Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Reality Tours and Travel News...Chris in Manila

Chris at a rugby match in Manila, Philippines 

When I told people that I was leaving Mumbai, they assumed that one of the reasons was to escape the chaos and pollution. When I said that I was going to Manila, Philippines, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is a phrase that was used more than once. 

Mumbai was my home. A place that despite all its problems and inconveniences has an addictive energy about it. A place thriving with people making a difference and getting sh#t done. I will miss that as well as the wonderful people that I met, from house maid to employees to expats.

But it was time to leave, both personally and professionally. It is a great sense of pride to see both Reality Tours and Reality Gives where they are today, but they both need people with more specialised skills to take us to that next level, and with both Steph and Summer, the two arms of the organisation are in safe hands. I will still be involved in an advisory capacity, as Chairman.

I’m very excited to be in Manila, a city at first glance not a million miles away from Bangkok with its big shopping malls and very friendly people. Scratch below the surface however and you will see pretty big problems and social inequality, not too dissimilar to Mumbai. I’m helping an NGO, called San Martin de Porres, with a slum tour which they first set up in 2011 (http://www.smokeymountaintours.blogspot.com), and which runs in the Smokey Mountain area of Tondo, where the majority of Manila’s slums are.

I will be helping with everything related to the tour- the information, routes, guide training, marketing and social media, website- as well as putting in quality control systems. I’m enjoying working again with a small team and I’m really excited to be able to use learnings from Mumbai to benefit San Martin and the community. We are also following the advice of the Responsibility Tourism panel- when we won the Awards last November, they told us that we should try and replicate our model elsewhere in the World.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Reality Gives Volunteers...Carla supports the Art Program

Do you all remember the Rickshaw Race Team from the Netherlands which came to visit us and our connection projects in January? Here a small reminder: www.realitygives.blogspot.in/2013/01/reality-gives-ambassadorsthe-rickshaw.html

Carla was one of the team members and she kept especially the art program well in her memory. After finishing the rickshaw race challenge she decided to stay longer in India to travel around. Two months later she reached Mumbai again, this time to volunteer with Reality Gives for ten days.

Her first task was to help out with the women's day treat. Dermalogica sent five masseurs to give free hand massages to our female Youth Empowerment and English Language Support Program teachers. Carla told us that one teacher asked her why they would need that, what it would be good for. Carla laughed and explained her it would be to relax her muscles and angles. She realised that these women never received such a treat and get very less chances to relax from their daily struggles. After the teachers left Carla bumped into a crowd of women demonstrating for their rights and spontaneously joined them. She loved that women stand up for their rights in such a male dominated country. 

After this first day Carla mostly worked with the Bombay Underground art program in Dharavi and beyond. She joined Himanshu, the founder and art teacher of the program while he went to the Muktangan schools and other art programs all over the town to teach kids painting, drawing and photography. She also helped him with his book sales on the street on the weekends.

Carla told us that she especially observed differences between the schools: "Where the students were more privileged and the school was better equipped the children would also pay more attention and concentrate on the subject. In other schools kids were very loud, impolite and difficult to handle. But it became a challenge for me to get them focused on one thing. So I created Witte Tonie!"

Witte Tonie means "I don't know" in dutch and is a very simple drawing of drawing of a male being. Carla started to ask the kids how they like Witte Tonie, how is family looks like and where he lives and suddenly there were lots of new drawings of that small illustration. Some of them even said: "I love Witte Tonie, he is my best friend". That was Carla's best experience of the ten days!

Another great experience she kept in good memory was when one of the students invited her and Himanshu for tea to her home. She saw how a slum family typically lives and experienced their great hospitality. 

"During my short time with Reality Gives I realised one very important thing: if you forget about the living conditions, the bad schools, the missing sanitation and the garbage, these people's and kids' lives isn't so different to ours. They enjoy entertainment, they enjoy laughing, painting and playing. We are all the same and we shouldn't treat these communities different than us."

The photos are all taken by Carla. Find more on Facebook.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Reality Gives Volunteers...Laura is back!

Laura approached Reality Gives to research for the development of a Mobile English Learning program for underprivileged communities. After coming for one month last year already (see blog post here) she started a new period of research with the current YEP batch by beginning of January. At the moment she is back in UK but will come back to Mumbai in a few weeks to finish this research period. In the following article about her experience she gives a good insight into the opportunities Dharavi can offer for social development experiments: 

After a productive exploratory month with Reality Gives’ Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) last June, I came back to Dharavi to continue my research into the use of mobile phones to support English language learning. 

The aim of the project is to provide current students of YEP with a resource on their mobile phones that they can use to reinforce and extend the language skills they learn in the classroom. The YEP’s classroom curriculum is primarily designed to support speaking skills, essential for students who wish to access employment or continue on to further education. However, many students also struggle with spelling, grammar, reading and listening, and need extra support to improve their pronunciation. Using native features of the mobile phone such as audio player, microphone and text entry via a system developed by Anspear Ltd (www.anspear.com), I have put together an interactive resource for the students to trial over the next few months.

So far, I have been making sure all students have access to the learning resource. The mobile landscape in Dharavi has changed a great deal in six months. There has been a rapid decline in the availability of Nokia and Blackberry handsets. Mobile store owners remark tell me that the instability of Nokia and Blackberry companies means they can’t be sure of their margins on each device - a reminder of how closely Dharavi is connected to the global marketplace. Instead, there has been a huge influx of ‘China phone’ copies. New, cheaper Android devices from brands like Micromax and Lava are growing in popularity and available for as little as Rs. 3000. I couldn’t find an Android device in Dharavi for less than Rs. 6000 last time I was here.
Sure enough, a few of the students already possessed Android smartphones. I installed the Android version of the learning resource on one of these devices and, before I knew it, the software had been shared across the classroom using Bluetooth. Easy. 

I have also worked with Anspear to produce a Java version of the learning resource, which can be loaded onto micro SD cards and installed on a range of feature phones. Although this has not been 100% compatible with all of the students’ phones, I have been able to successfully load the program directly onto some students’ handsets. Where students do not have their own mobiles, or where the program has not been compatible, I have provided them with handsets for the duration of the YEP (until the end of April). 

Now all 28 students are using the mobile learning resources. The software works independently of any network connection, so there is no associated charge to the students, and they can use the resources as they choose. I spend my time observing their use of the software, logging any reported problems and working out ways to make sure these problems don’t happen again. It’s great to see that the English language teachers are able to refer students to particular activities on the phones to reinforce what they’ve been learning in the classroom. 

In the next few weeks, I will be collecting data from the students’ phones that will tell me when and how the students have been using the mobile resources, and how successfully they are completing the various activities. I will also be seeking student feedback on how they feel the resources can be improved. 

I will use this feedback to make changes to the resources, in time to introduce them to the next YEP student batches. With these next batches, I hope to have ironed out some of the technical problems, and pass on some of the technical support capacity to the teachers. In this way, I hope to improve the chances that this mobile resource can be a sustainable source of support for students in Dharavi. 

This research is being conducted in partnership with Reality Gives, with Anspear Ltd. (www.anspear.com) and as part of a doctoral research program at the University of Oxford’s Department of Education. I am very grateful for the support of Anspear, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Kellogg College Centre for Research into Assistive Learning Technologies.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Reality Tours and Travel...US high school students on a world leadership trip to India

For the second time already (read blog article about last year's visit) Reality Tours and Travel and World Leadership School organised a one week Dharavi & village social service week for students of the Berkeley Caroll School in New York. Thirteen students between 15 and 17 joined the trip to learn about social issues and opportunities and intercultural exchange in India.

On the first day the students and three teachers went for sightseeing, shopping and a Bollywood movie. On Monday Krishna brought them to Dharavi where they did a tour through the residential and industrial area before attending learning sessions of the Youth Empowerment Program. The American students helped the local kids learning excel and did some English conversation with them. Afterwards all had a traditional Indian Thali lunch together.
The students from US help the YEP
students learn excel

On Day 3 they travelled by boat, bus and rickshaw to the village Chinchoti close to Alibaugh,  70km south of Mumbai. After meeting their home stay families and first attempts to communicate and overcome the language barrier the work on the construction site began.

Students learn the importance of teamwork
on the construction site

The aim is to build steps to the water and a concrete wall so that the village women can safely wash their clothes. As soon as this is done they will paint the library room which was build by the highschool students last year. 

On the construction site
Day 4 was almost entirely spent on the work site. In the evening the students went to the close Adivasi (tribal) village to spend some time with the kids. The living conditions in this village are worse than in usual Indian village due to lack of clean water, sanitation, education and livelihood options. The students played some games and draw pictures with the kids. Afterwards they distributed paint-in books, bananas and chocolate. It was a very exciting and fun experience.

Eleanor draws with the tribal kids

Group picture with the Adivasis

On Day 5 the students had to get up at 5.30am for a six kilometres hike up the hill behind the village. On top the students got some solo time to enjoy the fantastic view and reflect their experiences. After breakfast the students went to the work site again.

Hike uphill from the village Chinchoti
A lot of activities follow in the next 36 hrs before the NY students have to go home again: a bull car race, the closing ceremony with the village dwellers, a day at the beach and a visit to the fort. On Sunday they get some free time in Mumbai again before they depart home in the evening.

For the students it is a week full of firsts: first time working on a construction, first time being so far away from home, first time washing their own clothes, first time playing cricket or first time visiting a slum. "We all especially enjoy to interact with the village families. They are all so friendly and hospitable", says Emily from the senior grade of the high school.  

From left to right: Lucia, Emma,
Emily and Bobby from New York
Krishna and the rest of the team have a lot of fun with the students and we are happy to see the positive impact of the program. We hope to host more student groups like this in the future!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Reality Gives Stories...Women creating a change for our communities!

On International Women's Day we would like to introduce you to the strong and great women in our organisation who create a change for our communities. These are especially our great teachers form the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) and the English Language Support Program (ELS).

Last year in September we have already posted profiles on the ELS teachers, see here.

Today we would like to tell you more about Jyoti, Shabana, Sangeeta, Nazia and Lakshmi.

Jyoti, Soft Skills Teacher

Jyoti just finished her fourth batch with the YEP and is very happy with her task. 

She likes to be part of creating a change in the lives of the young students and the community. The mother of two girls did her master in Social Work and worked for other NGOs before but now for the first time as a full time teacher.  

She has to travel from very far north of Mumbai every day to get to the Community Centre but she thinks to work for Reality Gives is worth it. 

Shabana, Computer Teacher

Shabana graduated in the Youth Empowerment Program in January 2011 before she started a training to a teacher herself.

Just after one batch training she started as a computer teacher for the Youth Empowerment Program and the evening computer classes.  Since then she became much more open-mind and self-confident. Her English and presentation skills have become very good. 

She says she loves to teach and be together with young people from her neighborhood. She is very ambitious and wants to learn more in the IT-subject like web design and Java. 

Sangeeta, Soft Skills Teacher and Nutrition Program Assistant

Sangeeta participated in the Youth Empowerment Program in 2011. 

After she graduated she wanted to stay involved with Reality Gives and started a training at the Community Centre to become a soft skills teacher. She also helps out at the nutrition program at the Community Centre.

Since she works for Reality Gives, she says, she developed a lot: her English and presentation skills improved and she is less shy.

Sangeeta has a six years old son and lives on 90 feet Rd in Dharavi. 

Nazia, Library Teacher

Nazia is responsible for the library program of Reality Gives since August 2012. 

Every evening from 4.30 until 7pm (often longer) she helps kids and grown-ups to learn how to read and write and improve their English skills. 

Some of her students would like to participate in the YEP soon and need to learn basic English skills first. She also plays board games or paints with the kids. 

Nazia finished her 12th standard and says her favorite book is Harry Potter. 

Lakshmi, Head of Education for ELS Program

Lakshmi works for Reality Gives since 2010 when she started to train our teachers for our Kindergarten Program. After we have closed the Balwadi in 2011 she is responsible for the English Language Program and heads the ten teachers who work in the project.

Initially she was teaching education for young children at a college but as soon as her son was born she stayed home to be there for his personal development. When he reached an age of 12 years she started working for our partner organization Muktangan to also train teachers from underprivileged backgrounds.

She says she loves to work with kids, to listen to their questions, interact with them and see them to be eager to gain knowledge. She says: “Teaching is love. Kids are so easy to please and it’s so much fun to make them express themselves in our activities. It makes me happy when they learned important values in a playful way.”
About Reality Gives she loves that there is a flat hierarchy and she can work independent and creative. The ten female teachers she is working with are very keen on learning as well. She likes to get the chance to look at every child’s development in detail. Mujassum says about Lakshmi that “she is a role model for every teacher at Reality Gives.”

Friday, 1 March 2013

Reality Gives Connection Project...The CORP Vocational Training Centre

 CORP (Community Outreach Programme)is a society dedicated to “providing holistic development for women and children.”  They do this through several programs all over Mumbai. In Dharavi they run a daycare center for 120 disabled children, a girls’ orphanage/shelter home, and a vocational training centre. 

Reality Gives supports CORP by mobilising funds, sharing resources as well as raising awareness for their programs. In this endeavour we have connected CORP with the German consulate which funded around INR3 Lakh for new technical supplies and materials for the vocational training centre. Additionally we recruited students amongst our former Youth Empowerment Program for the training program. 

In the new group, there are 24 girls in the 4-month beautician program and 49 students in the tailoring class, which takes 6 months to complete.  Participants must be 16 years of age or older and are charged a small fee which helps ensure personal responsibility and improves attendance rates.  The interest in the tailoring course has been so great that they will soon split the youth into two sessions so that each girl will have ample time with the instructor and the machine (the class meets Monday through Saturday for two hours each day).  The center is currently in possession of 9 sewing machines but will soon buy 6 more - including 1 electric one - to meet the demand.

Girls come with little to no starting knowledge of the trade and are taken through the basics.  Upon leaving, they are tested on their ability to perform various techniques, including sewing an array of clothes like shirts, school uniforms, and even the intricately stitched saris.  Similarly, the beautification workshop culminates in the girls demonstrating how to prepare a bride for her wedding ceremony – an elaborate and detailed process if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to witness such a display!  The certificates they receive legitimize the work they put into the class.
Through these studies, young people learn technical skills that can help put them in a better position to acquire jobs that will allow them to earn an income.  CORP instructors help girls that have completed the course to network with garment companies and other outside people that come in looking for employees. 

CORP has seen success in previous cohorts of their technical training and have every reason to be optimistic about the future of the program.  Staff members shared that they know of several girls who are now able to own their own beauty shops or run a tailoring business in their homes.  More than this is the general sense of empowerment that girls receive with their new-found knowledge. 

Reality Gives also connected the centre to the NGO Srujna who will do an extensive trainings assessment to monitor the impact of the program in the next months.

Together, CORP and Reality Gives are collaborating to meet the needs of Dharavi youth.  Rachana, the centre's supervisor notes that the girls are coming out of their homes more frequently with the self-confidence that little by little changes the mentality of a community.