Sunday, May 15, 2011

Maitri Thus Far

Our place of work, the reason we even have this amazing opportunity, is Maitri.
Maitri, just to give a quick introduction, is a local nonprofit that "works to promote access to basic health care, education, rights and equal opportunities to vulnerable populations including women and children." (excerpt from Maitri's mission statement).
These are their on-going projects:

  • Project Samvedna (Compassion)- Domestic violence against women among uniformed personnel.
  • Project Jeevan (Life)- Providing the Widows of Vrindavan with health care, food and medical testing.
  • Project Rakshak (Protector)-HIV/AIDS education and awareness for uniformed personnel.
  • Project Awaaz (Voice)- HIV/AIDS awarenss and healthcare among rickshaw pullers of Delhi.
  • Project Sanjeevani (Rebirth)-HIV and TB education and awareness for migratory laborers.
  • Project Jagriti (Awakening)- HIV and health education for adolescent school children.
  • Project Maitrigram- education and empowerment of slum communities, including tutorial programs and mid-day snacks for local slum children.
All of these ambitious and empowering projects are managed from a small office located in the heart of Delhi. From what we have seen, the small, highly committed staff here at the office manages all of these projects, the field staff involved, government and other NGO relations, proposal and grant submissions, etc. The staff does office work, field work--like going to visit and take care of the widows, do presentations at local schools and run health camps for targeted populations--and everything in between (like take care of and orient wide-eye and amazed interns). Maitri is run like most nonprofits, informal, helter-skelter and go-with-the-flow at the same time; except unlike nonprofits in the US there is the added hurdle of operating in India, with the near-daily power outages, highly fluid time schedule and a whole world of issues I am not even aware of.
But such a work load does not keep the staff from being accommodating and helpful. Everyday when we arrive at the office we are quickly served a glass of cold water, follow by delicious chai. Priyanka and Anita, the two who took us shopping, are always there to answer questions we have, of which there are a lot.So far we have been able to work briefly with the children who come for tutorial school, which I mentioned in another post. We've only worked with them once so far, hopefully we will get the chance to start doing so more regularly. We have also been assigned the major projects we will be working on. Yvette specially will be helping a lot with updating the website and tech-stuff (which I am fairly useless at), then we will both be putting together the 2010-2011 annual report for the entire organization, and finally we will be helping with Project Jagriti, which should have us out at some local high schools by July giving presentations on HIV prevention awareness, substance abuse education and general health information.

Beyond those specific projects we are shown a lot of the other work that Maitri does. For instance, yesterday, we were able to go to the city of Vrindavan to visit the widows.
Vrindavan is a near 2 and half to 3 hour drive from Delhi and along the way we had our first sightings of the iconic cows! They just chillin' by the side of the road, meandering from here to there. It was great.

Before going to the ashrams where the widows live we stopped to see the large, industrial kitchen where the food for the widows (as well as for school children all over the area) is prepared. The facility was located on a sprawling, well-landscaped piece of property that also held a restaurant and small Hindu temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna (who the widows also dedicated their lives to). After touring the kitchens we went inside of the temple where first removed our shoes then bowed to a statue of Lord Krishna and Radha. On our way out we were ladled some sweet water that we took a sip of then put on our hair (similar to the Catholic tradition of dipping your fingers into holy water they crossing yourself).

Unfortunately we were too late arriving to the ashrams to be able to serve the widows their mid-day meal, but we were able to tour both ashrams that Maitri helps with. The first has actually been taken over completely by Maitri (since the previous owners tended to neglect the widows). This ashram consisted to several 20-bed bunk rooms on two stories. This is where the widows sleep and spend their evenings. During the day the go to temples and sing for a meager 3 rupees (0.06 dollars) and a few handfuls of rice. When we were there, there were several small, white (the color of mourning) clad women in their rooms and wandering the complex. Greetings here are a little different, instead of the common "Namaskar" or "Hello", you clasp you hands together, bow your head slightly and say "Radi-Radi". It was amazing the power this simple greeting to had to transform the straight, serious, hardened faces of these widows into a bright, eager, child-like smile. Many of them came up to Yvette and I and attempted talk with us, yet even after we made it clear that we did not speak Hindi ("Hinda nay") or Bengali, which most of these women speak since a majority come from the Bengali region ("Bengali nay, English ha") they still continued to chat away, just happy for the company it seemed.
At one point while waiting for Mr. Jolly and our taxi to come pick us up from the ashram, Yvette and I were wandering around taking photos when we noticed one widow watching us from the second story. I asked Anita if they didn't mind their picture being taken and when she said no, Yvette and I went up to the doorway of the dorm where she stood and nodding pointed to our camera asking "Teekeh?" ok? She nodded and a few other curious widows came out at we snapped away. The were so delighted to see their image reflected back in the digital screen. They smiled and chirped like little birds, petting Yvette and I's hair. What amazing, sweet-souled women.

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