Laura and I both arrived safely in Delhi and met up on Sunday to go to our home stay. Our first week with Chintan has been an orientation to the NGO and its projects.
The first day we met with one of the women in charge of the Human Resources department. She briefed us on Chintan’s projects which include Door to Door Waste Collection, Voice for Waste, No Child in Trash, Low Carbon Future, and Knowledge as Power. Chintan was founded in December of 1999 with a focus on waste management and legitimizing the job of waste pickers to incorporate them into the formal work sector (although they are currently still considered part of the informal work sector). On our first day, we visited Gaziabat, a small slum area near one of the landfills in Delhi (outside of New Delhi). We took a autorickshaw (motor cycle with 3 wheels and a small covered back seat (like in Peru) to Gaziabad because the bus never came. It was embarrassing to show up in clean clothes and nice backpacks. We first went to the school that Chintan has set up for the children in the slum aged 4-14. In each tiny classroom there are about 30 children with no chairs or individual notebooks (or any personal space) but the walls are filled with posters and the children seemed quite content. Coming to class must be a nice break from slum life for them. They learn in Hindi and English and many of the children start going to school in the Chintan program and then slowly integrate into the public school system (or even attend both). Some of the children accompany their parents to the landfills at extremely young ages to help work. The majority of people in the Gaziabad community are from Bengal and speak Bengali. However, some can also speak Hindi. The teachers in the classes meet with 2 of the children’s parents each evening to provide feedback on their child’s progress or follow up on poor attendance. Chintan pays the teachers with money collected by the wastepickers from selling recyclables that they have picked through the trash for. The living conditions of theses slums is absolutely horrendous. People rarely have enough water to bathe, or even drink, after working in the landfills. The government does not recognize the slum village or the waste pickers because they have “illegally” immigrated from Bengal and thus are not citizens of Delhi. The government refuses to grant citizenship to the waste-pickers and also refuses to recognize the slum village. This means that the people in the slums cannot hold ration cards because in order to have a ration card you must have an address, which the government refuses to grant to the area. Additionally, the power has recently been cut because the government does not provide power to areas they do not consider “legal,” forcing the people to “steal” electricity from surrounding areas by installing electricity lines.
The second day we went on a Low Carbon Future “field trip” at the Select City Mall, a very Western styled mall. Chintan manages the waste for the entire mall. We went to the basement to see where the trash is collected and where the waste-pickers work (or rather to see the process “in action”). There are two sets of four waste-pickers that work morning and evening shifts separating recyclables from the trash and composting food and wet waste in a composting machine and then setting the compost on racks to be collected. Someone from Chintan (I believe) comes to collect the recyclables to sell and the compost is used for the mall’s landscaping. The waste-pickers in the compost area wore gloves masks but did not actually cover their mouths. The other waste-pickers did not wear gloves. The separation was set up with three separate open “rooms” and a covered hallway along the back with openings to each “room.” At the end of the hallway was a mat with some old pillows and a couple of rags, which is apparently where the waste-pickers sleep. Anyone from the US would be appalled at this site, although one must wonder if it is better to sleep in the basement of a mall on a mat rather than outside and exposed to weathering. After our visit to the mall, where we had pizza for lunch which has never tasted better (I’m already craving pizza after just 2 days of Indian food), we went back to Gaziabat to see a presentation by Voice for Waste to some of the community members. One of the Chintan employees did a social impact assessment of government’s new Waste to Energy plant. The study was conducted in 3 slum communities and concluded, to no surprise, that this new Waste to Energy plant would greatly affect the waste-pickers as the waste would no longer go to the landfill (where the waste-pickers work) but would instead be taken to the new power plant and burned to create energy. For the waste-pickers, this would mean less trash to pick through, resulting in lower earnings. This would also result in increased child labor as families would be forced to put their children to work. Chintan spoke with government officials about how this will put thousands of people out of work and the government simply replied saying that these people can just find other work. Now Chintan is working with the government to ensure that waste-pickers will be hired to work in the energy plant. The Voice for Waste committee is also working with the government to officially recognize the slums and grant each home an address so that ration cards can be given to each family. Chintan was able to make 123 ration cards and distribute them to 123 families in the community. However, because there are no house numbers on the ration cards, markets will not accept the cards. Additionally, each card is valid for 1 month so after 1 month the card is useless. The frustration of the slum community is extremely palpable and it is clear that they would rather speak with the government themselves rather than going through NGOs (as voiced by one of the waste-pickers at the meeting). However, the government will not listen to the waste-pickers without the NGOs. Chintan is eager to involve the waste-pickers in their next presentation to the government.
On the third day we woke up early and met Deepak near the Khan Market for a field visit of the Door to Door project. In this community, one waste-picker, employed by Chintan, collects the waste from 120 households each day. The waste-picker is paid 1,000 Rs. per month (equivalent to about $25) by Chintan. We followed around this waste-picker for about half an hour (he collects the waste in a small dumpster on the back of his bike). It seemed ridiculous to just follow him around. I wanted to help him but Deepak couldn’t understand what I was asking when I asked him how we could assist the waste-picker in his work. It felt demeaning to simply stand and watch. I guess this is just one of the differences here that may never settle the right way in me.
Well, that’s what Laura and I have been up to for our first few days at work. It hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet, although it is very very warm here. We’re both also very happy with our homestay!