Raamis in India

Raamis is a sophomore President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. During summer 2012, he is traveling to Aligahr, India, as a Richter Fellow to conduct research on water contamination, child psychology and public health in a slum.

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Don’t let them see you grimace

Finally, here it is.  Through pictures, firsthand accounts, and my own observations, I present you with the first look into the slum.

While I believe that only stepping into the streets and walking around gives one a real idea of how conditions in a slum are, pictures and quotes do help paint a realistic picture.

One of the wider streets in the slum. Sewage carves it’s own path through and come monsoon season, the sewage water will overflow onto the streets completely. The hand pump is a primary source of water for people on that side of the street.

This post combines about 3 or 4 visits, spanning a week.  These shots of are of the slum only.   In my next post, I will talk more about the school I am working with inside the slum and the book project that the students are taking part in.

First, an all important stat: the population density in this region is over 50,000 people per square mile.  By comparison, the population density of the US is 87.4 people per square mile (2010 US Census).  In a later post, I will post pictures of maps I obtained of the entire city showing the population versus the land area.

Many people look at what I am doing, and the only thing they can remember is the word slum.  That is not all my project is about.  Rather, it is about trying to get past that word, and look at aspects of life beyond just the unsanitary living conditions.  At the same time, it is important to talk about the conditions of the slum, because like it or not, they do exist and they do shape the psyche of both the people who live there and the people who see it from outside.

A large pile of endless trash, that at times becomes a small hill. Children play here barefoot, along with the roosters, pigs and hogs that come to nibble.

Normally, I get to the school by car, and the driver just barely manages to squeeze the car through the narrow streets.  Each time, I get brief glances–it’s plain to onlookers that I’m not from these parts.  By the third time, I decided to walk.  It allowed me to blend in a little more and see people from up close.

The principal of the slum school where I am working shared a brief, powerful and interesting anecdote:   “Kids who grow up in the slum can often develop inferiority complexes.  They see that every time someone walks by, that person looks at the child, looks around and grimaces in disgust of the conditions.  The child becomes accustomed to this, to thinking that somehow, he or she is a part of the surroundings, and should be made to feel like the trashy conditions around him or her.”   Thus, one of the most important goals of the school, named “Hamara School,” or “Our School,” is to give students the confidence and self-belief necessary to succeed.  Students are taught that they are not less than anyone, that they are not bound by their circumstances and are as human as anyone else.

This is perhaps the largest open space in the slum. In order to play cricket, kids have cleared the trash out.

His point was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to look at child psychology in the slum, because I wanted to see how the students in the school had adapted, or changed their beliefs according to the school’s philosophy.

How will I examine child psychology?  My goal is to ask each of the students in the school to draw something, anything they like.  The only rule I set forth is that they should draw whatever they want with the question in mind of why they chose to draw what they do.

That “why” is real analysis.

Of all the drawings, I will select some from each of the age groups, based on how clearly explained the analysis is, and if the student chose to draw something that really mattered to them.  These drawings will be incorporated into a booklet with the title “Hamari Awaz,” meaning “Our Voice.”  If the cost is doable, I will try to distribute one copy back to each student. Hopefully, the students will be able to appreciate a project that they worked on together and made possible through each other. For all the negativity associated with a slum, I have seen resilience and hard determination from the children I have met.  I want someone to recognize that.  I want the students themselves to recognize that.  It is high time that we stopped feeling pity for them, and instead give them the tools to where they can succeed on their own.

Year after year, I have seen pity breed pity, complaint breed complaint, and nothing seems to go anywhere.  Now, for the first time, the teachers of the school are working hard to educate these children, and that effort should at least be recognized.

In the next post, I will show you a sampling of the drawings I have selected, as well as several pictures of my visits to the school.  This book project is an exciting one for me because the students have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm.  Finally, I feel like their voices will be solidified into something physical, something they can hold and show to someone and say, “Look at me, look at what I can create, look at who I can be.  Look at me, and don’t grimace.  Look at me with the respect I deserve.”

That is all for now.  The next post will not be up for another week as I am attending the wedding.

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