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How Working With Mumbai Communities Taught Me There’s Something to Learn From Everyone

Human trafficking, hazardous labor, and sexual abuse are major challenges when it comes to child safety in India. Aangan is working to protect vulnerable children in Mumbai communities and empower women to create safe communities for kids. Their #SignUpForSafety program allows girls, boys, and women living in vulnerable communities in Mumbai to design their own projects in order to make their own localities safer.

How I Found Aangan

A few members of the staff at Aangan have asked me how I found out about the organization since I live in the U.S. Well, I’ve visited India around 10 times throughout my life and have witnessed a variety of problems from extreme poverty to pollution, and wanted to work with an organization that is trying to make a positive difference. This time, I wanted to work with young people and had a few weeks available to do some community service, so my family asked around and we heard about Aangan! This was my first internship, and it ended up being a great and fruitful experience.

Before my first day, I assumed that I would be working in the field with the kids and women 24/7, but through working at Aangan, I learned that setting up strong, informative, and fun sessions for the kids requires lots of research and planning. Although working in an office for a few hours a day might seem boring for a teenager, I really enjoyed my research on a variety of subjects like cybersecurity and the impact of environmental issues on vulnerable communities.

What I Worked On

To start with, I watched videos to learn about Aangan’s mission and then I researched cybersecurity and environmental issues (including monsoon safety) for a local newspaper created by some of our girls. I also had the chance to visit two of the communities Aangan works with to share what I’d learned with the children living there. It was interesting learning more about these important issues from a viewpoint so different from my own, and teaching the community about how to stay safe on the internet and how to conserve the environment — skills that will serve them well currently and in the future.

I did a deep dive into precautions to take in order to stay safe online, especially as more and more teenagers from vulnerable communities in India have access to cell phones. I was especially horrified when I found out about an online “game” called The Momo Challenge, that encourages self-harm and eventually instructs users to commit suicide as the last “challenge.” Many lives have been lost to this awful game and it is scary to think about how it can impact the lives of children living in vulnerable communities who already face a range of other threats to their safety every day.

Before my time at Aangan, I never thought as deeply about how people in poorer, less educated communities learn about topics like cybersecurity and easy ways to improve their communities. I realized that this information, which may at times be obvious to me and my friends, could prevent families from getting hacked online, or teach them how to do the same task in a much more efficient way.

Not to mention that the small group of women who learned this information would pass it on another group of women, until it eventually makes an impact on thousands of lives.

Working With the Community

The way that the residents of these communities, especially the women, were so eager to learn about my life and how I heard about them has had a huge impact on me. Their enthusiasm showed me how everyone can learn from others, no matter how different our lives are. During my second visit to the community, I began talking to two of the community women who were part of the small group learning about cyber safety. Both of them had adorable babies, and when they noticed that my accent was different and my Hindi wasn’t as strong as the other volunteer’s, they asked where I lived. From there, our conversation took off, and we talked about everything from what their favorite hobbies are to how working with Aangan has made a difference in their lives. It was a really cool experience and I hope to be able to meet more people who are different from me through my work in the future.

Before this experience, I had never visited a slum/informal settlement, despite the fact that almost half of Mumbai’s population lives in them (41.3%). Imagine living in a home constructed out of metal parts, not knowing when your next meal will come or where from, and having a never-ending list of chores after school — if you get to go to school.

I know that privileged kids, like me and possibly the person reading this, complain about going to school, but school can be like a “golden ticket” for low-income children around the world, even if it’s just because being in class means they are safe.

Without an education, children from the communities I worked with would most likely end up raising their children in the same circumstances as they were raised in. With an education and guidance from organizations like Aangan about avoiding common dangers, these kids at least have the opportunity to build a better life for themselves.

Overall, I had a great first internship experience thanks to the wonderful staff (especially Lubaina who dealt with all my difficulty around what non-spicy-yet-delicious lunch to order next) and all the exciting opportunities that were offered to me as a young person. I learned a lot about the risks these families face and how Aangan is helping them. Though my internship was about me raising awareness in these communities, the women and children I met ended up educating and empowering me to make a change as well!

I wrote this post for Aangan's blog. Check out my post and their other work here!

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