Friday, April 11, 2008


I want to introduce you to a client that I have a soft spot for at the NGO i worked at. His name is abdul and he thinks he looks pretty spiffy

and funny in these glasses so we took a picture. He has three fingers on one hand, is missing one arm and one leg. He had an accident on the train while using heroin. He now works for the NGO by doing random tasks, folding newspaper into usable bags, making beautiful lanterns, etc. He tried to teach me how to fold the bags correctly but I could not do it as well with my full appendages and fingers. I have tried to teach him a little bit about drawing because he is super excited about becoming a better artist. We don't speak the same language but this man is my friend and a huge inspiration to me!

goodbye ngo newsletter article and pictures of meditation blessing and mural

I am the lucky girl who got to spend two and a half months volunteering for an NGO through American Jewish World Service. My task was mostly to lead art therapy workshops and random odds and ends of other projects. It is good for counselors to get out of the routine of therapy that they are used to doing. When we put effort forth into a new activity we can gain insight into ourselves, our work, and the feelings/lives of our clients. I trained counselors to ask questions to groups for the purpose of drawing interpretation. These questions could be about whatever topic the group session covered a step from narcotics anonymous, or something that occurred within the Drop in Center that needed to be addressed. The questioned I used at each drop in center was “What will you look like when you are completely clean? Who will be around you? What will you own? Where will you live?” I asked the clients to draw what they saw of themselves in the future. We then discussed these drawings with the group in order for one client to help inspire other clients. In the discussion, the counselors are encouraged to ask questions about the drawing to bring out more thought and emotion from the clients. Doing this, conversations can increase between client and staff. Staff can gain new insight into the feelings and experiences within the client’s life in a new way. The drawings were hung on the wall. On bad days clients can see their drawings of what their life may be if they do not use as represented with their own hand. Journaling is an extremely effective way of expressing oneself and discovering feelings. Many of the clients are illiterate. They never have the opportunity of paper and pen to go deep within themselves and experience their hidden feelings. Drawing is a therapeutic tool for even the illiterate. Most of the addicts draw simple things back in their lives for their goals. They draw pictures with families reunited and a shelter to live under. I have learned how incredibly difficult it is for an addict to take steps towards treatment. When asking a group how many have been clean for a three month stretch I was shocked at how few raised their hands. I have experienced secondhand some of the effects of detox. This makes me so proud of those who again and again try to better themselves go through the pain over and over until they are clean.
I feel gratitude for having this experience because of the people. If I came to India to travel I would not have had the opportunity to meet a staff like this one. I have always done jobs that feel fulfilling to me, all social work based in America. To me it is worth it to do what serves the world even if you don’t make a lot of money. The staff here take this to a higher level then I though possible. Many of the staff are so devoted to this work to make their India and their world a better place. I have seen staff speak through their heart even when angry and even have the capacity to put themselves into client’s shoes. This is an ideal that most of us strive for yet few of us achieve.
I spent about a year working with mentally ill adults in America. The motto was “helping others, help themselves.” The work was very challenging. It is such a beautiful concept to get clients to rise and serve others like themselves. This, I believe is where the most potential for service and recovery is. In practice though, many of the clients were difficult to motivate. At this NGO there are many roles for addicts to fill as they recover as peer educators, outreach workers, or even folding paper bags. Clients are allowed to return again and again if they relapse. It is proven here that someone believes in them no matter what happens in their life. I wonder what it is like to be a junkie and meet a peer educator or outreach worker who is now wearing clean clothes and their head is high. I am so proud of all addicts who now work for this NGO. I am happy to know that helping others help themselves is possible.
I am most grateful to work with the clients. Being a tourist in India you see all kinds of new and unbelievable things from the temples to the slums. There are people everywhere in Mumbai. The most striking are the poor. You can observe their habits for they have no where to hide them as you walk by. Sometimes I smile as I pass, but interactions with street people I see everyday, are very limited due to language. Here, the staff was able to translate for me. I was able to have some communication with clients and learn a little about their lives and give them some care. The nonverbal sharing we did was fulfilling as well, taking a break from their struggles by playing games or processing some of their life in art therapy by drawing pictures.There is so much more that I have gained that I don’t even know yet. I think as I travel on and go back to my home in August the contrast between social work in America and my life here will continue to throw out new observations of life and growth. Who knows what I will leave behind me in India: new friends, a few murals, lots of memories, and hopefully new techniques for working with clients that will bring variety to the work that is done here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Food Dilemma

An NGO comes and delivers food to the young men who come to our “Drop in Center” on a daily basis. There is a different meal each day of the week but the weekly schedule is the same. Monday – Rice and Yellow Dahl, Tuesday – chapatti and Yellow Dahl, Wednesday – Rice and Mung Beans, Thursday- Sweets and Something that I don’t know the title of, You guys get the picture.

The attendance varies at our drop in center so sometimes the food is completely consumed and sometimes we have 20 pounds of left over rice and dahl. What to do with this food. They usually throw it out if no one wants to eat it. As a huge advocate for not wasting food I thought about what could be done and many questions arose.

I walk by 100 of beggar each day. Surely they could use the food. But then also there are 1000’s of working class people who work all day for Rs 300 ($7.50) and wouldn’t they like a free dinner every now and then?

India’s poverty line is based on the amount of money it costs to by 2,400 calories of food in a rural area and 2,100 calories of food in an urban area. The line is set at Rs 300 ($7.50) in rural and Rs 570 ($14) in urban areas a month.

The problem lies in the fact that this line was set on the prices of food in 1976! Needless to say food prices have risen in the past 32 years! India is currently reexamining this issue and will hopefully adjust the poverty line to more accurately depict the cost of food in this day and age.

Back to the dilemma- there 1000’s of working poor. Working all day for about Rs 120 ($3). Surely they deserve the food more than the beggar on the street pulling in Rs 400 ($10) per day? Right? The worker hasn’t given up, he is contributing to society, he is earning a wage, albeit it is extremely low. Where as the beggar is just sitting on the ground and has given up.

I would much rather give it to a person who worked that day and wants a free dinner- let him keep the Rs20 in his pocket for maybe a cold ice cream that he can’t find enough money for in his everyday budget. Or maybe he could save it and use it towards a new pair of sandals because his sandals blew out last week and has been shoeless since. But these people are sometimes hard to find. They are working while I’m trying to give the food out.

A young man and I went up to a man who was sorting trash. We asked if he was hungry and he said yes. We had nothing to put the food is so we kind of stared at each other until we realized this could not happen and went on our way. It was sad.

Then we came to a group of 5 ladies with about 3 small children among them. They were obviously beggars. They had bowls and news paper to put the food in.

So the question I ask is this?

Is it better to waste the food then to give it to a beggar who has given up on the idea of trying to work? What is this young mother teaching their child? We have seen parents encourage their children to come up to us in train and bus stations to beg from the “rich white people.” What type of values and lessons are being instilled in this small helpless 5 year-old?

This is the conclusion I have come up with- I can’t let the food go to waste so I have tried to first find someone who made an honest living that day, if I can’t find someone who fits that description I then give it to beggars. To off set the fact that I feel I am partially responsible and enabling this beggar to stay in his current state I will only give food to a beggar once. This is what I feel is okay to do.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

What will get stared at MORE a Good Looking Young India Woman or a White Man?

I get stared at constantly. I truly understand in a way what famous people feel like being hawked by paperatzies and what not. It is a trying lifestyle and you long for your regular life back after a while.

As I was walking to the train station I happened to walk stride for stride with a tall good looking young India women and the questions instantly popped into my head, “Who are the India’s going to gawk at more? Me or Her?”

The answer came shortly because we were fortunate to stroll past a group of 3 young India men around the age of 17-22 I’d say. She walked to the left of them and I purposely walked to the right. I slightly gazed up to see where the trio’s wondering eyes would turn to and yes sir they looked at the young lady! Instant jubilation bubbled up in my heart! I could walk to the station without the glare and glower, even if it was just for one 20 minute part of my commute I was off the hook. Out of the public’s always present eyes! But alas my inner excitement was met with a cruel outer blow of fate! Not 20 feet from our first test of “Staring young men” her sandal blew out, she whispered, “SH#%” (which is by the way India’s favorite English word), and I was back in the spot light again for the remainder of my voyage to the train station and then onto the train where I will be groped and shoved and feel like Gumbi as I ride the train to work.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Train Strain

Getting on the train during rush hour is something I would not wish on anybody in 1 million years. It is tough, crazy, edgy and violent. The problem lies in that rush hour is more like rush 3 hour two times a day from 8-11am and then 4-8pm it is utter chaos!

There are four types of carts

Men’s Second class- about Rs 110 for a monthly pass- 3 bucks

Men’s First class- about Rs 800 for a monthly pass- 20 bucks

Women’s Second Class-same price as above but can be as catty as the men’s.

Women’s First class – same prices but usually pretty empty

There are usually a set of 3 bogies that are for women only. Why is there a women’s only car? Is it because chivalry in running rampant in India, or is it because if a man is in a packed bogie with a women he gets to feel her up?

The train is the life line of the city something like 6 million people ride the train DAILY! Mumbai is huge and there really isn’t any other choice! Buses or driving take about 3 times a long to get somewhere. The train is a huge blessing but it also is a curse to some.

There are two video’s here. The first is a second class bogie on a “light day”

The second is a first class bogie on a “heavy day”

Doing this twice a day six days a week does not seem good for the soul.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My India Life

Here you can see pictures of where we live. Our living room, mosquito netted bed, kitchen, view out of the window, and our bathroom. In India they do not have a separate tub to shower in, which makes it difficult not to track water all over the bathroom and house. And what follows is my typical walk to the train everyday.
India. A place where an overabundance of every stimulation surrounds you. Where cheap plastic shiny crap is loved. Where the clothes designs have six patterns. Where women's hair is waist long and like black silk. Where when you earn a smile from a native, it starts in their hearts and ends through their eyes. Where men's waists are sized 12 inches and their excess beltage wraps around their backs. Where the guest is god. Tea is served at least 3 times per day. Someone makes it for you, brings it to you, and cleans your cup.
I put on my shoes by the door and slide the latch open. I am grateful some punk kid hasn't locked me in again. I step out on to the white tile landing and look out of the cage enclosed staircase window as I go down the stairs. The air is unusually less humid and smoggy in the early morning hours. I pass the flat with the incense going, devotional flower chains, and ghee oil lamps burning and smile at their intention. I pass my friends door with her assualitive Jesus picture, still sleeping...Lucky. I walk out through the elevator gate, while I look at the black paint hand print on the next building/abandoned house not three feet away. I smile at it. The ally has a chicken drinking from a cement dish with a cat lurking nearby waiting for his turn. A dog runs away from me, it's tail between his legs. "It's ok baby." I say. Down to the street that is already woken up. Rickshaws almost flatten me to the poop encrusted brick road, as women with six year old little boys in oliver twist overalls, white sloppy socks, and black shoes hurry by. The vegetable vendors are setting up, the cows are in the middle of the road as usual munching on imported grass. A rickshaw puffs out diesel smoke right by my face. The man driving it dressed in a kacki cotton suit turns around to stare at me as he drives past. The morning pooja is going on with Hindi music blasting, bells ringing, and incense burning. I see the red retro, puke green inside 220 bus nearing. "Why spend the 4 rupees when you can walk?" I am on my way. There is a scraggly puppy with patchy hair that waggles up. I pass my favorite bum. He is sitting on someones wall where he sleeps. There is a water bottle there partly filled i know with cheap mumbai alcohol. His wool blanket is draped over his head and he stares out looking so deep and philosophical it is beautiful. "one day I will bring him food and eat it with him, " I think. I pas the diamond stores, so many, the banks, and the saree shops. There is a deep fry samosa shop where I see the newly made samosas arranged on a stainless steel silver plate on the floor. "So fresh, that's the best place to get em." I pass the crowded ghetto sidewalk tea stall. Made from stolen sidewalk bricks in the shape of puzzle pieces and one piece of wood laying across. The owner shuffles the men out of my way. I smile at him. The park across the street is round and completely fenced in with only one entrance. It is only open in the morning and the evenings. There's a school with motivational sayings written on a chalk board that change daily. I pass the strange church made completely of bells. Each one purchased with the wish for a child or some other goal. Pantless beggar children get washed by their moms as their too thin fathers slumber on the sidewalk covered in a blanket. I fight my way through the crowd and rickshaws dodging to miss a stray mans hand, covering my purse to avoid its opening. "I'll make the 8:28 again." I go running up the stairs to the platform que for the women's bogie.