I am constantly amazed at the resourcefulness of the people here. At first I thought that things like old cars and bikes, broken faucets, patched quilts, etc., were signs of poverty. I’ve realized, however, that these are really examples of people using things as long as they can and fixing what needs to be fixed rather than constantly replacing everything. This is something that American culture could benefit from going back to, from a sustainability standpoint.
This is especially true in the slums. Most of the villages where we work are informal settlements, meaning that the occupants do not own the land. Many of the people are refugees from East Bengal (now Bangladesh), who came when India and Pakistan became independent. West Bengal became an Indian State and East Bengal became a Pakistani province, and many people left East Bengal for West Bengal. Simply the fact that they have taken over this unused land to make their homes shows a type of resourcefulness, in not letting anything go to waste. They are great at using every bit of whatever they can find. Their houses are in various stages of development, from basic bamboo huts to concrete and brick buildings with metal roofs. It is my understanding that they develop gradually, since it is difficult to find all of the capitol required to construct an entire house at once. In the places we are working, not everyone has electricity (which Tapas, the director of Human Wave, is currently working to change). However, they make do in the heat by constructing fans out of reeds and scraps of plastic, hanging tarps for shade, and lots of other inventive solutions.
In addition to the tutorials and English medium school, Human Wave has many other ways of helping in the communities. They run women’s empowerment programs, build community centers, petition local governments to provide resources such as water and electricity to the informal villages, and many other things. Since we only teach in the mornings and have selected evening programs, I have started helping in the office in the afternoons with the microcredit program. Human Wave has over 1000 accounts for women in the area, allowing them to both save money and take out loans. I was amazed at how many accounts they have, and there are new ones almost every day. It is really fulfilling to me to take part in these types of programs, which there is clearly such a need for in these communities. Women generally do not have much financial independence in India, but such programs give them the opportunity to take control of their finances and make money independently of their husbands.
The heat makes it extremely difficult for the kids to focus on school work, so rather than coming in every morning and being unproductive, the teachers have decided to give a holiday next week. This means we get the week off, so the other volunteers and I might go on vacation somewhere (hopefully some place where it is a bit cooler, like Darjeeling). More information and photos to come!