Voices to Cheer!

There are two ways to raise your voice.

One is in protest against injustice, intolerance and indifference. That matters because those who standby and keep quiet are as culpable as the perpetrators.

The other way to raise your voice is by spreading awareness for alternative paths. That too matters because we desperately need to balance out all the hate and venom being spewed currently in the world….and give rise to hope that there are people who are actively working to open the doors to a better life.

Voices to Cheer is my attempt at the latter.

Yesterday morning, I had a very enlightening experience – one that cheered me immensely!

I am a blogger who writes on any subject that is playing on my mind. I blog because it is a great outlet for personal expression and not for commercial reasons. As a result, I do not participate in sponsored blog themes or sponsor arranged blogger events.

I made an exception though when Mumbai Smiles invited me to experience the work they are doing in Andheri East, a locality in the city of Mumbai, India.

Am I glad I did so because it was an eye opener.

Stay with me for a few minutes and I hope that you, too, will feel the same way once you have journeyed with me on my visit to one of the Balwadis (child centres in the Marathi language – Bal means child and Wadi means centre).

The Balwadi I visited was in the Marol Pipeline slum in Andheri East.

The image below is of the entrance to the slum.

Entrance to the Marol Pipeline Balwadi. Image by Lata Subramanian.
Entrance to the Marol Pipeline Balwadi. Image by Lata Subramanian.

You maybe surprised to learn that the dwellers here keep their colony (I prefer to call it colony because the word slum has grown to be so demeaning) spotlessly clean. Yes, I know the entrance picture doesn’t reflect that. But take a look at the narrow lane separating the small shanties. The picture does not do justice. So, please just take my word for the cleanliness I saw.

The narrow gully between the shanties in Marol Pipeline colony. Image by Lata Subramanian.
The narrow gully between the shanties in Marol Pipeline colony. Image by Lata Subramanian.

Now, get ready for the picture of cheer that suddenly appears in the narrow gully. Yes, it is the Balwadi established and managed by the Mumbai Smiles foundation. If you didn’t know that this play centre was operating in an economically challenged housing colony, you would think this was a picture of some privately run play school in a so-called respectable area, right? By the way, I wonder why we say that because the people living here are perhaps more worthy of respect than privileged sections of society.

The Mumbai Smiles Balwadi at Marol Pipeline. Image by Lata Subramanian.
The Mumbai Smiles Balwadi at Marol Pipeline. Image by Lata Subramanian.

God, those little ones were so cute with faces just shining with innocence and eagerness to learn.

I heard their voices raised in cheer singing Johnny, Johnny, Yes Papa and I was enthralled at the enthusiasm of both the teachers and the children. By the way, the teachers are drawn from the colony residents themselves. As are the women who cook and supply one nutritious meal to the Balwadi every day. Here’s a picture I took of the wonderful poetry recitation, done in melodious fashion.

The Teacher at the Marol Pipeline Balwadi leading her children in poetry recitation. Image by Lata Subramanian.
The Teacher at the Marol Pipeline Balwadi leading her children in poetry recitation. Image by Lata Subramanian.

I came away impressed by the work being done by Mumbai Smiles.

Sensibly, the NGO is focusing on just one area in a city instead of spreading its resources thin by taking on too much. Currently, Mumbai Smiles has set up and manages 30 Balwadis in Andheri East with plans to expand the area of operation next year.

If you, like me, were impressed by the work being done, do visit the Mumbai Smiles website to learn more about the NGO and the work it is doing in Education, Health Care and Livelihood.

Perhaps you can also read the book Bombay Smiles authored by Jaume Sanllorente, the founder of Mumbai Smiles. Personally, I plan to and have already purchased the Kindle version.

I wonder what else I could do to help the voices of the little ones in the Balwadi stay raised in cheer. Maybe by writing this blog, some corporate houses may come forward and help these children get a good education right through. I have read too many reports that half the time, teachers in government run schools in India are absent.

That’s the big question I have. These kids are getting a good start in the Mumbai Smiles Balwadis. But after that, what is their future? I know many families in these shanty colonies are scraping together money they mostly don’t have to send their children to private schools. It also helps that a recent government legislation has ensured that all private schools reserve seats for children from economically challenged sections of society. I understand that Mumbai Smiles helps parents identify such schools.

But it would be nice if some corporate came forward and took responsibility for moulding the education of these kids right through. It could be a focused Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative with targets, interventions and measured outcomes. And not the lip service I see too often paid to CSR by corporate India.

Any takers out there? Because education is the best way to ensure that society is filled with voices of reason and progress.

Author’s Note: I am participating in Blog Action Day 2015 and this year’s theme is “Raise your voice”. Write Tribe, a writer’s support group has got us all together for this initiative. If you are writing, you can link up your post there.

#RaiseYourVoice #BAD15


Featured Cover Image Credit: Voices to Cheer at Mumbai Smiles Balwadi in the Marol Pipeline, Andheri East slum. Image by Lata Subramanian.

 

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