Friday, January 13th, 2012 was my first day of work at ETASHA. Here were my initial thoughts, which I wrote about on January 14, 2012:
I work for an organization called ETASHA (Enabling and Training Adolescents for Successful and Healthy Adulthood) http://www.etashasociety.org/home.html. First thing yesterday morning, I met with the director, Dr. Meenakshi Nayar. She talked to me about how the organization works. Basically, ETASHA works with underprivileged youth and provides them with vocational training on employment and also employability. ETASHA works on its own, with other NGO’s and also with the government. Yesterday, I got to see this firsthand. From the head office, Fatima and I traveled to a government ITI (Industry Training Institute). This institute trains young women in the trades to become mechanics, plumbers and electricians, but also includes: interior design and hairstyling. ETASHA is providing additional training on computer and language skills, and interpersonal work and social confidence at the institute. I got to sit in on an English class. The biggest tool ETASHA teaches youth is confidence. Because of the caste system and their underprivileged backgrounds, the students have little to no (if not negative) exposure to public life. For example, on a field trip, the students went to a restaurant in the city. They had a budget, and had to order on their own. They also looked at the conditions in the restaurant compared to their local market. To us, going to a restaurant is second nature, whereas some students were afraid of going into a restaurant for fear of being thrown out because of their caste. They all talked about how clean, well lit, and open the restaurants were, but noted that the prices were significantly higher. Most concluded that they would prefer to bring friends and family to the restaurant rather than a local market.
My last two stops were at the two satellite offices. They are located in slum colonies so that the youths can walk to the centers. A typical program runs for three months, three hours a day, with sessions morning, noon, and night to accommodate the most youth possible. I went with two colleagues in to the community of Madanpur Khadar to talk to youth and their parents about the program.
Contrary to what one might believe based on pictures, the slums do not seem like a dead, desperate place. Instead, they are alive with activity. Yes, water and sanitation are a problem, but everyone was sweeping and laundering and cleaning their clothes, their houses, and the streets. There is also a certain dignity and respect in the community. For people who did not want to talk to us, they left us alone, and for those who did, we were often invited for tea. Everyone was doing everything they could to improve their situation. They are not wallowing in pity, nor looking for a handout.
For all those who asked me why I wanted to go to India of all places, this is the reason why: I wanted to walk through the slums in Delhi. I want to do something to help. I did not take pictures because I did not want to make myself even more of an outsider to these people, nor objectify their homes and community through a privileged lens. I know that the biggest change that will occur in these next months will be within me, not within the community, but I am open and eager to learn about these people and the problems they are facing.