Indians toil so children can escape slum life

Some residents of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia, skip meals to ensure their children get an education.

    Dharavi in Mumbai is one of india's largest slums, and among the most densely populated residential areas on earth.

    Despite a lack of basic amenities in some parts of Dharavi, residents there work hard to help their children get an education and escape a life of squalor. 

    The Muthuraj family live in a one-room home without running water or reliable electricity, but are determined that their children live better lives than they do.

    Al Jazeera's Nidhi Dutt reports from Mumbai.

    Reporter's blog: Resiliance born of poverty

    By Nidhi Dutt

    Dharavi is home to millions of people who are, by Indian and global standards, poor. They don't have access to basic amenities like running water and adequate shelter. But it is wrong to assume that this is a place of loss, rejection and underachievement. Look beyond its dilapidated exterior and you will see that Dharavi is a flourishing, enterprising, and innovative community.

    Pushpa Muthuraj, a social activist in Dharavi, Mumbai, India, shares her story.

    Poverty, as I have heard and seen so often, pushes people who live and work there to try harder, work longer hours, and be more creative.

    In many ways this vibrant and congested hub of humanity is a microcosm of what modern India is all about.

    As the story of Pushpa Muthuraj's family so eloquently illustrates, to beat the odds in Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, you need to have a whole lot of grit, live frugally, and seize opportunity with a big smile and gratitude.

    When I spoke to Muthuraj about beating poverty she was realistic about her options.

    She knows all too well how far the little money she and her husband make can take her family in the short term. But Muthuraj is committed to investing the little they have in the future. And for her, the future means educating her daughters. Muthuraj's two daughters go to a private school. It is an expensive investment for any family in India, let alone a family that earns a few hundred dollars a month and lives in Dharavi.

    Giving her children the chance to learn, expand their horizons, and climb the first steps of India's grueling education ladder is the best chance Muthuraj says she has of making it out of Dharavi. Her husband insists that if their children see how hard they are working now they will work just has hard, or harder, to provide for them in the future.

    Muthuraj’s daughters have big dreams of their own. One of them wants to be a teacher, the other a doctor. These are professionals that India desperately needs more of. And I could not help but notice the community-orientated nature of the professions Muthuraj's daughters are eager to pursue and wonder if their choices have anything to do with the need and shortage they have experienced in their own lives.

    What many people often do not see is how people work together in areas like Dharavi to help themselves and their families. Muthuraj, for example, does community work in her free time. She helps women in her community open bank accounts and provides them with information about saving and how to budget. It seems simple enough but what Muthutaj is doing is really important: She is spreading much needed knowledge in her own community. The help she provides her neighbours could help them to break vicious and debilitating cycles of debt.

    Like millions of people who live in Dharavi Muthuraj knows there are no quick fixes to poverty. It is a constraint that affects her family and millions of others economically, socially and even politically. But Muthuraj is a woman on a mission. She wants to make sure that her daughters do not suffer the hardships that she has and that they find a way out. But Muthuraj is confident that good grades, skills and confidence can help them to move out of Dharavi and up in a world full of opportunities.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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