May 15, 2014
Hello family and friends! Today was a busy, but glorious day! We started our morning by going to the Hanging Gardens. This was a beautiful place, filled with luscious plants, flowers, and of course trees with unique hanging branches. The flowers were so lush and colorful and there were even bushes sculpted into different animals. The gardens were so quiet and peaceful. It was easy to see why the locals enjoyed congregating there, and was a stark contrast to the busy and often dirty streets of Mumbai. While there, we saw several people who were chatting with friends, finding a quiet place to meditate, and even taking a nap! There was also a dirt path around the edge of the garden that circled the entire park. If we were in the United States I’m sure it would have been used as a track, for all the “mall walkers” trying to exercise. Instead, it was a nice space to stroll and enjoy nature. (I for one would choose the garden walking over mall walking any day!)
After the Hanging Gardens, we decided we all needed to do a little laundry, so what better way than to do it at Dhobi Ghat, India’s largest (outdoor) wash area. Just kidding! We didn’t really take our laundry there, but a lot of us have been starting to hand wash our own laundry back at the YWCA (we were then lamenting why we didn’t bring our laundry). The sun and heat are intense here and we have been sweating like crazy). Back to the Dhobi Ghat…it was an incredible sight to see. Picture tons of pods of little cement stalls with shacks in-between them and clothes-lines built on top of the shacks for the laundry to hang dry after it is washed. Not only do people come to this area to do laundry, but almost 10,000 people live there as well. We noticed that since this laundry work is so physical, it was mainly men. They were carrying huge bags of laundry down to the wash area, washing it, hauling it on top of the shacks, and hanging it up to dry in the blazing sun. The women on the other hand were given the jobs of begging and selling souvenirs to the tourists (that would be us). They are so darn good at what they do and many of us found it hard to say no to them. Fortunately, most us we literally had not money on (since we haven’t gone to the bank yet) so we could honestly tell them no.
With that being said, we finally were able to exchange our dollars for rupees after leaving Dhobi Ghat. This was an experience within itself! Several people brought their debit cards and were able to withdraw their rupees from an ATM and the rest of us had to run around from bank to bank, until looking for someone who would exchange our dollars. This was a feat in and of itself. For example, after going to about 3 banks, we found one that was willing to do the exchanges, only to find out that their system was down. Luckily we had our trusted local friend, Manjeet, who was able to get a local business to do the exchanges for us. We only had to walk down an alleyway and into a side shop to do it. It was a surreal experience, but fortunately, we had our rupees in hand, and it was all legal J! We had some down time before lunch so we were able to get our first experience shopping in a local market bazaar and shops. We had purchases from jewelry, stone carved elephants, scarves, coconut water and even pants that matched the style that the locals wear. We were all so excited to be able to experience this and to make purchases for our families and ourselves.
After lunch, we had the opportunity to go back to Prerana, to interact with the sweet children! We created two craft opportunities for the children: (1) making bracelets (with craft beads), and (2) an art project with paper plates, noodles, straws, toothpicks and glue. We split up the children into two groups and rotated them through the two stations so they could experience both activities. I helped with the bean, noodle, and paper plate activity, in creating works of art. One difficult thing that I noticed was the language barrier between the children and us. Thankfully, we were able to find creative ways to work around this difference, and engage the kids. One activity that broke the ice was teaching them, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. We even showed them the actions. The children really seemed to enjoy this (especially the actions)! The children then attempted to reciprocate by singing us a song. They sang it so beautifully and it was music to our ears!
Being able to interact with these children was incredible! Even though there were some challenges with the language barrier, we found other ways of communicating with them…whether it was through a “thumbs up,” clapping”, or having some of the older students translate for us. I was so impressed with how eager they were to learn and how excited they were to be doing these activities with us. At the end of all of our activities, we presented all of our gifts to Priti (the director of Prerana). She graciously accepted the gifts on behalf of the children and thanked us for taking the time to create such meaningful activities that the children enjoyed! There were even two students who stood up and thanked us on behalf of all of the children, and asked that we come back next year! All of the children were so gracious of the time we were able to spend with them and we left with our hearts being overflowed with joy!
To cap off the activities, we asked Priti if we could teach the children a “Traditional American Dance.” The room erupted with excitement, as everyone held their breath with anticipation with what they would learn. We all intermingled with the students, and then Rich and Paul led us in a stirring rendition of the “Hokey Pokey.” It was a fun way to end the evening. The children loved it, and we all left with our hearts much happier and lighter then when we came.
As we left Prerana, we took our last opportunity to walk down the streets of Faukland Road. This experience again helped us see the context in which these children live, and made me realize how important Prerana is in keeping them safe, and giving them a home away from home.
As I am writing this blog, I am realizing how profound this experience really was for all of us. It was such an eye opening experience to interact with these children and to see their resiliency in the face of such adversity. It was also heartbreaking knowing that their challenges go beyond my own comprehension. I for one will never forget today!
Check it out: Preranaantitrafficking.org to see some picture of our activities with the kids.