Hello and welcome to Smiles from India! This blog is about my gap year (between high school and college) as I live in Guwahati, Assam, India. I am working for Operation Smile (www.operationsmile.org), which is a non-profit organization that repairs cleft lips and cleft palates. I am also helping the rest of the community working with the Pratyasha Foundation (http://www.facebook.com/pratyashafoundation). Enjoy and keep smiling!
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Two weeks ago, when I
interviewed some of my friends who live in the Lakhtokia slum, I interviewed
two mothers. Parvati is a tiny young woman who is always the first person I see
upon walking into the slum and has a long history with Pratyasha. Puja is a
mother who I am curious about because she looks so worn out and exhausted.
Puja came to Lakhtokia two
years ago from Nalbari, a small town in the Nalbari district. She and her
husband picked up their three kids and came to Guwahati for work. Ever since
coming here, they have lived in the Lakhtokia slum. Soon after moving, her
husband discovered alcohol and since then he has had a hard time getting a job.
He collects bottles everyday, and makes approximately 100-150 rupees (2-3
dollars) per day. Sometimes they have food and sometimes they must skip a meal:
“It depends on how many bottles my husband collects,” Puja said. She likes
Nalbari and her old life much more because the living conditions were better. “In
Nalbari," she said, "I had dreams for my kids, but now it is not
Puja told me that she is
very scared of her house getting knocked down. The police always come on national
holidays (like Independence Day or Republic Day). When these holidays are
coming, she and her family move from the slum intto the street and lay low for
a little while. She explained that the police come and harass most everyone as
they knock down all of the houses. She chooses to avoid these scary times and
protect her family at all costs.
Parvati has lived in the
Lakhtokia slum her entire life. She lives immediately next to the blue temple
where we feed the kids on Sundays, with her daughter, a younger brother, and her
mother. Parvati is one of the poorest in Lakhtokia. She lives amongst the trash that she and her family collect, sleeps under one ripped tarp, and smells the sewage flowing right next to her home. Ever since she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, she
has become quite close with the Pratyasha crew. Thanks to Kristin and the
volunteer doctor, she was cured within six months of her diagnosis (for more information on this adventure visit Kristin's blog- here and here.
Parvati is always smiling
and waving when I see her. However, we have all seen Parvati get extremely
angry. She can bark at people like I have never seen before. I sense that she
is a powerful woman in Lakhtokia. Whenever Parvati knows that I am in the slum picking
up the kids for school, I am completely safe. The thought that literally goes
through my mind when Parvati waves at me is, “Parvati knows I am here, I am
Parvati guesses her age is
26 but she looks about 19. She has three brothers and two sisters, all of whom
live on the railroad tracks. Parvati's tarp houses four people: Abita (her 6-year-old daughter),
Zehrul (her 14-year-old brother) and her mother (name unknown). Parvati’s husband died of unknown causes when Abita was seven days old.
The whole family collects plastic and makes around 50-60 rupees per day (one
dollar). If Parvati is lucky, she is hired to sweep and/or mop for the day at a
nearby business for around 10 rupees. She confided in me that she often does
not eat because there is not enough food for the whole family. That explains
why she is so small and skinny.
Parvati wants Abita to get
educated. Abita began going to the Don Boscoe afternoon program for several
weeks but then stopped going. Parvati said that Abita gets too distracted and
finds it boring. So, we have to do something about that. (I think it’s time to
start our own school for these kids and make it extremely active and fun).
Parvati does not like
living in Lakhtokia because of what happens once the sun sets. She said when
that happens, “There are lots of drunk people who do bad things.” When asked
what the “bad things” were, she did not comment. Like everyone else, she is
scared of the police. She said they are always beating up her brother for no
reason. She explained that someone in the nearby Lakhtokia market will complain
to the police that someone has stolen a shoe, a shirt, an onion, etc., and the
police immediately will blame the people living on the railroad tracks. Then,
houses get knocked down, and people get hurt.
What I noticed about
Parvati is that she is tough because she has to be. But inside that tiny body
is a big heart.