30 Aug My trip to India – Dylan Gokani
In the Summer of 2015, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to travel with The Youth Project to India, Ahmedabad. We worked in partnership with the Manav Sadhna Foundation whose mission is to serve the underprivileged with the philosophy of ‘love all, serve all’. This charity is similar to The Youth Project in that it is engaged in constructive humanitarian projects including those of all religions and classes; addressing issues faced by socio-economically neglected segments of society.
Personally, I was involved in a range of projects within the several of slums of Ahmedabad. I was given the opportunity to teach Maths, English and Commerce to children of different ages and was involved in reconstructing classrooms within the community centre of the largest slum in Ahmedabad. One of the functions of this centre was to provide for the citizens of the slum, with extra emphasis given to promoting values of education and awareness to children, and to the empowerment of women. The children come from a background of backward traditions, illiteracy, despair and poverty; their home lives are often unstable and lack security. This centre provided education during the school day and even after school differing greatly from municipal schools, which often suffer from poor teaching quality and a lack of encouragement. One of the large deterrents to parents is that fees are charged to those wishing to be educated beyond 7th grade. This is considered unnecessary to many parents, which cause them to remove their children, especially young girls, from the education system. To ensure that the children make productive use of their time, enabling them to reach their full potential the centre offers tuition classes for students to develop their learning. The theme of this is supportive education with specialist teachers, many of them volunteers. Another important dimension of Manav Sadhna’s work with children, aside from these centres and orphanages they have set up, is the sports programmes they offer. I partook in these projects whereby specialist sports teachers and volunteers would travel to children from slums spanning across Ahmedabad, and would organise the ‘Sports Days’ in which a plethora of sports options would be available to choose from. I was able to explain to them the benefits of partaking in team sports such as football, building on their previous knowledge of fitness and its health benefits. It was inspiring to see the dedication and enjoyment that these sports lessons offered these children. In only two weeks I was able to see their progress not only in the sport but also in key skills such as teamwork. The pinnacle of my time spent volunteering in this particular project came when we took the 1st XI Football Team (composed of children from over five slums of Ahmedabad) to a three-day tournament at a nearby private school. Despite criticisms and demeanour from opposing, private school teams, our XI stood defiant and went on to win the tournament in outstanding fashion, winning the final 2-1 after extra time!
In contrast to this height, perhaps the most upsetting experience came towards the end of my month-long trip. After an increasingly worrying flood threat in the regions North of Ahmedabad, the government decided to open up the dam, thus dispatching of the vast volumes of water downstream. At 1am, my friends and I were awoken to news that the opening of the dam in the richer upstream region, had created severe floods at the riverbanks by which the largest slum in Ahmedabad lay. Slum-dwellers’ houses were completely swept away or flooded, leaving hundreds stranded and homeless. That night, residents were forced to settle in the newly built community centre and the unrest and concern was evident. The most astonishing thing I found was the distinct lack of blame or anger upon anyone, despite losing literally everything and as we helped with the reconstruction project in the following days, it became apparent to me just how different our two societies are. But it was not so much a moment of realisation, something that will change my life forever and will keep me up all night in horror. For that would just be arrogant and untrue. Rather, this trip allowed me to understand the extent to which these citizens are so content with just the smallest things in life. Nobody should have to endure such an arduous way of living and I truly hope that, with organisations as such as The Youth Project and Manav Sadhna, the lives of all severely impoverished humans can be improved just that little bit more.
Looking back on the trip, I am hugely grateful to The Youth Project for giving me this fantastic opportunity, along with Manav Sadhna too, and I cannot wait to return this year and build upon the relationships and friendships I have made. It truly was an experience like no other.