Mumbai is a different world compared to other cities such as Bangalore, Pune, and Pondicherry. I’ve never seen such a enormous economic gap among people until Sharon and I visited for a weekend in December- more on that in a second. Being our frugal selves, we decided to stay with Mumbai interns and visit the office for half a day. Their casework is sex trafficking, as it is in Kolkata, and after listening to their approach to aftercare it made me appreciate how much easier it is to streamline aftercare services for those who were once in bondage because the nature of the problem is different: bonded labor almost always targets the family unit or older individuals while sex trafficking targets minors who have been sold into prostitution (by their families or tricked into it by pimps) and then ostracized from their families because of the stigma. Since they work with minors they partner with aftercare homes where they visit the girls for a minimum of two years to reintegrate them into their communities. iSanctuary is one of their aftercare partners that teaches the girls how to make beautiful costume jewelry that the organization uses for vocational training, education and a savings account. Get excited – some of you will be receiving jewelry from these girls!
An intern told us about the slums where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed and how to get there by train …. so … naturally, as human rights people, we wanted to go there (you can see photos in a video posted in the YouTube tab). Ive seen extreme poverty in Africa and in China, but I’ve never seen what I’d like to call ‘dense urban poverty.’ Located in the city near the train station are hundreds of barefooted people living in shanty homes with leaky roofs and a bathroom whose flush goes into the river surrounding their homes. Still, in the midst of this there were moments of fleeting beauty: Adorable half-clothed children played carelessly with big smiles on their faces and women wore brightly colored sarees against the drab background of their existence. For all of my life poverty has overwhelmed me and made me angry … and a bit guilty too– always sending me into a downward spiral of introspection leading nowhere hopeful, but this time it was different –only because of my time with IJM.
Since working with IJM, injustice no longer seems like an insurmountable problem like I once thought. This is because I have seen people rescued and justice served for the Irular people with my own eyes. In my very first post in June, I mentioned how millions and millions of dollars is spent on relief and evangelism efforts for the poor and when I think about it now, I wonder if this is the case simply because so many believe as I once did: it’s hopeless; there’s no point in trying to fix the system so let’s just meet their immediate needs with food and share the gospel with them—it’s simply all we can do. But now I have a new idea of what is possible … but it requires a different attitude and a long-term perspective. We can feed the hungry in a moment and we can share the gospel in less than an hour, but we can only change an oppressive environment by engaging at the systemic level and meeting each system exactly where it is – be it justice, development, education, the family, and what not. And over and over again, I’m reminded: this takes time. But … even the patience needed to influence the system is not enough, we must be excellent to build credibility, and we must be intrinsically motivated because discouragement will inevitably come. So.. when I saw the slums I wasn’t overwhelmed or enraged with a sense of my own powerlessness or by the magnitude of the problem of poverty: I have hope for them that systems can be influenced and that injustice can be addressed as if it is bite-size, given the the elements just mentioned. Beyond that, I don’t see poverty as their greatest injustice. I realize I say that from a place of personal comfort, but my mind goes to other places … “Are they being exploited by their neighbors, employers, or family? Are they suffering from violent oppression? Do they have the freedom to choose, relatively speaking?” From what I’ve learned from real stories in the field is how so many cannot escape life-threatening poverty because of an oppressive environment where someone is abusing his/ her power over them (e.g., deceptive business owners, powerful people, bullies, caste system). This makes the problem of poverty a different beast altogether. For many, poverty is an outgrowth of oppression. By all means, please keep feeding the poor though. I will.
On another note, a friend in the office bought me a cricket jersey of the national team and had my name put on the back of it – best Christmas present ever!
There’s this song that has spread like an epidemic across the entire nation called Kolavari Di and it’s the first song in the local language of the state to make national acclaim. There are over a dozen versions of the song and they had a flashmob two weeks ago in the mall. And behold, when we were on our way to Thailand for my visa run there he was in all his glory, Dhanush, the singer of Kolaveri Di, standing in the line to board our plane to Mumbai! Kristin (far left) almost started to hyperventilate and Meredith (far right) and I were in awe as we watched people asking to shake his hand. Here’s the evidence that we met him and got a snap!
CNN International spoke about the song just two days ago saying it is the most popular song on YouTube for 2011. No kidding. Watch the review.
Listen to the song. It’s quite catchy. Sounds a bit like Spanish music if you ask me.