We met Mr. and Mrs. Hashmi through a friend who has worked with some of our team here in India. This friend, Aruna, a social worker and child psychologist, got in touch with us when we first came to Pune and put us in touch with a lot of orphanages, schools and other institutions that needed the sort of help we give, including humanitarian aid, social improvement education, teaching English and so forth.
Aruna took us to meet the Hashmis at their nearby slum crèche that was at that time an appalling mess and in a terrible state of disrepair, almost not habitable. At that time there were about 35 children who attended a daycare-like situation there on a daily basis while their mothers went to work.
For those of you unfamiliar with what a "crèche" is, it's designed to be a type of community building for the very, very poor. This particular building on the outskirts of one of the biggest slums in Pune, housing about 200,000 people, drawing mostly those from nomadic tribes who come to the city to find some form of income. The living conditions associated with Indian slums of this nature are almost unbelievable to any Westerner. Again, a "crèche" is an attempt to offer a myriad of basic services to these poor unfortunates.
Now slums in India are a sort of free-for-all, with the most powerful claiming the most land. And even though land is now officially allocated to families and they receive a land title and pay taxes etc. it is still sort of Wild West here in that respect.
The crèche building we went to see had been used for a variety of community projects ranging from weddings to meetings to a very simple school and daycare facility. To illustrate the above point, the property had at one time had a nice little flower garden in front, with a concrete bench, and one night some people just dug through the garden to build a temple, and the Hashmis were powerless to do anything about it! They were only thankful that they still have the building legally allocated.
The Hashmis, now in their 60's, had started the first NGO in Pune thirty-something years ago and this particular crèche project had been undertaken about 15 years ago. The main thrust behind keeping the crèche running for the last few years is a local lady whose young daughter, Aswini, was killed while crossing the road from the slum to catch the school bus. At that time, there was no place in the slum itself for children to go to school. The mother determined that no other parent would suffer such loss as his or her family if she could help it, and so she started the Aswini Crèche. However, due to lack of financing and interest, it had fallen into a terrible state. Our friend Aruna felt it was a perfect project for our FCF team and so we took it on with the intention of helping in whatever way we could.
Since we started working there 18 months ago, fifty children have enrolled so there are now 83 children in attendance every day, and they are having more and more people from the slum asking if they can also send their children. Among other things the children, beginning at 3 years of age, learn English, something that government schools are now teaching as well. It is a big status symbol in India these days as English is considered the language that matters!
Nat and his wife, Crystal, from our team handled a lot of the local and fundraising side of things in the community, and with a grant from Family Care Foundation, we tackled the job of recreating this Community Center in the slums of Pune.
Hiring a local contractor, we looked over the existing structure. There was no lighting and it was very dim inside, no electrical connections and the roof was so full of holes that at night what you saw was a starry sky! We firstly removed the roof, a mixture of tin and plastic and replaced it. Then we started on the walls and the needed brickwork. We added an internal wall to keep the crèche separate from the women's training section, which had piles of broken furniture and a few old broken down sewing machines from the sewing classes that had been held there a few years previously. (Before the place was also taken over as a drinking/gambling den.) Local businesses helped with 2,000 bricks, 20 bags of cement, truckloads of sand etc. and we employed local labor.
Part of the building plan was to put in a toilet but there are no city plans for drainage in the area so we had to find the right man who knew where the road was last dug up! We had a couple of false starts but eventually we found the main drain and made our own hole in the pipe and viola, we had drainage!
It was tough work in the burning sun, breaking up all the old plaster off all the walls and then re-plastering them. We also bricked up some windows that the neighbors had built a wall in front of, only a few inches away, and plastered over them too. We have repaired the steel doors and modified the entrance as their front door hadn't opened all the way due to the temple being built right there partially blocking it!
When the walls were all refinished, we started on the electricity, with a completely new wiring system including main junction box and adding new fans and fluorescent lights etc. This changed the place from a hot, dark, dingy place into a bright and breezy uplifting setting, complete with running water, a bathroom, washbasin and toilet.
Before the children all had to rush home at 11:30 am to use their toilets at home, as the property did not have one of its own. And school usually finished at that time each day as a result, but now they have at least a couple more hours of schooling since they have a toilet in the crèche now.
Our young volunteers painted the whole place a pristine white and it looks really nice plus the piece-de-resistance is the full wall mural that our young artists painted, with animated animals and settings. All 8 young folks did a tremendous job and Amaris our resident artist, and Mark, who recently returned to Japan, did the main sketches.
On the wall is a VCD video player and color TV which was donated by FCF specifically for this project, locked into a steel-doored frame welded to the windows, to prevent the equipment walking out the door one dark night! And complimenting this set up, there's a full set of sponsored bi-lingual (English and Hindi) Aurora educational videos. Furniture, chairs and bookshelves were donated by local businesses to fill out the property.
We now plan to add a second floor to the structure to allow them to accommodate double the number of children attending school each year. Can you help us?