We set out on this adventure because we wanted to give our kids an education like no other. An education that they would never receive stuck at school. This isn’t just a big holiday for us. Yes there will be lots of wonderful bits, but there will also be parts that will challenge us. Days that will change and shape our future selves. Today was the latter.
When visiting each country we want to live like locals as much as possible to truly learn the culture of each country we visit. We researched New Delhi before our trip and found the company Reality Tours and Travel. They are an NGO and 80% of the price of the tour funds a learning centre within the slum. We felt this was a great fit for our aim to travel ethically and responsibly.
When we told family and friends that we were taking the girls into a slum colony in New Delhi, India, they were shocked and worried. Most of them tried to talk us out of it.
Surprisingly we all agreed that today was one of the best things we have ever done. It has changed our views and opinions of poverty, corruption and exploitation. There is so much to talk about our visit.
It’s worth noting that out of respect we didn’t take photographs inside the slum, these people are not zoo animals. Some of the photos in this post were provided to us by the guides.
We met our guide Kavita at the entrance to the Delhi metro in Connaught place. She greeted us with a smile, and gave us some facts about Delhi. We then rode the metro with her, it took 40mins to get to Ohkla Station which sits at the gate into the slum. The picture above is the view of the Sanjay Slum Colony from the metro station.
The path at the bottom of the picture above is the main road into the slum. We took this picture from the metro bridge. The first sight we saw was pigs, cows, goats and kids of the human variety mooching around this rubbish heap. Have to say it was no where near as smelly as we imagined!
About the Sanjay Slum Colony
50 years ago, the 25 acres of land that now houses the Sanjay Slum Colony was all jungle. In 1969 people began moving to the city from rural villages to find work. They illegally began cutting down the jungle to build settlements. Now in 2019 there is no jungle left and 60000 people live and work in the Sanjay Slum Colony. It is like a mini city within New Delhi. Many are born here and never leave the slum.
Sights, Sounds, and Smells
The main road into the slum is just a dirt track. There are no paths, trucks, motorbikes, cars, cows, and people all share the street. It is chaotic. There is rubbish, excrement, and puddles of goodness knows what all over the street. At the side of the main road are wagons and stalls selling all manner of goods for the people of the slum. Including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lentils, rice, herbs and spices. It was a heady mix of noise, colour and smells. The girls loved it. Even Ava who can struggle with sensory overload. After the tour I asked her what she thought, she replied “I just love it here mummy, the people are so nice and friendly”
As you venture into the slum the concrete streets become narrow, and maze like. with the houses built at odd shapes and angles. Children, bikes, men with huge sacks on their backs and motorbikes all navigate these skinny little lanes.
We meandered through streets like the one above for 3 hours with our guide. It was a little smelly at times. But we felt completely safe.
Living in the Slum
This picture is taken from the roof of one of the homes in Sanjay Slum Colony. I think you can now appreciate the full scale of the maze like structures. The home we entered was 3 storeys high with a roof terrace, much like the ones in this picture. Within this home are 5 families. Each family has a room that would be the equivalent of a small double bedroom in the UK.
The families here are larger than in the UK. Grandparents often live with the family too as well as cousins, and other extended relations. Because the parents and grandfathers work the older female relations provide the childcare, and do the housework.
Because Sanjay Colony is an informal settlement, illegally built on government owned land, they live under constant threat of their homes being demolished.
There are no bathrooms, or running water, only 40% of the homes have a toilet. The rest use some small public toilets on the main road of the slum.
The people fetch water in barrels from government trucks on the main road twice a day, morning and night. Some houses have an outside tap but the water is only switched on for 30 minutes a day. The only problem is that 30 minutes is not consistent every day. So one day your water could be on at 9am and the next day 2pm. They never know.
There is also no sewage collection or waste disposal in the slum. The gutters in the street run with dirty water and garbage, so water borne illness is rife.
On the roof we saw people relaxing, people washing clothes, people bathing their children in washing up bowls of water.
Once word spread that we were up on the roof people were climbing onto their roofs to wave to us and say hello.
It was a sobering but joyous experience for all of us to see the colony from above.
Working in the slum
Most of the men in the slum work in the local garment factories that make clothing for popular western high street brands. I will never look at a clothing label that says ‘made in India’ in the same way. Others sell goods in the slums, or have small businesses inside the slum, such as barber shops or small clothing stalls.
We stopped in a street off the main road into the slum that was lined with women such as those in the picture above. Their job is to pick apart scraps of fabric from the factories and separate them into bags organised by colour. It is tedious work under the hot sun.
They work 10 hours a day, every single day of the month, for 200rupees a day. This is equivalent to around £2. If they take a day off they lose their salary. Men are entitled to rest days, these women have no such entitlements. If anyone complains about their working conditions, they will be replaced.
Despite the tedious, backbreaking work these women were some of the friendliest people we have ever met. They spoke to us kindly, told the girls they were beautiful and were incredibly proud of the work they are doing.
We left this area feeling conflicted. We all know the huge toll that the fast fashion industry is having on the planet, as well as how these people are exploited. But also without this industry the people of Sanjay Colony would have no jobs to feed their families. They do not want our pity, they are proud to be able to provide for the ones they love. The girls talked about this aspect a lot, and if anything I’m glad it’s got them thinking about ethically produced sustainable clothing.
The Children of the Slum
The children of the Sanjay Slum Colony Tour were by far the absolute highlight. From the moment we entered they were running up to the girls. Shaking their hands, saying hello, asking their names and how old they were. We received cuddles, high fives, fist bumps and giggles from these beautiful happy souls.
These children have nothing. I actually feel ashamed at the amount of clothes, toys and technology that our children have. These kids have nothing, yet they are by far the happiest children we have ever met.
Watching the girls play and interact with them and navigate the language barrier was both emotional and fascinating.
The children here attend this one primary school from the ages of 6 until age 10. This is compulsory and government funded. After age 10 school must be paid for, so only those whose parents can afford it attend school elsewhere.
The girls attend school in the morning and the boys in the afternoon Monday to Friday. There are 5 classes of 90 children in the school. That’s one teacher for 90 children, and I thought teaching in the UK was stressful! All of the children wear uniforms. In this school they are taught in their native Hindi language and do not learn English. There are no practical lessons, only reading, writing and maths.
Health in the Slums
There are small clinics dotted about in the streets. When I say small I mean tiny. The one we went in had a single bed at the back the width of the room with a curtain across (the student doctor was asleep in the bed at the time of our visit), and a desk at the front with a small medicine cabinet. I think we had more medicines in our bathroom cabinet back home than the clinic.
The people come here to treat small ailments in exchange for a small fee. If something is serious they can go to the local government hospital to receive free treatment much like our NHS in the UK.
Religion in the slum
We also visited a small Hindu temple inside the slum where we learnt about their fasting rituals and the 33million Hindu gods.
It was truly fascinating, the girls were enraptured.
Charity Work in the Slum
80% of the money we paid for the tour funds the Reality Gives project within the slum. This funds a learning centre (the girls are stood in the classroom here in the picture above). They teach English, computing and life skills. All vital to the people of the slum to give them the tools to escape poverty. Because of this charity our guides (who were both born in the slum and still live here) are now students at university in New Delhi, and their ability to speak fluent English allows them to earn an income from these tours. If you want a worthy charity to donate to in the future. This small NGO is a worthy cause, we have seen the positive changes they are making within this community first hand.
Thoughts and Feelings
Firstly, I will start by saying that this tour is the best money we ever spent. The staff at Reality Tours were bubbly, friendly and informative. They even took time at the end of the tour to teach the girls some Hindi phrases (see picture above).
Bonnie said her favourite part was seeing the goats in potato sack coats and playing with the children. Ava said she loved the children and the fact that they were happier than any of her friends back home despite the fact they have absolutely nothing.
William said the tour blew his mind and was especially eye opening. He says he has fresh eyes now and will never complain about the small stuff again as us Brits have a tendency to do.
Visiting a slum with our children brought up a complex mix of emotions. Guilt at our white privilege and sadness at the unfairness of the universe and the postcode lottery of luck whether you are born poor or wealthy. Anger at the exploitation by large companies, the scale of the plastic pollution that these people have no choice but to massively contribute to, and anger at the humongous wealth gap that exists in our world.
Never again will we take for granted the running water in our home, safe, comfy beds to sleep in and nutritious food in our bellies.
We also left with a huge amount of respect for the people who live here. Never before have I witnessed such a beautiful sense of community. The people here were proud, happy and hardworking. We felt totally safe the whole time we were here.
If you are ever in New Delhi or Mumbai we would chalk this down as an absolute must do, even with your children.
We were worried the girls would be upset by what they saw today. But actually they have laughed and smiled none stop since the tour, talking to us about all they discovered in the slum.
This is the education we have set out to give them. Real life, real people, real experiences.
“I got my education out in the world. In my opinion, real life learning is the only way forward.”
– Richard Branson