Thursday, July 26, 2007

Extra Extra Pics!

Some of my favorite photos from our first few days of community education:
Priya (in blue) acting as disgruntled community housewife who wants to know why we are here and what our project benefits are. Musheer (holding poster) advertises our project and slogan.
With space being extremely tight in the slum alleys, Meenu (red) and Priya (blue) gave one of their short skits on the steep stairs!
Catherine observing the skits. Women in the background are either watching or preoccuptied with household tasks.
Our beautiful red dust bin. We will be buying 10 of these for our bin implementation phase of our project on Monday. For now, the bin is empty of trash and is just holding Julie :). This is what happens when we are bored in our room and there is a tempting red dust bin stored with us...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Saaf Sehai Say Het Lai!"

This week has been action-packed everyday, challenging, and exhausting for our whole team as we are all determined to make our ambitious sanitation project successful, sustainable, and tailored to incorporate community input at every step.

With the project in full swing, our team felt a need to educate all members of the community about the details of our project and how to make their involvement positive so that our project could be carried out as we envisioned it. Julie and I volunteered to be the Community Education coordinators. Without community knowledge of the project, the project’s benefits, how to use the bins, and how to view this project with the right attitude, a majority of the community would not be likely able to accept and support this project and the project would not be successful in its implementation. Everyone we have spoken to has told us one our biggest obstacles will be changing people's mindsets and habits, but we are up to the challenge!

Our first day of community education was a launch of bright colorful posters with our slogan "Saaf Sehai Say Het Lai!" meaning "Be clean...Be healthy!" and our iconic trashbin man. Our posters advertised when we would be introducing the trashbins in the community (Monday) and were to generate hype and knowledge about our project launch.

Sammy, Priya, Meenu and Julie creating our posters and writing the Hindi slogan.
Our pretty posters. To protect them from monsoon rains we "laminated" them. Lamination is an option here, but the cheap way to do it is to get "plastic cover" from the local stationary store (~$0.25 a meter) and create your own plastic covering. It's basically an akward stiff plastic bag for posters that you need to cut and secure yourself. But nonetheless, we grew fond of this new type of lamination.
In addition to our posters, our entire team did a series of short skits in places around the community educating them about the benefits of our project. Above, the team is acting in the marketplace.
A captivated audience of school children. Getting them to chant the slogan was a great idea by Yamilee and really got the message spread across the community since not many adults (especially the working males) attended our midday plays.

So you must be wondering...what are the benefits of a sanitation project aimed at reducing trash in the waterways and ground?

1. less bugs/mosquitos which breed in the stagnant trash clogged waters

2. less disease spread

3. less water cloggage

4. a nicer/clean community to live in

5. community unity around a single cause

Regular trash collection is a luxury to these people who often deal with overflowing government dumpsters and spotty/inconsistent trash bin and sewage cleaners. We sure do have it made in the U.S.

Local women fetching water. Many housewives viewed our skit!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The search for Community Committee members

Today our group divides into several subteams, and my subteam and I have the assignment of scouting for 3 involved and enthusiastic community members that would be willing to become a part of the project's community commitee. The community commitee is a body that would oversee the progress of the program and be the community's direct link in contacting government officials or sanitation workers. First, we walked around getting to know the individuals that stood out amongst the 173 families in the narrow lanes. Just from speaking to a few people, the RF students were able to gage which people the community respected most and looked to for leadership. We approached Krishna, an old woman/shopkeeper, Mohammad, a friendly tailor in a nearby community who knew the area well and was passionate about our cause, and Rama, another young male shopkeeper with strong opinions but a great leadership style and network in the community. It's great to see people who are willing to step up and take time out of their work-filled days to volunteer and become community representatitves.

The RF media personel came with us into the slum today and interviewed several members of the community about their opinions of sanitation and how they felt about the current trash situation. The presence of cameras, mikes, etc. caused a lot of curiousity and excitement :).

Small children getting their drinking water (from government tap) right next to the sewage drain clogged with trash.

Yuck, we want to help the community solve this problem ! Water barely flows and you can find ANYTHING in the water from eggplants and coke bottles to human feces.

Musheer speaking to Krishna, one of our future community committee members, we hope!

We were also able to meet with the local President and VP of the community council in their homes. Apparently, people in the community have very mixed feelings about them because they do bring about some beneficial programs and features to the community but at the same time there is immense corruption in the system because they keep a lot of the community's money and don't do anything with it. It definetly was difficult for our group to decide how to take their generous offers of help because of the possible corruption/political ties that could possibly complicate our project. However, in the end we used their help to set up a meeting with the MCD (Municipal Council of Delhi) which handles sanitation/water and we kept our interaction professional and friendly but did not work much further with them due to their mixed popularity with the community.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Today we visited Jamia Milia Islamia a university known for its social work. Specifically we went to speak to Dr. Neelam. We presented our idea to her and she definetly gave us good critique. It's not going to be easy to carry out our plan given our need to work with NGOs and the government, not to mention winning community support. It was a good reality check, but we still think our plan is feasible and appropriate.

Later in the day we got to explore more of India and start our "weekend". With Sony, 3 of us girls (Yamilee, Julie, and I) went to Sarojini Nagar (a huge market specializing in clothes). I bought a beautiful sari which I hope to put to use at some point!

A sari is just the fabric that wraps around one's body. They can range from $5 to $100 depending on the material and the quality/amount of embellishment. But that's not all, apparently you need a "fall" or piece of fabric sewn to inside of the front of the sari so your legs (after long-term walking) won't fray the bottom. You also need a "petticoat" or skirt to wear under the sari. Lastly, you must be fitted for a "blouse", the small top that is worn with the sari.

From the market we went to visit Sony's mother's family in Dwarka about an hour from where we live. The live in these huge apartment complexes called "societies". They are clean and safe, a good place to call home :). Her cousins were incredibly welcoming and their children were adorable. Julie and I got our haircut at a neighboring apartment-turned salon.

After our $3 trims/layers we kind of look like twins ...

Sony and her nephew, Shanu!

With Sony's family! Such great hospitality and a delicious dinner :)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Shopping with a professor?

In the excitement over our project and getting then tons of things set up before our project could launch we canceled our weekend plans to Jaipur.

Julie and I spent our Saturday morning shopping with our supervisor/professor Dr. Miraj who is the Head of the Department of Healthcare and Philanthropy at RF, quite an interesting experience. Indian hospitality is huge here and it was nice to see Dr. Miraj in the market setting rather than behind his office desk. This kind of personal investment in fieldwork is something I wouldn't expect in America . Our MIT professors are caught up in so many administrative and lab duties I would never expect to go shopping with them!

Dr. Miraj on the back of a bicycle rickshaw. We went to a Fardibad market for supplies.

Crowded market sells anything you could think of: shoelaces to porcelain toilets.

Jackpot! Possible trashbins for project! We also picked up team tshirts, posters and decorating materials for our community awareness and education campaign about using the trashbins. It was a very productive day on our end (the rest of the team had gone to the community to scout possible locations for bins and to get the community's opinions about the project). Dr. Miraj was true to the concept of Indian hospitality as we were treated to paneer jalembi (delicious sweet doughy fried sugary syrupy dessert) and dried fruit lassi while in the market.

Jalebi, looks good doesn't it? (usually a shocking bright orange).
Also- our movie taste has branched beyond the Bollywood section. We recently saw the Indian drama called "Water" a moving and disturbing movie about Indian widows set in the 1930s. It's an incredibly beautiful film to watch done by the Indian woman director Deepa Mehta. I've seen her movie "Fire" (thanks to Amrita!) which was equally controversial.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Finding the perfect community to work with...

We next had to find a community that would be perfect for us to conduct a pilot project of our community sanitation program within.

Our criteria:
1. It has to be dirrrrty, lots of trash on the ground and in the waterways.
2. The people have to show an enthusiasm for changing their community for the better.

Woman sewing on her window. The waterways surrounding her house were narrow and congested with trash.

Yamilee, Musheer, Meenu, Dharani and Cat disucssing the possibility of working with the community they are in.

This area looks very dirty. This is the end of the waterway. All the waste that flows down this eventually clogs up and someone who's fed up will generally pull it out for the MCD (gov employee) to pick up and dispose of.
At the end of the day, it looks as if we had found the perfect community/small neighborhood to work with. It consists of approx. 180 families or about 8,000 people who live in a crowded area that still has room for local trashbin placement. They had some of the most trash we've seen as one of their streets is a small vendor/market place with eggplants and feces floating by in the waterways. I'm excited to work here, the area has great potential!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Picking a Project out of a Haystack

Today, our MIT-RF team buckled down for a looong meeting on campus. We sat down and talked about all our findings/surveying the past two days and the major problems each of our groups (one for health, disability, and education) found in our respective areas. It was really exciting to be brainstorming several solutions to the major problems we found (there are sooo many problems that need to be addressed in the slums). Socially accepted, sustainable, and implementable solutions are very hard to create so we racked our brains in several thinking sessions.

After about 3-4 hours of deliberation over several projects we had come up with and dealing with the possible threats to each project's success we decided that our project would concern a community waste disposal scheme.

Basics of our project:
Problem- Community members throw garbage into open waterways within community and other public spaces, which negatively impacts the sanitation level - and thereby the health (insects breed in stagnant water and water-borne illnesses are common) - of the community (from report courtesy of Cat). This contamination of waterways occurs because the dumpsters are usually quite far and people find putting trash into the water a fast and easy way to get trash away from their homes.

Some seriously disgusting trash/waste congested open waterways (flank all the alleyways).

Solution- place local trashbins, funded in part by the community. The community will be educated to place all their trash in these local bins rather than their waterways. These local bins will be emptied 1-2 times a day (into the government dumpster, often overfilled and neglected) by a community employed individual who is paid by the community.

In order for us to carry out this project and encourage its sustainability within 10 days we know we have a lot of obstacles to overcome and I hope we have a lot of luck our side. Lots of our project depends on community attitude, a not-so-simple community payment scheme for the removal of the trash, and the need for backing by local NGOs (ASHA, YWCA) for us to keep this project going after we leave. But I firmly believe its a project that if implemented will bring about great change in the community we choose to work with and has the potential to become a working role-model for nearby slums.

Just for fun: After work, we were craving some American pizza so after a 2 hour hunt for a Dominoe's/Pizza Hut that would deliver we finally got our pizza. So delicious, we miss our greasy pizzas :).

Cat, Julie, and Yamilee in my room enjoying our Dominoe's!

Heatstroke :(

early morning fever + sweltering noonday heat in slums = Jessica with heatstroke

Sickness has been jumping from team member to team member and despite the good stretches of health for me it's hard to keep in mind that we're still in a foriegn country that our bodies sometimes still aren't used to the setting.

Regardless, I had felt well enough at one point in the morning to head out with the team. Yesterday, we went into the slums to survey households about what they believed their biggest problems were in health, education, and disability so we could find a starting point for our slum improvement project.
Priya and Sammy (Samridhi) surveying in a slum. Notice the several water containers

However, mid way through the nauseau and dizzyness got to me. I tried to keep drinking water but didn't feel like I could hold it down. My amazing teammate Julie accompanied me back home early- but the rickshaw ride was horrible. We got caught in noon day traffic and the heat totally overwhelmed me. My head started to feel like it was on fire and I started to lose feeling in my hands (very scary) which stiffened in an akward position. I couldn't walk too well or fast after we got out of the rickshaw so Julie called me a bicycle rickshaw so we could make it back to campus. Once I cooled down I was so incredibly relieved but I had a high fever for the rest of the afternoon. Lots of sleep, rest, fans and AC helped me return to normal temp and feeling better. Needless to say, it was my first experience in a long time with heatstroke (I used to get them in Taiwan when I was little), and it was a scary one!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phase 2: Creating and Implementing a Slum Improvement Project

So this week we begin the second phase of our project in which we will use everything we learned studying the slums near Deepalaya and apply our strategies to a new slum area nearby. Though only a few kms away, this slum in Govindpuri Kalkaji is definetly worse than the others we have seen. It's bisected by a busy road and has many shops and vendors, meaning more trash and littering. Also as one goes deeper in to see the slums the roads are all mud and sewage with the smell and flies making the situation a whole lot worse.

Grazing cows (lost cows are EVERYWHERE in Delhi and though they are sacred animals, no one really takes care of them) near an overflowing dumpster. The government is supposed to pick these dumpsters up every week but that doesn't often happen. I took this photo at high noon (~90F), imagine the smell!
We met up with a local NGO, the YWCA (like the YMCA in the U.S. but targeted towards women). They provide vocational training for older women and academic schooling for younger children.L-R: Our superivor Dr. Miraj, woman who helps run YWCA, and a Jamia Milia Islamia (university) social work student named Mafoos who seems just a little older than us. Mafoos has dedicated his career towards improving life for the underpriviledged and engaging in social work which is a sacrfice not many make who are as well off as he is.
The RF girls :)- Mansi, Meenu, and Samridthi in the community.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Red Fort

Sunday we decided to visit Old Delhi's historic Red Fort which was recently named a World Heritage site. The mugal emperor Shajahan helped build this massive fort and up to the 1990s the India military still used parts of it.

Outside the opening gate to Red Fort. It's walls stretched as far as the eye could see.
Inside the private hearing room. The emperor would address his minsters and officials here from his white marble sitting area.
The bath house, I really like the arches in mughal architecture. The trough seen in the middle would be filled with water and ran from building to building.
Catherine in front of the markets surrounding Red Fort, you can see the oncoming monsoon rain clouds in the distance. Here you can find anything from tea kettles to elaborate saris. Also found in Old Delhi is the National Gandhi Museum and a park commemorating where he was cremated. Gandhi's face is found on every single Indian monetary bill quite different from the variety of faces on our American bills!
So as expected, the sky darkened in the afternoon and the rains came pouring down! Shopkeepers drape huge tarps over their goods and begin hurriedly packing things before the rain. Once it starts pouring everyone rushes for space under store tarps or any kind of covering- we were frantically looking for a highly-recommended restaurant named Karim's and after about 10 minutes running in the rain we found it! I felt it was a decent place and had a super spicy green curry with paneer and figs.

A dessert store with some of my favorites- gulab jamen (brown friend dough ball in syrup), barfi (almond bar with decorative and edible tin foil).
After lunch we visited India's largest mosque which was quite flooded with puddles since the rain. As with all mosques, visitors must remove their shoes and cover their legs. Since I was wearing "short trousers" I had to rent a sacklike leg covering. The mosque was beautiful with a huge open plaza for praying and birds everywhere. Wading through muddy water and birdseed, however, was less than fun. We went home soon after this because puddles were ruining any chances we had to explore the small markets around the area.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

$5 of luxury....

Wandering around the Rai Foundation Meadows Campus~

The main walkway in Meadows. Lots of greenery and the buildings are pretty simple and sparse.

Today, we went to check out the campus beauty parlor owned by a small and cute Indian lady named Neena. As you can see below, they don't make beauty parlors here like they do in the U.S...
Nevertheless, this simple parlor offered all the basic Indian ameneities such as threading eyebrows and dyeing one's hair with henna (results in very reddish color, we were wondering whether henna would make any different on Cat's natural red hair :)). We went in and decided to get back massages (~15 min) which felt sooo nice after a long week's work and only cost us $2.50 each! It was pretty stellar treatment in an unexpected place. Campus beauty salon. Yes, its within those double doors and next to the shed.

Campus is small but uncrowded. Here's the basketball court where Catherine's been teaching me how to properly shoot and work on my layup, bringing back distant middle school PE memories!
Later that night we ventured into Faridabad, neighboring region to Delhi and found a movie theater! A 25 minute rickshaw ride only costs us about $0.15, since Faridabad's autorickshaws operate like minibuses. We were able to get tickets to the new Harry Potter movie (not in Hindi! and only about $3.00) and since I'm one of the biggest Harry Potter fans ever I was beaming through the entire movie, which I loved! Personally, I had imagined the Department of Mysteries to be a bit different but I thought Bellatrix Lestrange was perfectly cast.

So for about $5 I got a relaxing back massage and saw a Harry Potter movie! Not bad for a Saturday of western luxury :).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Parsi Welcome and Farewell

Right after stepping off our long train ride and freshening up at the hotel we were ready to experience Mumbai! Just minutes from our hotel , the famous landmark "Gate of India" which is located right on the boardwalk. Not to be confused with "India Gate" a landmark in Delhi which we visited earlier.

Cat, me, Julie, and Yamilee in front of some of the most expensive complexes in Mumbai. Julie's huge extended family treated our group out to dinner every night in Mumbai! Their generosity and caring have been so appreciated by us! As mentioned before, Julie and her family are Parsi, meaningn they follow the Zoroastrian faith. I've been learning so much about this religion since meeting her so I thought I'd share some highlights. Zoroastrianism is a faith some believe the first monotheistic religion and which started around 5 B.C. Though the religion was thought to have been practiced by much of Iran in ancient history it is now mostly practiced by those in India and Pakistan. The religious community is small (less than 200,000) since the only way one can be Zoroastrian is to be a child of parents that are both Parsees. No one can convert to the religion and mixed-religion couples are frowned upon. We were told that apparently the board of Parsees have offered to pay the expenses of any children a Parsee couple has beyond 2 children, an interesting concept to increase the size of their religious community!

On Saturday, we got a chance to visit Ghandi's Mumbai house and museum. It was a part of a day long tour in which I got sick two hours in. I ended up having to hail a cab and rest back at the hotel for the remainder of the day. Being a traveler and having a volatile stomache isn't much fun sometimes...

However! I recovered from nauseu and stomach pains to enjoy a huge dinner with Julie's family on our last night in Mumbai. Her relatives were incredibly friendly, loud, and loved introducing us to dish after dish of delicious indian specialties. We truly felt a part of her family and without them Mumbai wouldn't have been the same!Julie's younger cousins pointed us in the direction of a local club and bar and we enjoyed a quiet Sunday night in the place which was on the empty side. But the music was great and we recognized almost every bollywood song the dj put on! We had a blast and felt right at home even with lots of Indian guys around us singing Hindi lyrics.

On our last day we visited a Parsi colony and saw the "fire temple" that Parsees worship within. (only parsees allowed in) Woman and men have to wear a special tank top underneath their clothes before entering and apparently they do not pray to any figure our face but rather to a bowl of fire.

Fittingly, we encountered a small downpour before leaving. Pictured here is a Mumbai taxi, very different from our Delhi rickshaws!

Mumbai- city by the sea :)

My wonderful roomate Julie is half Pakistani and half Indian. This weekend she went to visit her mother's side of the family (all Parsee and followers of the Zoroastrian faith) in Bombay (a.k.a. Mumbai) and she invited us along with her! Mumbai is known for its western image and bollywood actors. Located right by the Arabian sea it has a great costal view and was in a strange way reminiscent of Boston.

We decided to be frugal travelers and tackle the first part of the long journey on an overnight train and return via a short airplane trip. As you can see it's quite a distance and ended taking us 18 hours! (I like drawing on maps) The Delhi Train Station. In accordance with Indian Standard Time "IST", the train arrived 10 minutes after it was supposed to depart and it took an extra 45 minutes for it to get moving. It was an incredibly humid day and the train station is an incredibly hectic place. When our train arrived we couldn't find our boogi (train compartment) number and were frantically running up and down the platform. At last we were told that our number didn't exist and that the last boogi was where we should go to. So continues our frustration with Indian transportation!

We were seated in Tier 3, the lowest class of the nicest train. So we had real AC sat about 8 to a compartment (still pretty crowded!) and later hanging beds were pulled down so we could sleep. We were well fed with plenty of curries and chipatis. I got to glimpse some of the Indian countryside crossing between compartments and the lush farm fields were gorgeous in the dawn mist. Since it's been raining hard with the start of monsoon season (Mumbai had experienced awful floods and many deaths the week before) most fields were filled with muddy water.

Sitting on my bunk bed before bed time. I was on the highest bunk (3 tiers of bunk beds), about 8 feet above the floor! Luckily I don't roll too much in my sleep.

We arrived to beautiful Mumbai around 11AM (we left Delhi around 5PM!). It was foggy and cloudy but no monsoon rains! Here is the bay called the "Queen's Necklace" a huge circular skyline. Julie's huge extended family has been amazing and arranged for us a personal driver while also having taken care of our hotel reservations.