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Soul Food

See a need and fill it….The Dirty Wall Project provides rations for those whose cupboards are empty because of no job, extra family members coming to live in spaces already crowded, illness, and malnourished children. Below are some profiles of a few of the families we’ve provided rations for in the last month.

Rani’s Family

Twelve year old Rani ran up to us as we were unfolding ourselves from our rickshaw that had just pulled up to the slum. “My mother is in the hospital, can you take me to see her?” The next day, Rani, a few neighbours, Indu and I, shoved ourselves into a taxi that rumbled through stop and go traffic, shared a bottle of water, and an hour and a half later we were at Sion Hospital. We found her mother Meena in a room with 68 other female patients lying on a bed with dirty sheets and a catheter stuck in her arm strung to a rusting pole with an empty medicine bag. Around the room were relatives of patients camped out on the floor, under beds, and slumped against walls, trying for sleep or eating remnants of food they’d brought from home for their patient. A Dante’s Inferno of pain, agony and despair. As we encircled her bed Meena cried and her tears made tiny water splotches on the dun-coloured sheet. Meena is in her mid to late thirties, has TB and AIDS, and is possibly nearing the end of her life. She works as a prostitute and is grooming Rani for a life of the same. This is not the life she wants, but it enables her to feed her family. And it’s what she knows. Without the energy to wipe her own face, Rani stepped in and mopped her mother’s face with the back of her hand. Indu chatted to Meena while I squeezed her hand. There wasn’t much to say except to assure the family that we would help them with medical bills. We gave her step-father money for medicine that he had already purchased with a loan and left him with money for food for Meena and himself. (Patients don’t get fed at BMC (government) hospitals and it is up to the relatives to bring food and purchase medicine that is required.) Meena came home from the hospital a few days later to recuperate in her stifling hut made of tin sheets and bamboo poles. She is fragile, pale, tired and very sick. She spends her days lying on a thin foam mattress on an uneven floor covered in torn plastic industrial tarp, her head resting on a stained pillow. The step-father works as a labourer and Rani and her brother tend to their mother and cook her food. Both children have been pulled from school this year. Rani comes to Indu’s tuition class and we monitor what the family needs on a daily basis. The rations will continue until needed.

Rations for one month: (lentils, rice, milk, eggs and oil and spices) 842 Rupees
Medical bills: 2600 Rupees
New mat/pillow case for Meena to sleep on: 398 Rupees
Total cost: 3840 Rupees (CAD $72.45)

Didi, Durga, Asha, Geeta, Maya and Their Parents

Past the homes on the backside of the community is a group of itinerant workers who moved to Mumbai to build a wall along the toxic Mithi River that gurgles beside the slum. There are five small children, three men and three women; all members of the same family. They are living on the grounds of a dilapidated building. Not in the building - they are camped on the concrete slab outside the building. The company they work for has given them this small concession while they earn a few dollars a day. Two barefoot women carrying large, yellowed containers full of water on their heads had noticed us visiting a family near the water supply. Setting the water containers down, we saw them hustling towards us, kicking up dust and tripping over large rocks. They told Indu their kids were all sick and they needed help. Setting our cups of chai down, we followed the women who had managed to pick up the water containers again and perch them on each other’s heads, down a rutted road slick with green slime trampled by pigs. Before we could reach their camp we were spotted by their gaggle of small children who rushed down the road toward us, each one dirtier than the other. One had a fever, they are all obviously malnourished, but they all had an incredible energy and couldn’t contain their giggles as we questioned the adults. We returned the next day as promised to take the family to the hospital and arrived at their encampment to a scrubbed-up version of the same kids, but only two of them had shoes. We carried the ones we could, but the two oldest girls had to walk in bare feet on hot pavement through garbage and traffic a half mile to the hospital. They didn’t care. They were excited to be going somewhere. On the way back, we had bagfuls of supplements for them (they’re all malnourished and have calcium deficiencies) and medicine for coughs, and we purchased rations of eggs, nuts and milk. The next day we went back with a set of new clothes and flip-flops for each child and crayons and paper. Their reaction was similar to giving a western kid a new iPad. Why do they have so many kids?? The children are all girls and the family is hoping for a boy who will look after them in their old age. The girls are a burden who will cost them dowry payments. These girls are valued somewhat within this very poor family or they wouldn’t have survived their birth. This low-caste family’s logic and outlook is the result of generations of relatives before them living in poverty, suffering malnutrition, without the benefit of even basic education, human rights or dignity, and making decisions rooted in tradition that keeps them poor.
(DWP will continue to check on the family give rations to the children while the family lives near the community.)

Rations: (milk, eggs, and nuts): 890 Rupees (plus milk and eggs every day) 56 Rupees
Clothing, footwear and crayons: 1440 Rupees
Medical: (3 month supply of supplements/vitamins for 5 children): 5463.85 Rupees
Total cost: 7849.85 Rupees (CAD $148.11)

Kamela and Akash

About a month ago Indu and I were walking down the pipeline when we noticed a docile woman sitting on the ground alongside the pipeline on a tarp next to a sleeping baby. It was obvious the baby was sick, and it was more obvious the baby was covered in black flies and the mother didn’t have the energy to swat them away. What wasn’t obvious was that the baby was actually two years old. He is the size of a six month old. He couldn’t stand or focus his eyes, his head is misshapen and he didn’t make a sound.The mother said she didn’t have food to give the baby or herself. I was frustrated with the mother for laying her child in the dirt and I picked him up. He was weightless and flimsy. Flies stuck to his eyes and his mouth until I used my scarf to wipe them away. He barely noticed. We asked to see where she lived and she quietly and slowly stood up and motioned for us to follow her. Indu and I both gasped as we drew back the curtain to the hut and noticed three more small children asleep in the filth on the floor of this tiny hut beside an elderly man asleep in the corner. We were told these children belong to a relative. She only has one child because one had already died. There was a small shelf with some bundles of clothing and a few pots. Hoping for work and following the lead of a relative, the extended family arrived in Mumbai from Nepal about six months ago. What they got was a filthy, tiny room in a crowded slum and not enough food for two women and an elderly man, let alone four toddlers. We’ve since made three visits to the doctor with Akash and his young, fragile mother, Kamela. For Akash, the doctor prescribed vitamin and calcium supplements, ordered blood tests and a chest x-ray and gave the mother strict guidelines for food intake for herself and her son. After a month of supplements and medicine along with eggs, milk and a ration of dal with vegetables, Akash is now standing, smiling and engaged with his limited world. Kamela is happier, is more focused, and is glad to see us when we drop in unannounced to check whether she needs anything and whether she is giving the medicine as prescribed. Akash is lucky. His sibling didn’t make it. She told us her husband is back - he had left them a few months ago, and they will be moving to another hut in the community. The family will receive rations of eggs, milk, rice, dal and cooking oil for another month or until the father gets a job.

Medicine, supplements, doctor’s fees: 1044.68 Rupees
Rations: 699 Rupees/milk and eggs per day- 35 Rupees
Total cost: 1778 Rupees (CAD $33.56)

A special “thank you” to the doctor at Ashirwad Hospital for reducing his fees for patients we bring from the community.

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