I have probably written this many times before but I consider myself extremely lucky to work for an organization that knows and supports the fact that in the free time I work with the children in Lakhtokia. Last year Operation Smile offered to send their photographer with us one Sunday to see what went into our weekly meals. I happened to be out of town that week but excitedly said yes to their offer. What Peter Stuckings was able to capture so perfectly told the story of what Sundays are like for us in Guwahati.
Every Sunday morning we prepare and cook 5.5kg (12lbs) of rice, 9 litres of dal, a load of in-season vegetables and 80 bananas. We cook in our kitchen (okay when I say 'our' I mean Rosie and Hannah's flat which I lived in as well up until recently) and it takes roughly two hours to prepare 80 meals. On average this costs 550-650 rupees or around 12-15 cents per child.
After the food is finished cooking we load it up in a vehicle or auto-rickshaw. With us we bring re-usable thali plates, 100% biodegradable leaf plates, soap, clean water, and a little extra salt for taste! We arrive at this small Hindu temple which we are allowed to distribute food from. It is located in the railway slum of Lakhtokia, just on the edge of the tracks.
The kids love helping to distribute the food to one another. This is something we have never asked them to do, they just jump up and help. Every now and again with certain kids I can tell that they want help because they want some type of control (especially of the bananas) but mostly, they just give their time and manage to muster up as much patience as they can with the crowd. They have become some of our biggest advocates and help keep track of all the equipment.
Then it is picnic time! After hand washing, the kids get in line, as best as we can manage, and then all sit down together to eat. Every single week I look out and see them sitting and crouching, chatting away, giggling and playing and get filled with so much happiness. They are typical kids, some don't want veggies, some want more salt, somes eyes are bigger than their stomachs, some have a huge apetite and EVERYONE loves their banana.
After the meal is over the kids are encouraged to wash their hands again. Many of them stay and play, talk with us, sing, practice a tiny bit of English and all around just have a good time.
The weekly meals serve two purposes:
To give a child a healthy warm meal
To create a strong relationship with them and their family (especially the mothers) based on love and consistency. This is key in getting them to participate in other programs and setting the path to help them break out of this level of poverty.
Honestly, sometimes I am so scared that all of this will crumble beneath my feet. Every time I am around them though the only thing I see crumbling is the cycle that living in a slum creates. Thank you Peter Stuckings and Operation Smile for capturing this process, the very basis of our program on which so much is being built!
All photos in this entry are compliments of Operation Smile- Peter Stuckings, please do not use these pictures without permission.