Founding Trustee Natasha reports on her visit to the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy in Kolkata. Find out what her and Aadil got up to on Day 2 of their visit.
Day 2 began with a visit to the slums where the Jugnu Pre-School children live. In case you missed my first post, Jugnu is an educational project for extremely destitute slum children whose parents cannot afford to send them to local Montessori’s and nurseries. The class runs from Monday – Friday, 2:30 – 4:30pm for children aged 2-6.
The three teachers from the class very generously agreed to take us around the slum even though it was pouring with rain! Aadil (co-founding trustee) and I were obviously annoyed with the rain as the humidity levels were extremely high, but the teachers from Jugnu were thrilled as this meant their much-awaited monsoon season had begun!
As neither of us have been around a slum area before, we really didn’t know what to expect. The slum we visited was literally around the corner from the IICP centre. Located on land owned by the Port Trust, hundreds of shacks were cramped into small areas with each home residing 4-10 people.
The teachers very patiently showed us around, introducing us to the parents and families of the children who attended Jugnu. In India, government schooling begins at the age of 6 and as the parents cannot afford to send their children to Montessori’s or nurseries, during the day the children hang about the slums in very vulnerable and un-hygienic surroundings.
The teachers very excitedly told us the Jugnu programme has been extremely well received by the parents and the children alike. The children do not miss a class and are disappointed when the weekend comes around as this means the centre is closed! We were told even in the heaviest of rains, in the direst conditions, all the children from the Jugnu programme attend the class. It’s what they look forward to everyday as it gives them the opportunity to break away from their poverty stricken lives.
In addition to teaching the children, twice a month the teachers hold a parents afternoon, where they explain to the parents what is being taught to their children. They educate the parents on topics such as health and hygiene so that what the children learn at Jugnu is being continued at home.
We noticed that the shared toilets around the slum were literally just holes in the ground covered up by plastic sheets (below). We witnessed children showering in the middle of the street, using unsanitary tap water (below). Seeing all of this first hand, Aadil and I found it very difficult to digest and even when we left the area, the scenes kept re-playing in our mind. It was a very emotional, moving experience, seeing how the poorest people in India live on a daily basis. We were also taken aback and so touched by the warmth and hospitality shown by the families, nearly all of them invited us in for a cup of tea!
After the extremely moving visit to the slum, we returned to the centre and met with the staff at IICP for a de-brief session where we discussed possible opportunities and further support for the slum children. Our trip coincided with the centre’s annual prize giving day which was held in the afternoon from 3-4.30pm. Aadil and I were honored to be given the opportunity to present some of the prizes to the outstanding children at the centre. It was fantastic hearing about their remarkable achievements and being a part of this lovely occasion.
The prize giving afternoon ended and with it so did our visit to IICP. We couldn’t believe it! Although we covered everything we wanted to in 2 days, our trip still felt incomplete. Even though we spent such a short period of time at IICP, we really felt we had developed a connection with the children and the staff. A visit isn’t on the cards for some time but we hope we get the opportunity to go back and volunteer in the near future!
I'd like to take this opportunity to say a really special thank you to all the wonderful staff at IICP for the hospitality, kindness and warmth we received during our trip. We were really taken aback by the incredible staff and the family atmosphere and it was a fantastic experience visiting the centre and witnessing firsthand the services and facilities on offer.
Until next time Kolkata!