

Now, both of us are back in Dharavi, and I have been finding out about Yogeshwar’s experiences.

Yogesh was working on vast cruise ships with a capacity of 4000 guests and an additional 1200-1400 crew members. His duties included checking passenger identities as they boarded the ship, screening baggage, providing security at private functions and drawing up incident reports so that any issues could be dealt with appropriately.

Working conditions were tough. He worked long night shifts, answered to strict bosses and had very little time to explore the exotic locations, relax or keep in touch with friends and family.

However, there were some real benefits to his experience. Yogesh has made many friends. His colleagues were mainly from India and the Philippines, but he got to know people from all over the world.

Yogesh has had the chance to travel from LA to Mexico via Hawaii and Honolulu, and from Miami to the Caribbean and back. He describes the beautiful weather and the way this job has opened his eyes to far flung parts of the world.

And, most of all, he has had a chance to speak English with people from all over the world. He now speaks confidently, fluently and accurately. Although Yogesh says he still has trouble understanding some accents, the British accent included, he feels much more comfortable conversing in English.

He is now back in Dharavi for a two month holiday. He’s waiting to hear from the agency about his next departure date.

Within two days of his return, Yogesh gave current students of the Youth Empowerment Program a presentation about his work on the cruise ships, including a slideshow. The other students were clearly very engaged and interested in what Yogesh has to say, asking many, many questions about his feelings and experiences.

Thank you Yogesh – you have helped to inspire other students and give them an insight into employment opportunities beyond the Youth Empowerment Program. We all wish you the best of luck with your future career. 

This article was written by the volunteer Laura who works very closely with the YEP students to research for her English Language Learning Program for mobile devices. Read her last blog post about it here.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Reality Gives Connection Project...Foundation for Mother and Child Health

Reality Gives works very closely with the Foundation for Mother & Child Health (FMCH) to help people in the  Dharavi community live healthier lives.  We visited the FMCH office where their admirably lofty vision statement hangs proudly on the wall as a constant reminder of the work to be done:  “We dream of a world where the potential of each child is not limited by poor early health or malnutrition.” 

There is already a hospital in Dharavi, so direct patient care isn’t a primary need.  However, there is a void in education surrounding preventative health measures, particularly in the area of nutrition. As Piya Mukherjee, Executive Director of FMCH, and Dr. Rupal Dalal, a physician who donates her time and expertise both explained, malnourishment is often due to a lack of knowledge rather than a shortage of food or money. 

The nutrition counseling sessions just moved to a new space below the Reality Gives community center which provides much more child-friendly space and can accomodate more mothers.  For the past three months, FMCH has offered weekly two-and-a-half hour sessions every Saturday.  The information given includes discussing proper breastfeeding, adequate weaning foods, dispelling myths surrounding certain foods, the dangers of anemia, and the long-term consequences of severe malnutrition like growth stunting and lower IQs.  They couple nutritional talks with cooking demonstrations and help tackle questions mothers have about picky/fussy eaters.

FMCH is showing that eating nutritiously doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Often the advice is simple, like adding soy, millet, or curry leaves to chapattis.  They also take a holistic approach, explaining how healthy eating benefits every member of the family.

The next step will be to train Reality Gives staff on FMCH’s basic nutrition training module so they’ll eventually be able to implement it directly in their outreach.

The potential is definitely there for this initiative to reach more people, and parents in Dharavi want more guidance.  When armed with the new information about their role in affecting their families’ health, they feel a sense of control and accountability.  Mothers are sharing their knowledge to others by word of mouth as they see how simple interventions can reap big rewards.

You can donate towards this project here.

This article was written by the volunteers Trevor and Charmayne. Read their recent article about a former YEP student here.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Reality Gives Stories...YEP student Kaveri graduated from hotel management training

Sonam and Kaveri on their graduation day - the two sisters are in second row the 6th and 7th person from the right.
Sonam and Kaveri Shinde are sisters who live not far from the Reality Gives Community Center with their parents and two brothers. Kaveri participated in the Youth Empowerment Program last year, receiving English Language Support, computer training, and soft skills instruction. When someone from Youth Career Initiative came to recruit for a 6-month hotel management internship, they excitedly interviewed knowing it would be good for their future. Upon being selected, they were placed in the prestigious JW Marriot located in the western suburbs of Mumbai. 

While there, they were introduced to the logistics of running a hotel – especially a large one catering to a number of international guests. The Marriot has 5 floors and 355 rooms, along with a gym, pool, and restaurant with various food options available (Italian, Chinese, and even a 24-hour cafĂ©). The young women would report for work one day a week and shadow a shift for 9-10 hours. They quickly learned that Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days in the industry. From cleaning and housekeeping to service work and reception, they experienced a wide-range of duties and responsibilities – even making cakes while helping in the kitchen! They both agree that their favorite aspect of the hotel business is guest relations because everyone was nice and it was interesting interacting with people from all over the world. When asked their least favorite part of the program they don’t even miss a beat: “Dishes.”

Along the way, they received feedback and evaluation from supervisors on what they did well and areas of improvement. Both were told that expanding their English language skills will help them make progress in the area of customer service.

The girls smile at each other and their eyes twinkle in thinking of their best moment. They definitely think a highlight was getting to meet singer Anu Malik.

They proudly show off their certificates that recognize their successful completion of the program in December. Their parents are happy also. Sonam would love to work with computers (she would like to take a private computer class to advance her skills first) and Kaveri is interested in continuing to work at a hotel, though both assert that they would take “any job.” They believe their internship experience helped them with job preparation and will recommend it to others in Dharavi if the opportunity presents itself next year. In the meantime, they must now delve into the chaotic job search process – looking for jobs, applying, waiting, and hoping.

This article was written by the volunteers Trevor and Charmayne. Read their recent article about the ELS program here.