Today began with the snooze button, a cup of chai, and otma a vegetarian dish made with semolina flour. This was followed by an energizing ride in a bright yellow school bus that we took to Shikshangram, a shelter for underprivileged children who were previously living on the street, involved in exploitive labour or abandoned by their parents for various reasons. We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Satish Moon and his wife Yogita Moon who are the founders of the organization. Mr. Moon explained that even though each child has their own challenges, they first need and deserve to be loved and cared for. He told us a story about a child named Shankar who didn’t like to keep clean when he first arrived at the shelter. Mr. Moon said that his habits had changed and that one day while wearing clean clothes and looking well kept, he said, “sir, I now feel like I have become a rich man.” Mr. Moon says that children deserve the basic needs of life including love, shelter, food and education. He says that each child is different and that the program uses positivity and education to create change in their lives that will prepare them for the future. There are still thirty to forty million children still living on the street and involved in exploitive labour in India today.
We then met the children of the organization and watched as they performed both traditional and modern dance items for us. We introduced ourselves and answered any questions that they had about Canada. We then discussed potential design work that could be done at the shelter and looked at the construction of a new living space for girls that will be equipped with an amphitheater as well as a separate kitchen and dining area.
In the afternoon we visited another organization called the Bal Anand Gram, which is a home for destitute children, specifically boys who have no parents or single parents. We were greeted with beautiful flower garlands made of marigolds and white flowers. The organization is affiliated with the government and offer boys’ ages 6 to 18 years of age the education that they need as well as food and shelter. These boys come from poor backgrounds where their parents are working long hours and receive a low income and are therefore not able to take care of them sufficiently. Their parents are able to visit and are able to take them back when they are stable enough to take care of them again.
During the tour of the hostel we were introduced some new cultural foods. We were first introduced to a new fruit called amla, which looks like a small pumpkin and tastes similar to a green pepper but is very tart and contains a seed. We also tried a green mango that was prepared with salt and chili powder. We tried a carbonated pop called Limca that tasted like a less sweetened version of Sprite with lime flavouring and were also given Chikki, which is famous dessert snack in Maharashtra.
By the end of the long day we were tired and also had an early night as we are going to wake up early to see the Bhaja caves tomorrow!