Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Mumbai: Belgaum Distribution, January 30

At right is the SCAW Mumbai 2007 travelling team with bedkit recipients. Team Members: Left to Right Kay Easun, Douglas Cunningham (Team Leader) Doug MacDougald, Judy Snobelen, George Foster.

The 650 bedkit distribution in Belgaum, a city of 700,000, was primarily to children of farm labourers. The surrounding area is reasonably good farmland growing sugar cane and rice with goat and sheep herds interspersed.

All the kids were assembled when we arrived and were they ever excited as waves, cheers and excitement greeted us. Parents were gathered outside the grounds on the street and as we greeted them and shook hands. Their thanks for your bedkit donation was overwhelming.

The girls were very pretty in their colourful dresses and the boys "cool" in shorts and shirts. These children are just regular kids with typical boy and girl schoolyard interaction. As I was yakking to some of the boys and taking pictures of the girls with all their dress colours showing brilliant in the sunlight, the guys were good naturedly razzing me for taking too many pictures of the girls and not of them.

I just can’t believe how much a $30 donation means to these kids and their parents. It is heartwarming at the same time well heartbreaking.

Doug MacDougald,
for the SCAW 2007 Mumbai Travelling Team

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Mumbai: Distribution is Underway

The Mumbai 2007 team of Douglas Cunningham, Kay Easun, George Foster, Judy Snobelen, and Doug MacDougald is well started on the distribution of 7,500 bedkits in west central India. We spent the first day — after arriving at our hotel at 3 AM from Toronto — checking the sample bedkit and final organizing of the individual and group labels for each of the 22 sites.

We then saw some of Mumbai with a train ride through where some of the 16 million inhabitants live and ending up in the downtown area. The view from the first, second, and women-only train cars showed colour, culture, and a range of poverty that immediately spoke to why Sleeping Children Around the World is here.

Mumbai is big, crowded, and chaotic and we got lost coming back from the train station to our hotel (Doug MacD. thought it was the “other” way). Auto-rickshaws are everywhere and two of them careened through the streets of Mumbai getting us safely back to our hotel.

The first distribution was 650 bedkits in Pune at two sites. It went quite well thanks to the well experienced Pune Rotary Club and Nitin Shah.

First observations are: People working at low skill manual job make less than $1.00 per day and live in poverty that is dirty, dusty, hot and crowded.

The 650 children aged 6 to 12 prior to receiving their bedkit were subdued, cautious, and apprehensive but anticipating this unusual day in their lives. The 650 kids after receiving their bedkit were just “kids” – excited, playing, and quite comfortable with hugs, high and low fives, and smiles. The 650 children left with a little more comfort and hope than yesterday.

Doug MacDougald,
for the SCAW 2007 Mumbai Travelling Team

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Kolkata: A Bedkit at Home

India is a diverse country: more than one billion people, fifteen official languages and countless others in 28 states and seven territories. The Kolkata bedkits are distributed in eleven distinct centres.

As each bedkit is distributed, it is common to wish to see the bedkit items in use. Following today's distibution we had the chance.

The distribution took place in Jhargam, a three-hour drive, 150 km from Kolkata. Following the distribution we were invited to visit Chandipur, a tribal village a half-hour away. This village of 130 people has no electricity, no school, and one water pump, which is in great demand during the nine months of the dry season. Despite the lack of facilities, the people took obvious pride in their community as each of their mud huts was spotless and the outside area appeared to be raked regularly with a hand straw broom.

The major problem faced by the community is so basic — no food. The elephant is their enemy. Due to the deforestation of the area, the elephant also searches for food and in doing so destroys any crops the villagers have tried to grow, as well as physically destroying some of their mud huts.

Our local partner, the Rotary Club of Dum Dum, has made an eighteen-month commitment to the village to:

provide twice monthly deliveries of rice which is the basic diet,
supervise the building of a large water hole which will collect water during the rainy season for use throughout the year (The water hole is being dug by hand!), and
assist in providing seeds for crops that the elephants do not eat.
The goal is not to make this village forever in the need of receipt of handouts but to make them self-sufficient within the eighteen-month period.

When we arrived in the community we were delighted to see bedkits: twelve of which had been distributed that morning. The bedkit delivery was obviously an event of great excitement, not only for the children who received the bedkits, but for the whole community. All members gathered to review the bedkit items, not being able to choose one item over another and feeling that each item was needed and would be used.

These villagers were welcoming to each member of our team and shared many laughs as we introduced them to a skipping rope and blowing soap bubbles. No doubt the items in the bedkit will be used by more than one person as this appeared to be a true communal village. As we left we could not help but think that each person in the community could use a bedkit. There is no doubt that more of their children will be on the SCAW distibution list for next year.

Alan Ingram
2007 SCAW Kolkata Team

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Kolkata: Photo Album 1

Click to browse this Photo Album.
Kolkata January 18, 2007

Kolkata: News from Kolkata

We are in the midst of a distribution 6,500 bedkits in Kolkata, (formerly Calcutta), the capital of the state of West Bengal in the northwest corner of India bordering Kolkata. There is obvious need in each of the eleven communities, within a three-hour radius of Kolkata, in which children will receive a bedkit. Upon arrival we must pass through a solid mass of welcoming people to get into the distribution site, giving further proof of the importance of our mission. Both children and parents share the great excitement in the anticipation in being presented with their own bedkit.

Each child has an individual story but common threads tie each together. Through an interpreter, I talked with one mother and her child, Mohammed Molla, age 7. Mohammed was given a SCAW identity card by the school teacher and has walked 6 kilometres with his mother, the child in bare feet, to the site. They will have the luxury of the city bus to carry the bedkit home. I took his picture with a digital camera, the first time he had seen his own image other than in a mirror.

Mohammed’s father works as a rickshaw driver earning 50 rupees ($1.25 Cdn) each day. Fortunately he has only one wife and one child as this meager wage must support father, mother, and child but it is not enough to rent housing. As such, like thousands of others, they have taken over a piece of the sidewalk and attached a 10’ x 12’ shelter -- supported by two bamboo sticks at the front -- to the wall in the back. They have lived on the same piece of sidewalk for seven years. This is the only home that Mohammed has ever known.

The family lives on a staple diet of rice at each meal. A few times during the week the rice may be supplemented with a few vegetables. Fruit is a rare treat and fish or meat unknown. Medical and dental care are unavailable to this child.

While waiting for his SCAW picture to be taken in his new clothes and footwear I watched Mohammed take a quick peek in his new school bag to find a few of the included items. As his eyes lit up with disbelief when he saw his new gifts, I turned back to see his mother’s eyes well up with tears of joy. While his future is uncertain, his parents hope that he will be able to find a salaried job and not live in a street shack.

Others are not so fortunate as Mohammed. For every recipient there are thousands of other deserving children. We must start somewhere. The need of the children is overwhelming, your donation well appreciated.

Alan Ingram
2007 SCAW Kolkata Team