Over winter break, my family and I went on a trip to see my grandparents in Pune, India. While we were there, we did a lot of interesting things like going to museums and even visiting a palace. However, the most life-changing experience there was when I went to see one of the thousands of slums across India with my grandma, mom, and sister.
When I first saw the place, I was surprised with a few things. People were walking around with I-phones and there were even satellite dishes on top of some of the houses. The women were wearing beautiful dresses called saris and the men were dressed with nice collared shirts. Unfortunately, the rest of their conditions were pretty terrible. The buildings were small and cracked and their neighborhood was not sanitary. There were wood-burning stoves outside used to cook small meals and only a dozen or so toilets for about 100 people. On top of that, the showers were in small rooms and all of the young children bathed outside.
During the day, the men would go out to work on their motorcycles. They drive these not as fashion statements, but because they can’t afford any sort of car. The minimum wage in India is only 160 rupees a day, or a little more than two dollars. To put it in comparison, if a Coloradan worked minimum wage for 8 hours a day, then they would still earn about 90 dollars. While the men went to work, the women would stay at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their children, but sometimes they would work as maids or construction workers.
In most of the slums in India, there is a sort of daycare called an Anganwadi. It’s basically childcare for three to six-year-olds held in a small room. The parents can dump their children in the Anganwadi for the day while they go off for their jobs. The kids receive lunch and spend most of the day learning and playing with each other. I was surprised with how much fun twenty kids had sharing a small bucket of toys. The place received a bag of lentils and rice each month to give out to the kids and kept track of the kids height and weight to make sure they were healthy.
We interviewed a pretty old woman with a beautiful yellow shirt with mirrors attached to it. She’s part of gypsy group called the Lamanis and she speaks a language that nobody else could speak in that slum. Although her clothes were already really amazing, she asked if she could change into better clothes. These clothes were actually her everyday clothes which she used for working and going to sleep in. She said that generations these days never wear these sort of clothes and women were obligated to wear it back in the day.
After visiting the slums, I learned that these people all are super close. They operate as one large family and always help those in need, even if they can barely feed themselves. They celebrate weddings and holidays together as well. On a blackboard of the Anganwadi, I saw a message that made me happier than I’d been in a long time: “Smiling is the best medicine.” This goes to show that even though these people have so little, they keep on smiling.