By Preeti Pooja
The snapshots of filth and fantasy in the biggest slum of Asia – Dharavi is by now a much romanticized subject on celluloid to capture the wide canvas of a shantytown and the struggle, hope and hopelessness of its over one million residents.
Dharavi is home to vital unorganized industry workers, mostly children, who sift and collect 8.5 metric tons of filth, garbage, plastic, metal and scrap everyday.
Most of these rag pickers, come as migrants from every part of India. They often live in conditions worse than that in refugee camps. Many are malnourished. They are constantly exposed to hazardous toxins and diseases.
Their subhuman living conditions provides little access to basic education, sanitation, water, electricity and healthcare. Dharavi has severe problems with public health, due to inadequate toilet facilities, compounded by the infamous Mumbai flooding during the monsoons.
This is also a place where Mumbai’s underbelly of drug peddlers thrives. Low house rents and access to livelihood like rag picking has attracted minorities and the poorest of poor from different states to Dharavi. The economy here is based on recycling besides some pottery, textile factories and leather units. Dharavi is home to more than 15,000 single room factories.
But Dharavi is not just a haunt of film and documentary makers on a bounty hunt of poverty and filth as creative ingredients. Some NGOs have chosen to work here to better the living conditions of many of its uncared for residents.
Acorn Foundation (India) is one of them. The Acorn Foundation (India), which is affiliated to ACORN International, is supporting, Dharavi Project India. They are working to improve the lives of the rag picker community in Mumbai besides Delhi and Bangalore. Acorn is also doing extensive study on urban solid waste management in Mumbai and trying to implement actions to alleviate this issue.
Vinod Shetty, an advocate by profession, is actively involved with Acorn Foundation (India). Mr. Shetty narrates some of the heart-rending realities of life in Dharavi.
“Any big city survives on the services of rickshaw pullers, sweepers and rag pickers. It’s them who are at the bottom of the pyramid and ensure that the city keeps running. The society must acknowledge to the services of these people who live without any social security,” says Mr. Shetty.
Acorn firmly believes that this community of unorganized labourers is an invaluable human resource to the city.
“Mumbai would have been reduced to a dumping yard creating havoc with serious sanitary issues had there been no rag pickers who recover, recycle and ensure reuse of the waste,” he says.
ACORN, under the Dharavi Project, tries to organize this vulnerable section and train them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling.
Currently there are 35 members of Dharavi Project working at different levels of recycling. Some of the initiatives taken by Acorn Foundation (India) are like providing informal schooling to the children. ACORN organizes health clinics, cultural programmes and workshops where the beneficiaries learn music, photography and arts.
Celebrity shows and concerts like BOxette are also a part of the initiative to bring a crumb of entertainment to the disadvantaged community. In a recent eco fair organized in the Maharashtra Nature Park, presence of celebrities like Katrina Kaif, Shankar Mahadevan and Suneeta Rao spiced up the event.
One of the most exciting programmes of the Acorn Foundation is in association with Mumbai’s popular nightspot Blue Frog. Musicians and celebrity rock bands conduct workshops for these children.
Recently the international BeatBox group, the Boxettes, (beatboxing is vocal percussion) held workshops for the children while the Sout Dandy Squad (Tamilian rappers) performed with several international artistes too.
“The purpose behind these events is clearly to showcase local artistes and give the youth of Dharavi a chance to witness international artistes up close which they never dreamt of. They bring cheer among these children, though short lived. The musical celebration is often themed with graffiti art and sculpture,” says Mr. Shetty.
Acorn has provided the members of the Dharavi Project with identity cards and recognition. They have formed their own committee to conduct waste awareness programmes.
“One programme is exclusive for children who are taught about waste management in primary schools. Under this programme students are given lessons on how to reduce and manage waste at home,” he says.
Besides entertainment, Acorn also organized multimedia campaigns on Water Day, highlighting issues of water conservation, water filtration and use of renewable energy sources.
Acorn Foundation (India) entrusts the faith within these rag pickers to make them feel a part of the society and live the life of a respectable citizen.
For details visit Acorn Foundation’s (India) Website: www.dharaviproject.org