Incredible India - Friday

March 03, 2006

Light showers overnight meant a cooler morning, a welcome change to the previous evening.  I was grateful; we had a busy day ahead. 

We set off to the Kusum Pahari district, one of Delhi’s most disadvantaged areas, home to some 130,000 people. As we moved through the narrow alleyways, I was greeted with the brightest smiles and most graceful namastes. Between the industriousness of the street barbers, the shopkeepers stacking their shelves and women hanging out washing, there was a real sense of purpose and vibrancy in this little community.  

In places like Kusum Pahari, many families are so poor that they need their children to work and earn money. That means the children, sadly, often have to drop out of school. The Ritanjali Learning Center, in the heart of this community, is trying to remedy that with a combination of courses, compromise and commitment. Serving about 150 students, the dedicated and innovative volunteer teachers cater for youngsters and adolescents alike. And they really do provide something for everyone.  

I was honored to light a diya lamp and offer my blessings for continued success before entering the learning center. I joined a class of bright and eager pre-schoolers learning subtraction, and then I watched an art class in action. The aim of these ‘catch-up’ classes is that the students can be reintegrated into mainstream schooling and complete their school certificates. 

Downstairs, I chatted with some teenage girls who were totally absorbed in vocational training classes. They were learning hair-braiding, manicures, embroidery and henna painting…the tools of any good beautician. Nearly at the end of their six-month course, some of the girls told me they were already working in malls, bringing home money for their families.  It was a win-win situation: they learned new skills, they gained independence, and they generated their own income. How proud I felt of these young, strong, determined women. 

Later in the day, the pace slowed and I was honored to visit The Raj Ghat, the last resting place of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. The memorial stone is a simple square platform made of black stone – emblematic of the humility and simplicity with which he led his life.