Update July 2010
A personal response from Jillian Hopkins - AWF Volunteer
My name is Jillian, and I have just returned from India where I helped to design and oversee the construction of two AWF anganwadi preschools in the Motera and Gandivas slum areas of Ahmedabad. In Australia I am an architect. While volunteering in Ahmedabad, I discovered that I am also an artist, teacher, puppet maker, rag picker, mural painter, chai wallah, hokey-pokey master, dishwasher, bricklayer, rotli-maker, spend thrift and Gandhian. In volunteering no skill is wasted.
I had imagined that I would be serving the slum community in India, but soon discovered that service is always reciprocal. As I gave of my time, my training, my art, the communities offered me refreshment, friendly greetings, dinner invitations, hard labour, curiosity, kindness and gifts. So many businesses generously discounted their wares for our school and daily our nearest neighbours would jostle each other bringing us simultaneous pots of sugary chai. Anganwadi children would gleefully greet me ‘Nam-AAA-ste!!’ to brighten my day while local kids helped us to paint, carry, tile, dig, draw, clean and celebrate.
We completed Bholu 9 during school holidays so many local kids relieved their boredom by helping us on site, and adults in the community soon followed. In the final frantic days of Bholu 9 construction, almost all our neighbours could be found wielding paint brushes, cleaning rags or mosaic tiles. One neighbour turned from chai wallah to artist, painting a delightful mother and child mural in our back garden. On the eve of the opening, Jesus and I set out to finish the chai cup sculpture, for which we had roamed the neighbourhood successfully soliciting one tin cup from each house. It was almost midnight when we began, but before we had even screwed the first cup there were helping hands abound to make light work.
Language, age and gender were rarely a barrier. At Bholu 9, our best translator was one gentle, careful labourer who spoke no English. At Bholu 8, the 70+ owner grandmother was our greatest help in digging the garden, and the assistant teacher dug in the tires for our playground with her bare hands while remaining spotless in her yellow sari.
Limited funds and our environmental ethics were a great creative challenge, well suited to India, where recycling is both a necessity and profession, We were often renegade rag pickers. Our search for materials led us to strange car yards in search of tires for our super-cheap playground and to far flung corners of the filthy Sunday market to uncover decorative gates and Mondrian-style windows. A field of industrial waste and the cutting room floor of a local stonemason produced enough off cuts to make a luxurious mosaic stone floor. Scrap metal became an ornate and beautiful fence. All our bricks are made from fly-ash, a coal bi-product, and the corrugated roofing is pressed juice boxes. In Bholu 9, even rainwater is recycled.
At our partner organisation in Ahmedabad, Manav Sadhna, so many friends and colleagues have been my voice, calmly translating my thoughts and questions for labourers and pedal rickshaw drivers into Gujarati. Manav Sadhna operate a huge range of services, including a community centre, blind school, orphanage, street school programs and a women’s craft collective. The angawadi program is their biggest component, bringing education, nutrition and employment to thousands of women and children in Ahmedabad. It is wonderful to know that this dedicated organisation will bring life to our building now that it is finished.
I had hoped that my volunteer work could inspire or help others, but I had never expected that the work and the people would so inspire me. I have worked for government, in private offices, at university and as a consultant for a wide range of projects for all manner of salaries. I have never been more rewarded, more creative or more renumerated than when I worked here in Ahmedabad for free. We all say “There are things more valuable than money”. What a delight, to live it!
The plans for Bholu 9 are constantly developing. There is a possibility that Bholu 9 could also function as a community centre, given the site context and the needs of the surrounding community. The site is situated in Gandivas slum, an area which currently has 11 anganwadis, but no facility to hold larger community events.
Uses of such a facility may include:
Currently these events are held in rented spaces and often adequate venues cannot be found.
The site, which is adjacent to a nice shady plaza, a small shrine and ample open space appears to be a hub of activity, and it could accommodate the uses described above. Furthermore it could make a really positive contribution to the civic space.
The Bholu, would function as an Anganwadi during the day and be available for other community uses in the evening.
This building in such a populated section of the slum could be a good example of water saving strategies and serve as a good tool for education on water collection and reuse.
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