The following is a story from one of my days at APSA. It is not one with a resolution.
On Wednesday's we work half days with our organizations. We arrived to APSA's hostel around 2 pm, checked in and as we were on our way to the school K., a student at the school, gave me one of her wide eyed stares, "Marymaam, I am meant to look out for you, follow me." I looked up and realized Henry and Shanta, one of the employees at the school who does not speak English, were on their way to the slum adjacent to the school, and what 16 year old K. meant was that she was to be our translator.
The first home belonged to Ravi. A wooden door awkwardly hung on the outside of the house, which was made of 2-inch wide wooden dowels, tarps, plastic, and a guardrail that supported one side of the structure. Inside it was dark and hot. Ravi had lived in this community (off and on because this is a community of migrants so they occasionally go back to their native village of Raichu) for 20 years. There were four people living in the house: Ravi, his wife and their two children. A single light bulb hung from the center of the unit. It cost 2500 rupees (~$35.70 USD) for the solar panel to be put on the roof. The only piece of furniture was a twin-sized wooden bed frame with space for two and no mattress. I asked where he and his wife slept; he pointed to the floor. His parents and sister also live in the slum. They came for construction work because there was no rain in their village for agriculture.
The second dwelling was home to Hanumoppa and Maliama. It contained a larger kitchen area with pots and pans hanging on the walls, a three stone cooking fire with a black iron pot, blue and white faded plastic containers used to store water in the corner, and an area on the dirt floor that served as their bed. The house was 4 years old. Hanumoppa built it himself. It took one day to build and cost 2000 rupees (~$29 USD). We asked what they do if they get sick and Hanumoppa hastily replied, "we don't get sick." By this time we had a trail of 4 or 5 curious residents following us through the slum, and as we neared the end of the interview, a man in his 50s walked in. He lived in a nearby apartment, but knew many of the people in the slum and spoke some english. "Are you going to help them?" he questioned. "What can you do to help them?" After sheepishly looking from Henry to Keethane and then back to the crowd who had gathered, I replied that no we were not going to help them. We were students and were just learning. He nodded. "We respect you. You are foreigners so we have to respect you," he said. Henry looked at him in the eye, "This is hard work. We respect you too."
The next house was occupied by Gaddiyama, a student of Shanta's from the dream school. She carried a one year old child on her hip and talked to us as she straightened up her kitchen area and breast fed her child. She came to Bangalore when she was small and in her 60 square foot home lives her, her son, husband, two siblings, parents and three uncles. Henry asked her age. "Nineteen." Her challenges were that sometimes there was no water, but she could borrow from neighbors. As she spoke, Shanta interjected "Mary, Mary write this down, this is my student." Shanta also insisted we get pictures with most people that we spoke to. I did not like taking those pictures.
We saw a few more homes and asked similar questions. How long have you lived here? What do you do for fun? What are challenges you face? And we got similar answers. These people migrated here together and though their living situations are not better than that of the village they came, they make much more money in Bangalore and are happy. Some said they face no challenges, some mentioned they have challenges finding water to drink or wood for cooking. No one really mentioned the fact that there is no bathroom in the slum, or that they have to throw their trash right outside, or that they sleep on the ground, or that the women have to shower in a small, tented, tarp structure. They said it is safe, that there is a sense of community.
I like the idea that everyone has a story. We went to the slum to get a better understanding of the migrant children's stories because many of these children attend APSA's dream school. They live in these slums. This is their reality. I wanted to share their story because, though we are solving grand challenges, the living situation of the children attending the dream school is not likely one of the challenges our group will be working on for the next 6 weeks. But it still exists. It still matters and their story should still be told.