DIR in India

The Janta Colony Project, Chandigarh [ photo tour ]


In a crowded slum where 8996 people live in 2,047 tiny homes, located just outside Chandigarh, capital of the Punjab, DIR has a project being implemented by the residents.  This "bustee" is called Janta Colony.









News from Chandigarh, September 2007

Author: Dr. W. Frederick Shaw

(Read previous updates: June 2007April 2007, January 2007, October 2006, June 2006 ]

Once Bitten (Contributed by Harsh Sharma)

During the month of September, something strange happened while the children were being immunized.  A child, who we suspect was unconvinced of the benefits of being immunized, in a desperate bid to escape being given a shot, bit the hand of Sanjeev, one of our Health Promoters.  Only a deft movement on the part of Sanjeev helped him wriggle his hand out of the clenched jaws of the child, thus preventing the bite from taking a dangerous turn. But this scaring incident was not a deterrent for him and he continued as if nothing had happened.  Once bitten, but never shy!   Barring this incident, all went off as planned. 51 shots were given on 3rd of September (1st Monday) and 73 shots were given on 10th of September (2nd Monday), total being 124 for the month of September.


Art Competition  -  Christmas Cards

The final day for submitting a work of art for our first Art Competition, which was open only to our slum (Janta Colony) residents, was 15th September.  Several hundred people, mostly children, participated and we had a gala Prize Distribution Day on Sunday 23rd.  We had four categories of entrants:  (1) Under 8 years;  (2) Aged 8 -12;  (3) Aged 13-16, and (4) Over 16 years.  In each of the first three categories we had prizes for First, Second, and Third Place of Rs300, Rs200 and Rs.100 respectively.  For the most senior category the prizes were Rs500, Rs.400 and Rs.300,   These were hardly princely prizes, since presently Rs.100 = $2.50, but they caused a lot of excitement and hand-clapping.

There were several reasons we staged the competition, one was to encourage creative art and bestir latent talents, one was to provide a means for the bustee people to participate in a new activity, and one (our original motive) was to provide us with some materials to use as the front design for our Christmas Cards.  We wanted everyone to be a winner, and so on Prize Day, every entrant was given a gift of art supplies in keeping with his/her age group. 

Happily for us, a group of generous people, who wanted to be helpful to DIR, sponsored the whole event, prizes and all, and in addition gave us 24 weighing scales.  This group, of about 40 people, was from Dell Computer’s Customer Service Department, and it is possible that someone reading this in the US has spoken with some of them when getting advice on a Dell laptop.

Our benefactors, who stressed that they were acting as individuals and not as Dell representatives, (“This is not a company function” we were repeatedly told.) attended on Prize Day, presented the prizes, took many photographs, and appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves.  When one gentleman learned of the struggle parents (living below the poverty line) had to pay rickshaws to take children to school, said he would pay the Rs.1,600 for next month.  Others also expressed an interest in being helpful and we hope to tap this resource in the future.  We were surprised and pleased that the Manager of Dell for Chandigarh attended with his family.  He also expressed and interest in providing future support.

Now we are selecting and processing art works which could possibly make attractive Christmas/Hanukkah/Whatever Cards from the submissions for the competition.  We would be interested in hearing from anyone who would like to order a few dozen beautiful (highly original) cards bearing any personalized message the orderer prescribed at the rate of $9 per dozen.


Nutrition  -  A Change In Direction  (Contributed by Aparna Kohli)

From September, we are taking a new approach to our Nutrition classes.  Thus far, we have been concentrating on imparting knowledge and on evaluating to ensure that the Health Promoters (HP) are learning the essentials.  Now we are satisfied that they possess the necessary information and so are working on improving their communication and teaching skills.  This is doubly important because, when we expand our programme, the present HP will be the Trainers of new HP.  This change in emphasis is however, not complete.  Content rather than method was stressed this month when we taught “Nutrition for Diabetic Patients” and some methods of food preservation.


Education Programme  (Contributed by Neetika Kapur)

(i) Open School 

In keeping with our plan for starting our Open School Project in Chandigarh, we met Mr. J.P. Singh, who is the SOI (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), Education department, Chandigarh.  He has shown keen interest in our desire for the same and has even suggested that DIR take over and supervise the programs already run by the government, which are not much of a success, due to a variety of reasons.  He hinted at the prospects of utilizing our skills and government resources for putting the program, back on track to success. 

J.P.Singh informed us that the government dedicates Rs.3000 per child, per annum, for providing Alternative and Innovative Education programs (under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), to the physically handicapped children in order to provide bridge courses to mainstream the children into a regular school education program.  Possibly we can participate in that programme, and we are exploring this.

The immediate future shall see a series of meetings with the government officials of the Education department to put the plans to work. 

(ii) Aanganwadi

The literal meaning of “Aanganwadi” is courtyard, which is usually the children’s play area in any home.  The Indian Government has taken the word to be the name for its national programme for the early education of poorer children.  It is expected that classes will be held in sheltered courtyards rented at nominal sums.  One Aanganwadi is supposed to exist for every 1,000 population living below poverty level.  However, reality has yet to catch up with theory and in our colony of 9,240 people there is the one Aanganwadi, the one that DIR started recently. 

We have been pushing authorities to open up more such schools and not having much success yet.  Then last week, we discovered another Aanganwadi within Janta.  Children attend daily, but the teacher does not.  She stays at home and has her salary sent there.  On looking into how this can occur, we learned that the teacher is a close friend of her supervisor.  We will be looking into this further.

Unfortunately, this kind of corruption seems all too common and has a disastrous effect upon many well-intentioned programmes which the government has funded and started, but lacks the ability (or is it the will?) to supervise.

Our experience in Janta Colony is that most residents like the programme and are keen to put their children’s time to effective use.  I am spending time each day training the teacher and our Aanganwadi is being made to run on a scheduled basis with time based divisions for prayer, play study, and meal time to ensure sound development.  We also make sure that their attention span (which is very short for such young children) is not overrun and they do not get bored.  The motor abilities of these kids too are being developed, through action based learning of poems as well as through dance and play.

Each day, a maid, also funded by the government, makes a hot meal for the children from food the government supplies.  This meal is also available to nursing and expectant mothers. 


Sports Project (Contributed by Vinay Chopra)

Lieke, our recently arrived intern from Holland, and I started our new Sports Programme during the final week of September.  We have purchased, to date, eight badminton rackets, a pack of shuttlecocks, two nets, six bamboo sticks (for the poles), four iron pegs, one football, and two sponge balls.  On the first few days of sports activity we worked with the HPs to level the empty lot next to the DIR office which we use to park cars.  After a few months of play we plan to hold a DIR tournament in December, and a second in March.  We anticipate this project will stimulate interest and sports activity in the bustee, and initial indicators point to us realizing these goals. 


D.O.T.S. (Contributed by Asha Katoch)

Since 9th May, DIR-India has been operating a DOTS centre.  We have 15 patients with Pulmonary Koch’s (tuberculoses).  These are grouped in three categories. Category I are those cases which once diagnosed for TB take regular treatment and get cured.  We had 8 cases considered to be in this category, although one man died due to complications.  Of this eight, five are men and three were women. Two of the women have completed treatment this month and are declared “cured.”  Five patients are still under treatment.

Category II are described as “defaulters”. These are people who have started treatment but who stop before the course was completed.  In these cases, the bacteria re-grows and generates ill-health.  We have four such defaulters who are now started on a new course, and seem to be recovering well.

Category III are cases with extra-pulmonary lesions. We have 3 cases and two are regular with treatment but the third patient needs immediate attention as she has discontinued treatment.


DIR-Rainbow Collabortion

Further to last month’s mention of our proposed plans to collaborate with a team of orthopedic surgeons who will come here twice a year to do free surgeries and help train Indian counterparts, we are getting the Government to provide input into the programme.

To-date the Punjab Government have (orally) agreed to provide room and board for our visiting surgeons and to provide all in-country transportation costs.  The government will also provide free and secure storage of all surgical equipment, materials and medicines between visits.

Before each arrival of the team, DIR plans to have completed scheduling of operations and all training sessions.  This time-consuming activity will help insure the best use of our visitor’s time in India and help to maximize impact.


Newspaper Reading

In an effort to spread knowledge and also to keep our staff well-informed, we have implemented a weekly quiz based on information which appeared in the Indian Express.  At the end of the month, scores are totaled and the winner is given a prize of Rs.100.   The prize is supplied by a local donor.  We have been staggered by the amount of information the staff has read and retained.


Personnel Activity  ( Contributed by Pannu Singh)


Mr. Gaurav Dua, Manager of Dell Computers’ Customer Service Department in Mohali paid a visit to our bustee programme on 3rd September.  Our Dr. Harsh Sharma gave him a tour and explained our activities.  This Department has some 500 employees who nightly provide phone assistance to Dell customers (mostly) in the US.  It may be noted that a group of employees from this Department sponsored the Art Competition mentioned earlier in this report.

On 6th September, DIR Trustee, Dr. Amrit Bolaria brought two bankers, Mr. Gupta and Mr. Jain, to see DIR at work in the bustee.  They observed an oral academic quiz of our Health Promoters.  Later, they questioned our staff closely on their activities and expressed admiration.

The following day, Dr. Bolaria brought Mr.Vipin Pubby, Chief Editor of our biggest daily newspaper, the Indian Express to see our programme.  He was amazed, and delighted, to learn that all 25 DIR staff had subscribed to his paper, and seemed pleased with our re-cycling programme.  In this, we sell the old newspapers to bustee women at very modest rates.  We have taught the women to make paper bags from the newspapers, and these they sell to retail shops.  All of this is an effort to (1) reduce trash, (2) generate income, and (3) increase the use of paper  -  rather than plastic -  bags by undercutting their price. 

Chief Editor Pubby then brought Mr. Swedsh Talwar to our bustee and gave him the permanent assignment of covering our programme and its achievements.  This is a welcome event for DIR and we are grateful to Dr. Bolaria for starting that ball to roll.

Dr Seetha Coleman, a Board Member from the USA spent two days with us and brought from Hyderabad Mr. Habeer Rehman and Mr. Ram Badri.  They had come here with the intention of learning everything they could about our programme and how DIR functions.  They have started an NGO in Hyderabad and want to copy most of our ideas.  They spent many hours with Dr. Frederick, Dr Asha, our Nutritionists and other staff, asking questions, taking notes and getting all the literature we had written about what we do and our methods. 

On Sunday, 23rd September, Mr. Gaurav Dua (from Dell Computers) brought 35 colleagues to participate in awarding prizes to our winners in the Art Competition.  Dr. Frederick and Dr. Asha each gave them short talks on what DIR is doing.

Staff Departures

Mr. Rajinder Singh Banwal, Senior Health Promoter left DIR-I employ on 1st September.

Ms. Lisha Fan, and Intern from China whom we had hoped would be with us for three months, was here only four days before she left DIR-I on 5th September

Ms. Kanchan Rana, served merely two weeks of her probationary period before separating from DIR-I on 14th September 2007

Mr. Tsuen Kweun Yu (whom we all called Marat) from Hong Kong, left our employ on 21st September.  He was with us for just under one year, having joined us on 9th October 2006.  To say that every single person in DIR-I liked Marat is to grossly understate the case.  We adored him, and were very sorry that he felt he had to return home.  He distinguished himself in every activity he undertook and his talents seemed ideally suited to our work.  In the last of a series of farewell parties, although he was accepting merely a modest salary from us, he presented DIR with his last paycheque plus $(US)500 -  the equivalent of two month’s earnings!  We wish him success in everything he undertakes.

Staff Arrivals

We are happy to report that DIR-I has two new Interns, and we are especially pleased that they are coming for longer periods than have earlier Interns.  We bid them both a warm welcome and look forward to benefiting from their knowledge, skills and energy in the months to come.

Ms. Lieke Heijnis, an Intern from Holland, joined us on her birthday anniversary, 14 September.  One of the first things we did here was immediately celebrate her birthday.  She has come to spend the next six months with us. 

Mr. Vinay Chopra, an Intern from New York, is of Indian origin.  By sheer co-incidence, he used to stay with his Grandfather in his home which is six houses away from our Chandigarh office.  He has come to spend nine months with DIR.


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