Several days ago, I trudged across the +100 degree asphalt of the Pakistan border, loaded with collages of memories from a short but overwhelming summer in India. Shining brightest from this kaleidoscope of experiences was Dharavi – India’s largest and most enterprising slum – and the aurora of hope radiating from there.
When I first stepped into this labyrinth, Slumdog Millionaire community, I was mostly curious. Intrigued how an alleged 1 million people packed into a tiny .67 square miles could “decide to be happy, when they had every reason to be miserable.” Intrigued how generations could rise above their circumstances, and make the best life possible for themselves, despite everything holding them back. What I eventually discovered is that hope is central to this phenomenon.
Nicholas Kristof once wrote that development succeeds when it gives people hope that a better outcome is possible. Dharavi is a perfect case study of the effect of hope delivered.
As described in Poor Little Rich Slum, Dharavi is a cauldron bubbling with enterprise. With a never-say-die attitude. With spirit and spunk. A place where people believe that tomorrow can actually look better than today.
And Yuwa is one organization that is helping inculcate that belief at an early age, specifically with the +10 year-old girls who are learning football on a swampy mud lot behind the Mahim train station.
Despite the monsoon rains and the barely-lit lot littered with rocks, rats and restless boys, the girls continue practicing. From 7-830pm, 7 nights a week. Why? Because here the girls are apart of something bigger than themselves. Here they begin to realize that society doesn’t define who they are. Here they have the ability to create their own tomorrow.
And perhaps what’s most exciting is to see this evolution of hope in progress. Without a doubt, Yuwa is making tremendous strides in inspiring a brighter tomorrow, but their program in Dharavi is only 3 months old and there is still a lot of work to do.
For example, my last day at practice, I was walking back with the “human bus” of girls, dropping each one at their house, when I had the chance to ask Mansi* (pictured below) what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Although her parents have humble occupations – her mom cleans houses and her dad drives buses – they've managed to send her to a private school in the Bandra suburbs. Given this, I expected her to claim that she wanted to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or maybe even an engineer. But she actually has “no clue.”
Later that night, her mom told me that she lacks confidence.
If Yuwa is successful in helping inspire hope, however, I suspect Mansi’s answer will have changed by the next time I get to ask her this question. And as I journey to Kenya – to explore start-up development ideas – this simple mission of hope is one I hope to keep central.
|*I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but Mansi is mine. Perhaps because of her nearly perfect English, the way she makes sure I don’t get lost, or how she voluntarily shares her last prized piece of Cadbury chocolate.|