A look back

Now that you know what the Richter project is about this year, I thought it would be good to look back at the lessons my past experiences working with the slum yielded.  If there is one thing I have learned, one overlying theme, it is that there are layers of complexity within the slum world-from family relations, to power brokering, to education, to child labor etc…  Here, I will try to give you a quick but thorough look into the patterns I saw emerge from past years.

I have been working in this particular slum for the past two summers and last summer in particular was frustrating.  In fact, the day after visiting the only school in the slum, I came back home disturbed and distressed.  For a few days, I contemplated never going back because it seemed like there was nothing I could do to improve the situation.

For the first time, I had been exposed to a situation so complex, I could not see a solution.  I wrote about this encounter with complexity in full detail and published the article in the Journal of Global Health, based in Columbia University.

Here is a link: http://www.ghjournal.org/jgh-print/fall-2011-issue/incapable-of-complexity/

Yes, the article is very long, but if you read past the first few paragraphs, I promise you’ll get into it.  It turned out to be more of a narrative than an actual research article, and it presents a compelling story.  This story deals with accepting the complexity, not trying to blunder through it; with focusing on the newer generation, not trying to force the older generation to give up their beliefs; with emphasizing education and not giving into the knee-jerk reaction of “WHAT ARE ALL OF YOU DOING?  WHY DON’T YOU KEEP YOUR HOMES AND STREETS CLEAN?”  Because those sorts of questions were exactly the sort running through my mind last year.

Here is a small collection of pictures from the past two summers:


This photo is of the submersible pump that my grandfather helped install in the school to give the students a better source of drinking water.  Submersible pumps are better than the government water in that they bore down deeper and are supposed to retrieve fresher water.  However, people are now speculating that even submersible pumps are no longer safe.  Why?  Industrial  and sewage waste is sometimes disposed of by pumping it deep into the soil.  This waste then mixes with the same water drawn up into houses as drinking water.  E. Coli after lunch, anyone?


This picture is one I took right outside of the school last summer.  Judging from this year’s visit, not much has changed.  Those pictures still to come.  You can also find this picture in my article (link above).


This picture always got to me.  It is from my very first visit, when the school was in a smaller space. That summer, I delivered school supplies with the help of my school’s NHS sponsor.  I realized that each of the students at this school had their backs to the wall–whenever they were not in school, they worked with their parents, either as craftsmen, lock makers, rickshaw drivers or the like.  Education is the one way they have out of the situation, and education itself is incredibly hard to attain.  We will see how the future is shaped.  That is my larger goal.

Categories: Richter Fellowship | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “A look back

  1. John

    What are the prospects for the students at the school? How often do you hear of “success” stories?

    • John, thank you for your comment. The prospects are looking increasingly better. Here is how it works. This school in the slum tries to take as many small kids as it can and teaches them as much of the standard Indian education curricula as possible. Then, through examinations, it tries to get these students admitted into formal, recognized Indian schools. These “formal” schools may even be the most exclusive, private, and well reputed school in the city. There have been several success stories of children who are born in absolute poverty, and are now gaining admission to engineering schools, and the like. How often are these success stories heard? Well, since we are still talking about the first generation of students, the number of students who have gained admission into “formal” schools is around 50. Given the population of the slum (above 2000, mostly small children), this may seem small, but I think it’s a big accomplishment. Hope that answers your question!

      • John

        It definitely puts things into perspective. I don’t think I’ll be complaining about applying to schools again…

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