Monday, December 6, 2010

Jamshedpur: across India into a steel city
Our train to Jamshedpur in eastern India was due to leave at 6:30pm but because of the danger of Naxalite (a Maoist movement) attacks en route the rail authorities had delayed the departure Train to Jamshedpuruntil 2:00am… After 8 hours of dinner, songs, photos and cards, we boarded the train, found our berths, chain-locked our bags and shut our eyes… We woke next morning immersed in the world of Indian railways: food and drink peddlers, street musicians (some of them children), cleaners, beggars, families, security guards and other colorful characters — you couldn't find five minutes without somebody walking through.

Thirty two and half hours later, we were greeted at Tatanagar station by Biplav Mahato (AfL4), Appal Raju and Kishore Kumar long-time friends of IofC. We stay at the hostel where Tata Steel sponsor our accommodation, meeting friendly residents who are recent graduates of Tata training. The history of Jamshedpur is closely linked to the development and growth of the Tata Group — in fact much of this town has been built by Tata or the economic activity generated by the rise of the industry in the area.

Pune: First encounters
Our host, Roanak (who offered us his large apartment) gave us a warm welcome. Early the next day we had our first encounters with Indian life in this city, street vendors and traffic all filled with colour, life and noise.

On several visits in Pune we have been discovering about the Indian educational system.On several visits in Pune we have been discovering about the Indian educational system. From formal education of children to women’s empowerment through practical skills training, we have been moved to hear of the vision and passion of those we met. Shobha Supekar of Gandhi National Memorial Society talked about different skills for empowering women. Mediatrix (Kenya) said: ‘Mahatma Gandhi had a dream that the building we visited would be used for empowering women, and now it is happening. This encourages me to follow my dream and fight for women’s empowerment in my country.

Morning meditationAt Emmanuel we met the founder and chairman, Bakhtawar Singh. At first a successful businessman, he lost everything and his family plunged into poverty. He recounted how painful it was to be shunned, even to struggle for food. In this, he discovered new direction and meaning: to help the poorest children to be educated. Relying on guidance and gifts he opened a school, at first with only 2 pupils, now with 200. We were all inspired, in giving and receiving songs with the children. Ming Ling (China): ‘In this school they emphasized learning about moral values, self-awareness and identity rather than just skills. I had the opposite education, one based on external goals and competition; no-one ever tried to help me be myself. I really liked how children learnt to respect themselves and those who are different.’

Invited by Kiran Shah to a meeting of the ‘Circles Club’, a group of businessmen who support each other, we presented the ideas of IofC and India I Care campaign. Nhat (Vietnam) observed, ‘I learnt that we don’t have to be some special professional to be able to touch the hearts and minds of business people. We were able to share our own experience and the way we live, and they found inspiration from this.’

Bhuj: meeting real change-makers
After 25 hours of travel, the Bhuj group was greeted with a wonderful smile from Dr Shantu Patel, with whom we are now staying, surrounded by 144 energetic mentally and physically handicapped children. The school rose from the ruins following the 80-second earthquake in 2001,when 20,000 people died, 170,000 were injured, 600,000 left homeless and 910 villages destroyed. The whole city had to be rebuilt. Dr Patel lived in a tent for 19 months; but starting with 85,000 Rupees in the bank she was able to create this special school that cost 10 million Rupees.

All of us feel really grateful and touched by the passion and will of Dr. Patel. ‘She is a living example of a real change maker,’ said Killy (Guatemala).

Another was Prashant, with Hunnar Shala, an environmental NGO. He took us to a slum village in Bhuj where ladies formed a committee to build a water pump. In the beginning, many didn’t think the idea would work and they were often abused. But others put in 25 Rupees per month and the pump was set up. They built a pond and now have their own water supply. ‘I was amazed by the courage and determination of the women,’ said Solomon (Ethiopia). They are now thinking how to take their ideas to other slum villages where people live without water and power, while also teaching Bhuj people to recycle water and create green areas around the city. Every time we meet people it gives us a chance to share about IofC, Action for Life and our own stories of change; but at the same time we learn from brave and inspiring people working to develop their communities.

Vadodara: building a ‘functional pluralist society’
Our visit to the city in Gujarat began on one day with three sessions with students from three faculties of Maharaja Sayajirao Maharaja Sayajirao UniversityUniversity. Our interaction with the Faculty of Social Work ended with almost two pages filled with names and contacts of those wanting to know more about IofC.

The same day we had a great conversation with Dr J.S. Bandukwala, learning from his years of working on problems in his Muslim community and the Islamic world; and his work bridging the communal divides in Gujarat. As Dr. Bandukwala told us: ‘My aim is to build a functional pluralist society in India. For that we have to build bridges to understand and then to unite people from different communities...Indian Muslims can bring change to the whole Muslim world, situated as they are in the middle of the arc of Islamic countries strectching from Turkey to Indonesia. The challenge for Islam today is to distinguish between the core of the Koran and what is now being added by some.'

People in restaurant sang ‘Happy Birthday’Finally that day, dinner was at Vadodara's youth haunt, 'Goodies'. After a delicious meal, Dima (Ukraine) suddenly suggested we sing to all the customers. After Be the change, two young men wanted photos with us. After Dekho, dekho, a young couple at the next table said our songs had made their birthday celebration meaningful! Suddenly, a waiter arrived with a cake and candle, and the whole restaurant sang ‘Happy Birthday’! Dima went round offering our IofC books. One couple took a small book — and paid Rs 500 for it! Lots of questions about who we are and IofC.