Week number two (no pun intended) has been a completely different experience than the first in this fabulously hot and sticky city of Mumbai. We’ve separated into three different groups to make mini-documentaries on Stray Dogs, girls’ education, and mentor/mentee relations in the Abhyudaya program. My team is taking on the mentor/mentee relations.
Abhyudaya is a program that takes ‘sitaras’ or shining, star students from Mumbai’s slums and helps them to achieve their academic and life goals and dreams. Whitney, Losa, and I entered the project with a very loose plan, which has been stressful but nonetheless rewarding, raw, and real. We got to know some great kids and young adults that held dreams ranging from being a professional Tae Kwon Do practitioner, working in robotics, and inventing new things in science. Like their mentors, I became extremely inspired by these ‘sitaras’ hopes for the future. These kids are growing up in slums that are shocking to the urban eye, but hold a sense of community unspoken in developed areas.
When we first stepped into the slum, I was adjusting my white balance and seldom looking up from the sleek technology at my fingertips. Instantly, I could feel the city walls and sidewalk close in and stare at my fellow teammates and me. A motorcycle honk woke me up from the technology and brought me to the color of the slums. There was color reflecting in my eyes, nose, and ears. The uneven street leaned in and out with mud, mango peels, and puddles splashing through the cobblestones. On either side, stores shouted sales, kids played with sugar cane, mothers hid behind hanging clothes, goats toddled along finding shade, and flies filled up half the constricting air.
Snapping behind the mentor and mentee who led us through the slum, I was pulled towards my right. We entered the neighborhood of sitara, Affan. It was cool and dark and full of curious children and adults. To get to Affan’s home, we climbed up a steep ladder with a rope to hold our weight from the top of the home. Welcomed to smiling faces and bright blue walls, we saw the happiness of the family. Initially, I felt awkward because I didn’t want to be an intruder to their home. With time and questions, we all felt more comfortable and the relationship between Affan and his family and his mentor were more evident. They really love each other and see the worth and possibility that each member have for the future. They don’t see their little one-room flat with piled appliances in one corner, a stove in the other, and a newly hand-constructed loft 9 feet above the floor, as a restriction; they see the positives of life and of dreams. Dreams are what we live for and unconditional love is how we survive.