Dharavi

Some statistics: Over 50% of Mumbai’s population lives in a slum. At over 7 million people, that’s larger than the entire population of most states in the US. We’ve spent the past couple of days meeting with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work across India with slum-dwellers, and doing daily field trips. Yes, slumming it.

But I don’t think it was anything like what we expected. On our first day here, we met with Manjeet Kripalani, Business Week India’s bureau chief. She related a story that, when she was a cub reporter fresh out of school, her editor took her aside and explained that there are really only two kinds of stories: “Oh, the pity of it!” and “Oh the wonder of it!”

Visiting the endless stretches of Dharavi, with mile after mile of tin roofed, concrete floor, dirt road disenfranchised poverty, what could anyone expect but an overwhelming sense of pity? And yet, everywhere we went, we were filled with wonder. Improvised classrooms in a home literally no larger than my closet, filled with giggling students eager to show off. Improvised ingenuity that would stump a NASA engineer, packing it all in. Kids being kids, playing at those games that kids play everywhere, hamming it up for the camera.

We visited public schools, private classes held in cramped one-room cinderblock homes and schools set up for undocumented migrant workers on construction sites, whose children would otherwise be crawling unattended through the dirt unattended. Granted, we visited the lucky ones – the amazing volunteers and staffers from Pratham, Azim Premji and Mobile Creches are still running themselves ragged to bring a decent education to all the rest. But oh, the wonder of it.

Schoolyard at the public school:

Hamming it up on the streets of Dhavari:

The “library” – a one-room schoolhouse:

Preschool at a Mobile Creche site:

A “bridge” classroom – preparing children of migrant construction workers to enter mainstream school:

Clearly, everybody dressed up in their best for our visit:

Devika Mahadevan (left), the 28 year old powerhouse driving Mobile Creche, and some of the mothers/teachers:

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