Saturday, 22 November 2014

Moustache Wallahs - The Significance of the Indian 'Mo'

As most of you will know by now, ‘Moustache Wallahs’ is in full force over here in the Reality Gives’ office with plenty of our boys sporting a mo. We've now begun some awareness session, talking 'scrotums, the prostate, impotence and depression' and are planning more sessions and clinics in the next few weeks.

Our moustaches have sparked many locals and tourists to share the history of moustaches in India, along with many interesting facts. We thought you might be interested in our findings…

Jitu, Jonny and Asim sporting some spectacular mo's

For generations of Indian men, a moustache has been a must. Throughout history, it was thought that the more fabulous your facial hair was, the more masculine you were. Before the eighteenth century only high caste men were allowed to keep moustaches. So, moustaches were seen as a symbol of power. However, it is now becoming ‘the thing’, especially in northern India, for men to be clean shaven. This could be due to the heavier Western influence in the north, the fact that few famous cricketers and Bollywood stars have moustaches or according to a recent AC Nielsen Survey, women prefer to hang-out, date and kiss a clean-shaven man, so potentially vanity is playing a part. We haven’t been given one definite answer. However, we are without doubt that the choice to have, or not to have a moustache is not taken lightly out here.

These facts only confirmed this feeling for us:

- An Indian will swear on his moustache to demonstrate his sincerity.
- To say someone’s “moustache is drooping” is to say he is sad.
- The world’s longest moustache measures 14 feet and belongs to an Indian 
man called Ram Singh Chauman. It is enough of an attraction to earn him a living. He charges modelling fees, he starred in Bollywood films and even had a cameo in the Bond film Otopussy,
- It is often a mandatory requirement for doormen in five star hotels to have moustaches.
- In some families, it is necessary for a man to wear a moustache until his father passes away. He will then have freedom to shave his moustache.
- Traditionally moustaches were seen as a sign of virility.
- Believe it or not but police in the northern Madhya Pradesh state get paid an allowance for growing a moustache. Police chief Mayank Jain came about the idea during a seminar when he noticed that the police officers who had moustaches were getting looks of respect from others in the room. So it made logical sense to benefit from this additional respect. Any police officer who grows a moustache will be paid an additional 30 rupees a month for their efforts. The only catch to the allowance is that the police chief has to inspect the moustaches himself.

Through sporting our mo's we're proud to become a part of this rich history and also raise awareness about men's health.

To show your support and help fund awareness sessions for the men of Dharavi, 'mo'nate now.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Reality Volunteers - Meet Annabelle

A few weeks ago we introduced you to Annabelle, a volunteer from England, who has joined the Reality Gives team here in Mumbai for the next few months. She is here to help develop the Youth Empowerment Program, focusing mainly on the Soft Skills aspect of it and will also be working at the Royal City School, running sessions to help empower and develop the teachers. Annabelle took a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to have a quick chat with us and tell us a little more about herself... 

Hi Annabelle, welcome to Mumbai! How are you finding It so far?

Hi! All good so far. A little hot, but great!

Annabelle poses for the obligatory 'first day facebook post' photo

Haha. So, what were you doing before you came here?

I have been working in education in the UK for the past few years. I initially started by working in a specialist autism school, where I realised my passion for teaching. I then went on to work in a school in a favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro; this opened my eyes to global education issues. After that I taught in a government school in London where I was working alongside some particularly inspiring practioners, so I learnt a lot fast. 

Amazing, so what made you want to come to India?

I visited India last year during one of my school holidays and I fell in love with the country. Not only did I love the food, but I was also struck by the welcoming and vibrant atmosphere. On top of this, I came to Dharavi and visited the Community Centre and was inspired by all the brilliant projects that you are doing here and was instantly eager to join in on the fun and hard work. I am so excited that I am now here and able to make these programs even more successful.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Reality Volunteers - "I have enjoyed every minute"

From late August to early October, Lydia Wummel, a Business Management student from Germany volunteered with us. Just before she boarded a flight we caught up with her and made one more request (she was gracious enough never to say 'no' to whatever we asked, one of the many qualities we loved her for), to tell us about her time here...

"It is hard to believe that my six weeks of volunteering with Reality Gives have come to an end. The time has gone by so fast and I have enjoyed every minute of it. 
But let’s start at the beginning…

This was not my first time here in India. Coming to Mumbai as a student in 2011 I immediately fell in love with the country and it's amazing people. That time it was clear - I will come back to Mumbai again! As I wanted to see other parts of the city I applied to be a volunteer with RGi and luckily I got the chance to work here for a period of six weeks.

My first day started with the Dharavi slum tour. Having seen Slumdog Millionaire and being asked question from Mumbaikars like “why would you go there?” I was really excited to see this part of the city. This tour broke my stereotypical depiction of a slum. I was surprised by all the self-sustainable factories, safety and hospitality of the people there.

Maggie and Lydia work on the volunteer program (l-r)

So, I was ready to start my volunteering experience in Dharavi. On my first day I met the entire team of RGi and Reality Tours & Travel and welcomed with a nice lunch at an Indian restaurant nearby. After introductions and visits to our different projects and partners I was ready to start my project work with Maggie, another lovely volunteer from Italy who joined in my second week.

Maggie and I were responsible for shaping the volunteer and ambassador programs of Reality Gives and we really enjoyed our work. Besides this we got hands on practical experience while giving English classes to staff members, preparing a presentation about our country to teachers and assisting the girl’s football program, a unique program in Dharavi. Throughout the English conversation classes Banu, Sangeeta and Ravi taught us a lot about Indian traditions and festival. We were lucky to be here during the Ganpati Festival and got all information about it from our students. India has amazing and unique festivals!

Youths from Dharavi perform their dances for the teachers at Royal City School - a highligh of Lydia's time here

One of our highlights was the organisation of a dance performance with students from our Young Empowerment program. We were amazed by their dance skills and the performances they prepared for teachers day at the Royal City School. On Teacher’s day we got the chance to be judges for several things the teachers had prepared themselves. We tasted yummy food, saw amazing posters and draws, got Mehndi and saw beautiful Rangolis. A really eventful and memorable day!

Besides volunteering, Mumbai never gets boring! Every time we thought we understood the city we would find something new and start all over again! Chai walas, colours, festivals, food, smells, smiling people. This will not be my last time in India!

I also want to take the chance hereby to thank all the fantastic colleagues from RGi, RT&T, Royal City School, the Community Center and all the lovely people from Dharavi who made this stay unforgettable. You guys are amazing. Keep it up! Looking forward to seeing you back in Mumbai soon!"

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Reality Gives' Programs - "football has made me strong and confident"

Recently Goal Click asked us to help them identify a girl in Dharavi to take an analog camera with 27 shots on it and capture insights into their experience of football in Dharavi as part of their world wide mission to 'provide a person in every country with one analogue camera and one roll of film to take photos that symbolise football in their country'.
To determine which of the girl's would be charged with this challenge we asked them to write an essay entitled 'Why should I be the Goal Click representative'. In this blog article, we capture a little more information about our winner, Blessy, and find out what football means to her...
“Football has made me strong and confident” says 14yr old Blessy Sippora. Blessy is in her 10th grade doing her schooling from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Sion, Mumbai. She lives in Dharavi, where her family has been residing for 40 years now. She is the eldest among her siblings. Her younger sister is in the 9th grade and is also a member of the Girls Football team. 
Blessy has been playing football for two years now and thinks that playing the sport has brought a lot of changes in her life. “I have not only become fit but have also learned life skills like team work, discipline, communication to name a few. Even though I am in the 10th grade, my mother encourages me to play because I have learned to manage time for studies and practice sessions. A lot of people know me now and I get chance to make new friends and visit new places. My parents are proud of me and that makes me happy!”
Blessy in action against the Oberoi School Girls' Football Team earlier this year

In her free time she enjoys reading, watching TV and of course playing football. Her dream is to play professional football and encourage girls from Dharavi to take up the sport and follow her footsteps.

She says, “I am really happy that I got the opportunity to showcase how football is played in my locality - that even girls can play football! I am not a photographer but I'll try to take good pictures. I have the best team and the bestest coach who are always there to help and support me. I know there are only 27 shots. So, I will try not to make mistakes and capture the best moments.”

When she's through all 27 shots, Blessy will send her camera back to the UK where the pictures will be used in an exhibition compiled of participants photos from across the globe. Can't wait to see the results!!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Reality Runs - Mumbai Marathon 2015

This year Reality Gives are strapping on our trainers, hitting the tarmac and gearing up for the Mumbai Marathon 2015, and we want you to join us!

Established in 2004 the Mumbai Marathon is the largest marathon in Asia and amongst the top 10 in the world (it’s also the largest mass participation event in Asia) with 40,000 participating in the event last year.

The Mumbai Marathon 2015 will take place on Sunday 18th January 2015 and features three main events; the Full Marathon (42km), Half Marathon (21km) and Dream Run (6km). 

Passing CST Station, Haji Ali and running over the Sea Link, the
event offers a unique way to see Mumbai

As well as being an incredible sporting occasion, the event also represents a great way to raise funds with last year seeing Rs.179,000,000 raised for 232 NGOs. As an officially recognised NGO participating in the event we are able to support schools, corporates and individuals in entering the race and raising funds for us. Reality Gives wants YOU.

Individuals - For the first time ever we have 12 places up for grabs for you to take part in either the marathon, half marathon or dream run! The cost of a charity bib is Rs.8,000 and includes a t-shirt to run in, a 'Short Tour of Dharavi', a team-building 'Bicycle Tour' with your fellow runners, a bespoke fundraising plan designed in conversation with our Fundraising and Marketing Director and a HUGE number of fundraising incentives to help spur you on to your fundraising targets.

Schools - This year the 'Student Challenge' has been introduced, with space for 20 educational institutes to register teams of 5 students to raise Rs.50,000 and compete in the ‘Dream Run’ category of the Marathon. Teams are able to add up to 15 members for every Rs.10,000 additional funds they raise above the (Rs.50,000) and can be made up of students of 12yrs or above and can also include teachers, staff, donors and alumni (though a minimum of 5 students must be included).

Corporates - The corporate challenge event has historically always been very popular as it is both an incredible way of raising money for charities and also provides corporate runners with an incredible experience (with access to a the pre race executive tent, regular pre-race communication and newsletters, team acknowledgement on the website and charity docket and a trophy for the member of the team raising the most funds). Teams of up to 15 or 25 can compete at a cost of Rs.275,000 and Rs.400,000 respectively.

Steve Goddard ran the Marathon in 2013, raising £863 for Reality Gives

We're really excited about being a part of this. But don't just take our word for it. Reflecting on his own experience Mumbai Marathon man and Reality Gives fundraiser, Steve Goddard says:

“it was an incredible experience, running for such a great cause that I really believe was very humbling. The people of Mumbai were their usual amazing selves and really supported the runners, kids running alongside and random people giving us biscuits and drinks etc., truly, truly great. It is a real buzz along the route, especially towards the last few km's where the number of people grow and there are events taking place. It was a rare chance to experience Mumbai in peace due to the really early start and 
almost run as the city awoke”.

This is a great chance to undertake an immense personal challenge, see a different side of Mumbai and raise vital funds to support the education of 381 students at Royal City School, Dharavi. 

If you’d like more information please don’t hesitate to contact us on, we'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Reality Gives' Programs - Back to School

This week children across India don their satchels (often larger than they themselves are), polish their shoes until they can see their faces in them and begin the new school year with a sense of nerves, anticipation and, hopefully, excitement. What many of these children won’t realise is that their teachers are feeling much the same.

The 15 teachers Reality Gives supports at Royal City School (RCS), Dharavi, are no different. Trained in the muktangan method (a model of education which provides quality, child-centred and inclusive English-medium schooling) these women cover junior and senior kindergarten, standard one and for the first time this year standard two. We sat down with Krishna Vaishy, 27, a first standard teacher at RCS, who got married in the summer holidays to discuss her feelings on returning to RCS for her second year.

Krishna’s story is an interesting one. Having previously lived close by to the school in Sion, she has now moved to be with her husband and his extended family, which she approximates numbers around 26 people. What’s more, the family are located in Dombivli, way up on the north eastern outskirts of Mumbai, a five hour daily commute.

Waking at 4am daily, Krishna prepares breakfast and lunch for her new family members and doing other housework. She leaves for school at 7am and does not arrive home again until 8:30 in the evening. In spite of this long day, she sees herself as lucky, “my family are contemporary… they help with the housework because they care about my career. They know my job is important”.

Krishna shared with us that I get tired but it has become a habit so I manage. I only want to work at RCS because I am learning so much from Laxmi and my English is improving. I work here because I like it – we learn so many thing – how to handle the children how to be with them. It’s good for my development and the children enjoy it. I like this method. I like this method because we understand the value of behaviour as well.”

Krishna Vaishy, 27

“I like working with the children” Krishna continues “and to give new information and quality education. It is very important because so many poor children do not get it. Our children are learning through experience. When they learn rote they remember nothing. In other schools there is rote learning. Our children are exploring. We want them to be able to remember and to teach to others”.

“I am really excited about the children coming back. I want to teach them so many things. Language, maths, all the subjects and behaviour. I love circle time. We discuss all the childrens’ issues and current affairs in the community. We talk about how react to these things and behave and then we play so many games that teach discipline”.

Reflecting on her life, Krishna shared “I would like to continue my career in education. My dream was to become a teacher. Now it is completed. It is a reality. I am proud to have the opportunity to teach the children. I don’t have a high level of education but I got this training and opportunity. When I was a child I never got this method of learning. I am proud to give it to children so they can learn nicely and remember forever”.

With teachers like this, the children returning to Royal City School certainly have cause to look forward to a great year ahead. 

Friday, 30 May 2014

Reality Gives' Press - "it is the people of Dharavi that have touched me the most"

A few weeks ago Jayne Gorman, a UK based travel blogger contacted us to inform us she wanted to blog about Reality. Having visited us during the last four and a half years, which she has spent travelling the globe from Goa to the Vatican, San Francisco to Mumbai, Jayne explained that in that time her tour of Dharavi and exposure to the work Reality Gives had remained a very vivid, unique and important experience and she wanted to spread the word about us. So, without further ado, over to the professionals. Here's her article, 'A Charity Close to my Heart - Reality Gives in the Slums of Mumbai';

When I visited Dharavi, India’s largest slum, in Mumbai back in November 2010 I was struck most not by the disarray of the surroundings but the generosity of the people. Amongst swampy streets and littered wasteland children played with smiles on their faces. Workers toiled proudly in unsafe conditions; women kept the floor of their simple homes spotlessly clean. It was Duvali and celebration cake was being dished out to excitable children. They clutched it in their grubby hands and ran barefoot through piles of human and industrial waste to find a quiet place to enjoy it. Not before they had offered their guests the first taste though, they were exceedingly well mannered about it.

I was visiting this part of the city largely because of the light that had been shed on it by Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Thankfully, though, I had chosen to visit the slum with a company that would both educate me and benefit the residents far more than the film had.

Reality Tours take tourists into Dharavi with the objective of breaking down the negative attitudes that many people have towards people from less developed communities like the slums. The common stereotype – often reinforced by media and popular culture – of idle, passive and often criminal slum-dwellers is something they strive to change. Instead they work closely with these communities and ask the guests who take the tours to leave their cameras behind - a mark of respect for the residents which meant we could meet and speak with them without the intrusion of a lens.

Reality Tours & Travel is a social business, with a model that allows tourists to contribute responsibly to the communities they visit. Since I last visited, Reality Tours has begun offering multi-day tours in Rajasthan and Kerala, and just recently launched city tours in Delhi. The social commitment of the company still stands, as it has from the beginning— 80% of the profits from each and every tour are used to fund projects, run or supported by Reality Gives, that improve the relevant communities. Communities benefit, and visitors get to see how they’ve made an impact. This is a simple and scaleable model, and as travellers, we should hold all of the tourism organisations we support to such high standards.

Reality Gives runs a community centre in Dharavi. We visited it as part of our tour and I got to speak to the young boys who were chuffed about being able to use the centre’s computers to complete their schoolwork. The charity also runs a Youth Empowerment Program in the Dharavi area and provides English language support at a local government school.

No one can explain better what these projects mean to the residents of Dharavi than the people themselves. Nusrah (aged 22) shares what joining the Youth Empowerment Programme means to her:

“I want to impress my father after finishing this course and talk to him in English. I want to work in a hospital – for four or five years I was always going there. I understand the feelings of the people and want to do something for them. I want to encourage them. I have come out of cancer. I want to give them hope”.

You can read more about the projects Reality Gives run as well as those they support by clicking here. A particular focus for the charity at the moment is a project they are working on with their partner, CORP, raising funds for hearing aids for hearing disabled children.

Of all my travels it is the people of Dharavi and the work of Reality Group that have touched me the most. I mention them again now because I would like to ask for your help, to join me in supporting this worthy cause and consider visiting the projects and people they have helped at some point in the future. I’m going to add a button on the site that directly links to the donation page for Reality Gives as this is a cause I feel very passionately about and I hope from this article you can understand why. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Reality Gives' Programs - "Go Kiss the World"

In February we sat down to interview several students who had just begun our Youth Empowerment Program to understand their motivations for joining the program and discuss hopes and aspirations for where it might lead. 

Now, two months later we caught up with Hajira (who is currently two months into the program) and Shabana (a recent graduate) to take time out to reflect on how the program had changed them and the ways in which they were developing and learning. 

Since its inception in November 2009, 292 students have graduated from the program

Hajira Shaikh (22) joined the program with a high level of English but a desire to develop this further and to improve her conversational English. It was her hope that this would enable her to better compete with privately educated students when applying for jobs. Hajira writes:

This class has encouraged us not only to learn English but to improve our other skills. The Youth Empowerment Programme also includes computer education and soft skills, which helps us develop basic etiquette and our personality.

I enjoyed because there is no particular age limit. People have joined also with different backgrounds, religions, castes, etc. Some people are married, unmarried; students, workers, etc. Everyone has different ideas and experience to share. We share thoughts and beliefs and family situation. All are one and everyone shares their problems and help each other.

The main challenging task was managing the time. It is not so hard but sometimes we face little time problem but thanks to the faculty and management we find it very flexible to attend. The faculties members are like friends, teachers and parents. We never do hesitation to share or ask any difficulties and they are always ready to help.

They changed my life, my thoughts. They encourage me and it also boosts my confidence. Now I don’t have stage fright. It encourages me to think much broader and innovatively. I wish I could also be a part of Reality Gives as it is an NGO I would love to work in.

Reality Gives means a lot to me. In this class only we come to know how people come from different countries to see Dharavi, where everyone wants to help each other out. I noticed one thing that they don’t go to other places but to visit Dharavi. It means they are very interested to see such places rather than go just for holidays.

Hajira and her classmates marked International Women's Day by writing and performing a play

Shabana Ansami (21) is a recent graduate of the program. She is now training to be a teacher, and has just passed her penultimate exam. Shobana writes:

I have learned personality development, hence how to present our self, how to communicate with foreigner as well as Indian personality.

I enjoyed more game with friendly atmosphere. I not only enjoyed game but also learned more things such as leadership quality, quick decision making etc.

Trees can’t stand without timber, just like that ‘YEP’ was a big challenge for me. I had to face lot of challenges to be like a competitive pupil, not a comparative pupil. I always encountered my hurdle smoothly and happily. I have changed in my professional life. Just like bird flies in the sky singing a song, twittering – same as it is also for me.

"Go and kiss the world"

My aspiration is like ‘well begun is half done’ – I would like to do innovative work for Reality Gives always. Reality Gives means to me to achieve real knowledge with the help of a creative mind. According to me Reality Gives an ‘Ocean of Knowledge’ and we are a drop! The beginnings of all things are small. I always follow ‘KISS’ – Keep It Short and Simple.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Reality Gives Programs - New Computer Lab opens in Chamda Bazaar

While an overwhelming amount of respondents to Nieck’s interview questions (see here for a quick reminder) were positive, we also received some feedback about areas in which we need to improve. The people of Chamda Bazaar, Dharavi (a poorer area of Dharavi inhabited mainly by Muslims who work in the leather industry, skinning, shaving, equalising, dyeing, embossing and texturing the animal hides) told Nieck that they didn’t feel they benefitted from the effects of our Reality Gives programs as much as others.

“The company should develop this area and they should help the children get a better education. I think that since the last time that [they] came here, they stopped with all of these development projects.”

In response to this, in February we opened a new community Computer Lab in this area where local children are now learning IT and English skills.

Computer classes run daily from 8:30-9:30am and the same students are also given a further hours English conversation class on Monday and Tuesday from our UK volunteers, Matt and Joe (that’s right, those guys again!). Classes are taken by Youth Empowerment Program graduate, Ravi, who is in training to be the sole Computer Teacher.

Visiting the class early one morning, we greeted 12 bleary eyed, tired boys coming in for class. The change that ensued thereafter was striking – as soon as the computers were turned on and they were presented with their worksheets they were engaged, focused and had a twinkle in their eye (the fact that this was almost perfectly synchronised with the all too familiar windows start-up sound signature made it all the more remarkable). The boys are clearly really enjoying themselves. 

Sitting with the boys we we’re proudly told by Sayed (12) “I was the first in my class to know what www was at school…before we were sleeping ‘til 10am, now we’re getting up to come here…I am top of the class in computers at school. I always finish quick”, whilst Asif (14) comments “At school I attend class but it is not good. The teachers do not teach. Now the students ask me ‘how do you do that?’. Everyone is shocked”.

It’s great to see the vast improvements these boys have made. Mayur (who is currently supporting Ravi with the class as part of the latters training) tells us “when we started they could not handle a mouse. Now look at them! What they are doing!” With time, having established trust and a dialogue with the local community we hope to increase the number of classes being offered, and to start to work with girls in the area too, who typically have less free time to attend such programs. 

Finally, with the number of computers we have now standing at 38, we'd like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to the people at CORP, CapGemini, Rachel Teo, Gavin King, Idar Meling and Patrick Zickler for the generous donation you made, without which, starting this centre would not have been possible. We're truly grateful.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Reality Gives Events - “a woman has so many things in her heart, but does she ever get to share it?”

This previous Saturday people across the world came together to mark International Women’s Day and here in Dharavi it was no different.

At the Community Centre our Youth Empowerment Program students presented speeches, posters and plays about influential women (ranging from hockey players to astronauts and politicians), on the football field the Dharavi Girls Football Program got together to send a message out to the world and the Reception Centre hosted an exhibition of photographs taken by five women from Dharavi, whom were unequivocally, the stars of the day.

Can you work out what the Girls Football Team is spelling out? Keep in mind the acronym of the day and kindly forgive Marketing and Fundraising Director, Joe, for not climbing a higher wall to get the picture!

These five women, Amrita, Anuradha, Kaveri, Nirmala and Shobha, are graduates of ‘Ladies Only – Stories For All’, a five week photography workshop by Dharavi Art Room which is a collaboration between Reality Gives and Bombay Underground. This workshop was conceived when on a field trip one of the young students told Bombay Underground social worker, Aqui Thami “my mummy never leaves the home”. From this offhand statement, through in-depth interviews with women in the community an idea percolated and a program was born with the aim of showing Dharavi through a woman’s perspective. 'Ladies Only - Stories For All' was charged with ‘celebrating womanhood and claiming a space not just for surviving but for being’. With Dharavi so often shown through an outsider’s or a male’s point of view, this program aimed to show an altogether different side by giving the women the skills and the forum through which to tell their own stories.

Jyoti (left) our Community Centre Manager introduces the women to the audience
Reflecting on the program, Kaveri says “I come to the art room to learn photography and it’s also an escape from all the work at home” whilst we’re also told “when I see my friends here and when I hold my camera I forget all the pain, all the bondage, feels like I am young again”. The affect on the women has been palpable.They stand tall, shoulders back, head up. They're confident and engaging, enthusiastic and hopeful about the future. This newly realised sense of purpose is also affecting their families as they tell us, “I could not go to school but why should that stop me from sending my daughter to school. She will learn. As long as I am here she will go” and that “If worse comes to worse I will sell off all my jewellery but will not stop sending my kids to school”.

So, as they stood with in front of 40 members of the community (including many of our YEP students), people listened. Comfortable in front of this crowd of community members they spoke passionately about their experiences and how the program had empowered them. They told us how they are now pursuing other opportunities to develop their skill sets and learn. With determination and focus they asked us, “when can we do more!?”.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Reality Gives Programs..."You believe in me and I will be the best thing"

On 6th February, 2014, 31 new students became the 25th and 26th groups to participate in the Youth Empowerment Program held at the Reality Gives Community Centre in Dharavi. This program spans 15 weeks, with students studying English, Computers and Soft Skills.

One week into the program, some of the students sat down with us to share what had motivated them to join the course and where they hope it can lead them in the future. As many of their stories are deeply personal, some of the YEP students interviewed have had their names changed to protect their identity.

Some of the Youth Empower Program Students post for a group photo with Adina
after their 'Speech Day' on Saturday 22nd February

Attending the morning class are Afia and Kiran. Kiran is an aspiring DJ and Afia, a housewife. “My mother died in my birth and father re-married. My stepmother doesn’t care for me so I have to work in the morning to earn money and work in the evening too” explains Kiran. “I have all to do the household work also. She does not take care myself”. When asked why he was so motivated to attend this program when he was already so busy he replied “I look up to my uncle. He struggled. He has inspired me. I want a family and I want a better life for them than myself. I will struggle to do better and this will help me achieve something. I want to become a good person who can speak with any person. To be confident to speak with him or her”.

Afia, 23 is also from a complex family background, having had a ‘love’ marriage into a family that does not like her, something she says has been exacerbated by her not having had a child within the first four years of marriage. “I want to improve how they see me and impress, earn their respect. I think this (Youth Empowerment Program) will help me get some work and be important to the family. I too want to improve my English so I can teach my son and daughter”. Afia is currently living with her mother and will join her husband’s family in a few months. “My husband would not allow me to come here – but I am not telling him” Afia confides “After 3 months I will show him how I can speak English. I want him to be proud of me”.

Nusrah and Isa attend the afternoon class. Through the translation of Jyoti, the Community Centre Manager, Nusrah (22) shared how she has battled to recover from cancer in recent years and revealed that as she does not have a brother she wants to make her parents happy; to be independent and to “stand on her feet like a man”. “My parents didn’t want me to come here for my health. I wanted. I feel like I have an opportunity. After a long time I am studying again. This is the best decision for myself” an emotional Nusrah said, “I want to impress my father after finishing this course and talk to him in English. I want to work in a hospital – for four or five years I was always going there. I understand the feelings of the people and want to do something for them. I want to encourage them. I have come out of cancer. I want to give them hope”.

Isa (23) has a good level of English but feels that it is not good enough to compete with well educated, privately schooled students, “Being in the slum area, I don’t get good companies and good chances”. Isa shared that she really had to fight to attend the classes, “being a muslim girl nobody allows you to study further but my mum has been supportive. Inside I have a lot of pain. My mum is uneducated and has suffered at her in-laws house. She wants me to stand independently. I have two brothers but she treats me as an equal. She trusts me a lot but I want to show her that I can meet her expectations. I want to show her - you believe in me and I will be the best thing” her hope is “My mother will be proud. We should not think like we are poor we cannot do anything. Go and try your luck. I am searching for a good job. Good English will help me get a good job in customs and HR”

As well as learning the syllabus, the students are also already beginning to form an important support network with one another. One student explained “Everyone has a different problem. No one is here from a good background. We are low level and struggling and it encourages us to study and learn and we will do anything. Now I feel like we all have different problem and we have to tackle jointly. Different stories from different people. Everyone has a problem but it helps us be happy to share them. We can support”.

The Reality Gives blog will revisit Isa, Nusrah, Afia, Kiran and some of the other YEP students as they progress through the program to see how they are developing and what their prospects are for the future.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Reality Gives Projects..American School of Bombay come to Dharavi!

Neil takes the group through some warm up exercises

On the last Sunday of January in the late afternoon, students from Reality Gives programs sit hushed in a room watching intently as their peers strut  their stuff upon the stage that is the Reality Tours and Travel Reception Centre, their expressive faces lit by a sole beam of light. The room is packed with onlookers; the students themselves, teems of children drawn in from the street eager to witness this spectacle and Reality Tours and Travel guides, there to see more of the social work that the tours they run help to fund.

The onlookers are watching these young adults seize this opportunity to express themselves, to make their peers laugh and to explore worlds of their own imagining. To understand how they got to this moment you need to go back to that very same morning as two teachers and three students from the American School of Bombay arrive in Dharavi carrying a large, somewhat out of place stage light through the streets. Here’s their run down of how the day unfolded.

On Sunday 2nd February we (Fenella, Neil, Ben, Parth and Madhav) conducted drama workshops and devised original theatre with a group of 38 young people in Dharavi, in collaboration with Reality Gives. From the outset there was a buzz of excitement in the air and everyone was willing to mix, take risks, try out new ideas and listen attentively to all the instructors. During the skills based workshops (that included posture, projection, tableaux, expression, sequencing and blocking) the students were focused and asked relevant questions. Being flexible and open to new experiences they were eager to present their work and give helpful feedback to others. By the time we broke for lunch everyone was comfortable working with all the leaders and with each other.

(From left to right; Ben, Madhav, Parth, Neil and Fenella)

The afternoon sessions were even more rewarding. The morning sessions had been in English but during the devising process, creating their own theatre, participants spoke in Hindi. This allowed for a more creative buzz, and more freedom of expression in their work. Given the stimuli of pictures of life in India, including rituals, people at work, traffic accidents, domestic life and scenes from childhood, small groups of 5-6 students set about using these images to create their own short plays, while applying the skills they had learnt from the morning. The two workshop leaders commented to me on how quickly the groups worked together, and how creative they were with their ideas. The community spirit and sense of support enabled each group to produce a piece that was meaningful for them and relevant to the lives of the audience.

In performance each group was motivated, focused and disciplined, with the audience being excited, attentive and supportive. The final presentations covered such themes as disloyalty in relationships, equality for women, corruption in politics, arranged marriages, harassment in the work place, and other issues that were clearly close to the participants’ hearts. Although the short plays nearly all addressed topics that were serious and relevant, the atmosphere was not weighed down by the intensity of the issues, as there was a good balance of drama, comedy and discussion. One group asked questions directly to the audience about justice, and this sparked a lively discussion, again reflecting every participants’ willingness to be involved.

We ended the day by handing out participation certificates and congratulated everyone on their hard work. Everyone left on a high, and I am sure many of the participants would like to repeat the experience, as do we also hope to one day. Matt and Joe were wonderfully supportive throughout, and we are so glad that we got to meet them and to know them during this eventful and rewarding day.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Reality Gives Volunteers...Matt and Joe get some drama in!

Matt (left) and Joe (right) with our Girls Football Team

This week we would like to introduce you to our current volunteers Matt and Joe who joined our team in January for five months to work on some activities for our communities. But we thought they can explain what they do and how they enjoy working for Reality Gives much better: 

We’re Joe Callanan and Matt Aldridge, we’ve just recently moved to Mumbai and joined the Reality Gives team as volunteers. We’re mainly focussed on teaching English and Drama but since arriving we’ve enjoyed getting involved with other projects such as girls’ and boys’ football and chess. We’re both ‘gap year’ students from Newcastle, UK.

Being my first visit, India was an initial shock, but I was soon overcome by the community spirit of India and its people. Being involved with the local Bombay Gymkhana football team really helps you to feel local; after teaching a small drama workshop at school in Newcastle I really look forward to trying to inspire the next Bollywood actor and hope they have some fun along the way! After my ‘gap year’ I am going to study a Business degree at York st John University and I hope to return to India soon afterwards.

I’m very much enjoying living in Mumbai and sampling all of the local food, my favourite of which is ‘pani puri’. In my spare time I play rugby for Bombay Gymkhana and research the other places I’m traveling to before starting a Biochem degree at University College London. I’ve always loved acting and, although I’d taught some short English projects in Dharavi whilst at school, I’m really looking forward to working with our drama students over a longer period.
We’ve both found the Reality Gives team a very friendly and positive environment and are really enjoying working here. We are both passionate about the potential for acting and theatre to be a really positive impact on people’s lives, and an important educational tool. The students we’ve been teaching so far are really keen to learn and full of energy and the next four months is sure to be a fantastic experience. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Reality Gives Connection Projects...New hearing aids for Shakir and Shiva

Students of the Shalom Day Care Centre with Centre Manager Agnes (on the left side)
Today two more kids received hearing aids that were funded by donations to Reality Gives. This time Shakir (14) and Shiva (11) were the lucky ones. They were chosen because they both showed a lot of dedication and motivation at school and therefore require hearing aids to study better.

Shakir getting all confused with the questions and new noises in his ear. 
Shakir is a very shy boy who doesn't smile often. But when he does, everyone in the room will smile automatically as well. His father is a tailor but Shakir wants to do something with computers when he is older. Shakir has three brothers but is the only family member who is hearing disabled, which makes daily life for he and his family difficult. He loves three things: cricket, football and cycling. He says he will now be able to enjoy riding his bike even more because he can hear the cars and motorbikes approaching; it won't be dangerous anymore. While we were asking him questions to get to know him better, he was busy trying out his new device and was confused because he had never heard so many noises around him. It was both funny and heartwarming to observe.
Shiva trying to understand his new device while his sister (on the left) sets it up
Shiva comes to the centre with his sister who received a hearing aid last year. He got very excited while she tried to explain to him how the device worked - he probably only caught half of it! As soon as he put the tiny instruments in his ears he started smiling and didn't stop. Agnes, the centre manager, mentioned more than once how smart he is (and naughty!). He knows all the computer basics and is a very hard-working student. She said he received the hearing aid now because she realised that he wants to listen and understand but it is very difficult for him. We asked him what he thought would change most now that he has the hearing aid and he answered:"I won't be frightened by the traffic anymore. Now I can cross the street and don't have to be afraid to miss a car or motorbike coming from the side or back."
Raj (11)
We also met Raj (11) and Siraj (15) who are still waiting for hearing aids. Raj can hear very little while Siraj can't hear anything. Siraj wants to go to college soon but says that following the classes is very difficult without a hearing device. His sister Shabana got an aid last year and he is hopeful that someone will also sponsor his device. Raj was less serious but very keen to interact with us. Agnes says he belongs to a group of very naughty boys who always hang together and "do masti." But he wants to study harder too and he has seen the advantages of his friends who have already gotten hearing aids, so he hopes for some support soon as well.
Siraj (15)
Sixteen more kids at the Shalom centre are waiting for hearing devices. One device costs Rs. 9000 and all kids require two of them. Each time we visit, the teachers emphasise how much the aids improve daily life for those children - from following lessons at school to avoiding problems in traffic on Mumbai's busy roads.
Help Raj, Siraj and many other kids with a donation towards this program. If you are in Mumbai or plan to visit soon, you can even attend the distribution of the devices which is a very touching experience. Visit for more information and to donate.
Thanks to all the amazing donors who supported this cause so far. Please spread the word!