The Challenge before Us
On entering that memorable day in February 2002 into the Kathputli Slum, Bob and Janine Mann were confronted with the sight of hundreds of under-nourished, unbathed and shabbily dressed children. Although they seemed content in their peril, we sensed their hearts were crying out for help. As we left that day the question arose – could we be a people who would just say “we wish you well, keep warm and well fed … and then do nothing about their needs?”
Two years later (2004), on packing our clothes and leaving our home town of Moranbah in Australia we arrived in Jaipur with 1) a few thousand dollars of our own, 2) a handful of pledges from some trusting supporters, 3) a hope for a better future for these slum children, and 4) a few plans to get started.
The first plan was to start a small sewing training centre for young women and men. This was to prove successful in the big picture of things, as in excess of 200 young women are today able to stitch their families’ clothes. Quite a few young women have been donated sewing machines. Some now have small businesses, some are employed in sewing factories, and a few have progressed through this initial training opportunity to other occupations, including school teaching.
Kathputli Slum Background
Kathputli is home to approx 13,000 people. It is one of the most populated of some two hundred slums in the city of Jaipur, the capital city of the desert state of Rajasthan. Since the 1970’s many families from rural areas and from interstate have moved to Jaipur with the hope of finding work and a better life for their families. For most of them, being uneducated, unskilled and with little or no money, their hopes are quickly dashed. They gravitate to the slums, entrapped in a poverty lifestyle they’re not able to, by their own means, escape.
Problems to Overcome
India is a nation in which a caste system remains powerfully prevalent. In brief, caste determines your social status, with whom and where you can live, who you can marry, your work, and thus your earning capacity.
The Kathputli Slum people are of the lower castes – street sweepers, cleaners, rubbish collectors, labourers, bicycle & auto-rickshaw drivers, small shop workers, street hawkers, and puppeteers. Thus their earnings are merely subsistence incomes.
The Way Forward
The socio-economic oppression upon these people has proved too strong for the people themselves to escape. For the majority of families the current generation of children will, in time, tread in the footsteps of their forefathers. That is, unless someone is ready to sit with them, listen to them, stand up with them, walk with them, educate and skill train them, and show them the way forward. And that is where we come into the picture … together we can be that someone.