Over the last 6 weeks, I've been working closely with Ashley Pereia of Janvi Charitable Trust who is responsible for the amazing work being done by Janvi in the Saki Naka slum area. I have witnessed a humble man, possessed by his work, working from sunrise to well after sunset everyday, taking all the of areas problems to heart. Although money is a constant issue for his projects, he never lets it get in the way of helping someone in need. I have watched a constant stream of locals approach him with their problems. He always has time to listen and goes well beyond his means to find a way to help them. Often it's money from his own pocket, and Ashley is not a rich man. To say that Ashely "would give you the shirt off his back" is an understatement. Ashley and I are working together on health camp projects and have been meeting daily at hospitals around the city trying to stretch our ruppees and help as many people as possible.
The small community center/school (“balwadi" in Hindi) that Ashley built in Saki Naka is far too small for the many activities the community needs. Currently, the center, built ten years ago, is a small 10' by 10' room that can only fit eight adults comfortably. A few computers line one wall and shelving units contain teaching materials that his staff use to teach the local children. In several conversations over the past few weeks, Ashley has talked of his ambition to renovate the existing center and add a second floor which would add three times the space. Janvi Charitable Trust doesn't have enough funds to start this new project and see it to completion. This type of ambitious project is not something to be done bit by bit, but rather to start and finish the construction in one go. Slums like Saki Naka are technically illegal, and although they are permanent, they are still under the scrutiny of local police and politicians. Ashley has done wonderful things for the area that have not gone unnoticed by the local authorities, and he has developed good relations with many of the decision makers in his locality.
With the funds that Dirty Wall Project has raised from donors, I have been crunching numbers to see if it's possible to help Ashley make the dream of a larger center a reality. Like Janvi, DWP is not blessed with endless amounts of money and I take deliberate and thoughtful care when deciding on which projects to fund. The estimated cost of the proposed construction is 1.5 lakh ($3500 CAD). (A lakh is the sum of 100,000 rupees) Ashley and I are working together to lower the price and work as efficiently as possible. With local men from Saki Naka, we are doing the demolition, saving some much needed money. For the actual construction, we will hire professionals, as this building must be safe and well built. We broke ground a few days ago which marks the official start of the new community center/school.
We hired two local men, Annon and Ramesh, and together we have been digging and removing parts of the existing walls, preparing sections which will hold our new support beams. Working in staggering 35 degree celsius heat is tiresome. I have never drank so much water, or sweat so much in my life.The children have both been helpful and a hindrance as they are ever so curious and are always in and around the work. Everytime I carry a load of rubble out of the building, I'm flanked by five or more children, laughing and running in circles around me as I drop the load on our refuse pile. People in the slum area stop whatever they are doing and stare in disbelief as they see me working alongside our workers. It is a curious site to see a foreigner working in the area and it brings alot of joy to the community.
Our hope is to finish construction in the next two weeks which may be optimistic, but doable none the less. The Balwadi will have to close while we are doing construction, so our aim is to work quickly and efficiently, without cutting corners, and get the children back in the school. For the time being, the children will be taught outside.
This project is very exciting for Dirty Wall Project as it will be the biggest project to date and will benefit the the Saki Naka community for years to come, providing a safe place for the children of Saki Naka to learn and to give the community something to be proud of.
School Opening: June 27, 2010
The addition of a second floor to the original, small balwadi (school), was started on April 8th. What should have taken only a month or so to complete, took almost three months. It has been a labour of love with Ashley and Kane at the helm, managing to make everything work, staying sane during countless setbacks and having the vision to complete the task. The result of their efforts and the donations to DWP that made it possible to build, is a space that is over 400 sq. feet, beautiful and airy, and the pride of Saki Naka. (Most families in the Saki Naka slum live in approximately 80 sq. ft, with few or no windows.)
This project was a huge undertaking, fraught with problems, set-backs, and stress. Ashley, never without his phone, and without a need to sleep or take a break, was anxious to get this built for the community he works so hard for. Kane brought much needed energy, funding and a willingness to get dirty. The workers, who live in the slum, worked with primitive tools. (Rocks to cut rope, metal bowls to carry sand and bricks on their heads, buckets and pulley systems rigged to bring supplies to the roof). Suresh and his children, Akash, Sumeet, and Ritik, who share a space with the school, cleaned up construction debris, climbed on to the roof to lash bamboo to the metal poles, moved sand and bricks and painted. It was a barefoot crew. Outside contractors were called in to tile, weld, and do cement work.
The new second floor will allow more classes at the Balwadi, a clean, uncluttered space to work in, a place to hold meetings, celebrations, and Ashley can run more and varied programs to offer the people who live here, but also important, the new second floor offers a view. The people of Saki Naka can climb up from their ground floor, tiny, cramped spaces for a view of their community, the roadway and the bridges. The new Janvi school uniforms were modeled by two patient little children to the delight of everyone. The vision that Ashley had for the school included uniforms and a strategy for the kids to keep learning and start moving forward.
At the celebration for the opening of the school over 400 people ate samosas, donuts, pastries and candy, everyone patiently waiting their turn, lining up down the lane way, into the Balwadi and up the stairway. The little girls wore their hair in braids, bows and ribbons. Their dresses had sequins, glitter, and frills. The boys were energized and spirited and found it hard to contain themselves. Some of them played a ceremonial beat on large drums in a circle. The pounding was high energy, contagious and deafening, just like India. The kindergarten (balwadi) class is full - over 60 kids from the community attend classes every day. This clean, uncluttered, airy space is also used for dance, english and art classes providing the community with a building that benefits everyone.
Donations to DWP made this possible. Thank you!