Yukon News

Torn, black plastic huts float on seas of garbage and despair

Rosemarie Briggs Thursday November 1, 2007

CHARAN KADD, India

In India there are more than three million slum dwellers. 

The conditions are horrifying. 

There is no sanitation, little water and the children look wild and filthy.

The first time you see a slum, countless contrasting emotions overwhelm you.

And what should be done with your eyes?

Is averting best, or does it ignore their plight?

Is looking sympathetic or callous?

Charan Kadd slum stretches along a dusty piece of road in northern India. It has existed for about 20 years and is home to more than 700 people. 

Residents worked as agricultural laborers and cattle herders in their own regions, but the land dried up and the economy changed.

So, they looked for opportunities elsewhere. 

Here they have no land rights. They must live in plastic shelters propped up with bamboo poles.

Conditions are bad here, but worse at home.

Unemployment is rampant. What work there is, is seasonal and temporary.

Charan residents shine shoes, sell bangles and work as construction labourers. 

Picking garbage and selling recyclables is the most common living. Many women and children beg.

Education is perceived as a luxury for the rich who can afford to have children not earning.

Health care is expensive and slum dwellers are so marginalized by Indian society that accessing support is nearly impossible. 

Life is difficult. 

Like all slums, Charan could fill volumes with its woes. But magic has begun to swirl through Charan, and everything is changing.

Jamyang escaped Tibet in 1993, walking 13 days over mountains in the Mt. Everest region.

Conditions were harsh and one of their party died. 

But he had a mission. 

In Lhasa, before he left, he’d prayed hard. 

Though he desperately wanted freedom to practice his own culture and religion, everything seemed to be blocking his escape.

It was then that he’d prayed for a smooth escape if he could learn more about his religion in India and serve in the community.

Fortune changed and shortly thereafter he was on his way. 

After some years studying in southern India, Jamyang arrived in the North, in Dharamsala. 

“My room was by a rubbish dump and a big tree,” he said in an interview.

Every day Jamyang used to sit by the tree and study. And every day four filthy, starving kids arrived to pick the garbage and eat the discarded food.

One day there was bread so mouldy it was green. The kids picked the bread up and devoured it, said Jamyang.

“It made me feel sad and I had very big sympathy,” he said. 

This day was a turning point. But Jamyang was overwhelmed and not sure how he could be of help with so few resources of his own. 

“They are so hungry,” he explained. “I’m also a simple monk and I don’t have much.”

As a monk, he has few possessions and no wealth, so he decided to share his own food. 

On that day, he began eating two meals a day. His first was breakfast.

For lunch he cooked what he would have eaten for his lunch and dinner and then took it to the tree and the five of them shared it. 

That was seven years ago. 

After a few months of this communal lunch, Jamyang was invited to visit Charan.

The slum is still desperately poor today, but at that time the poverty was much worse,” he said.

“In front of my eyes, three children die from climate, infection and diarrhea,” he said of his first visits to the slum. People were starving. Not one child was going to school. 

“If you see and go there then it’s really too much suffering,” said Jamyang. “I really started to help them by the sympathy and kind hearts… If I looked only for the challenges and problem, then I can’t.” 

So Jamyang took another approach.

“How much can you do for one week? One rice bowl? One kilo rice?”

For two years, Jamyang washed discarded clothing from friends and distributed it.

He also used what little money he was given, and money friends donated to buy rice and distribute it. 

Mostly, Jamyang made friends with Charan residents and learned about their difficulties and needs.

And what he noticed, in addition to harsh living conditions and inadequate food, was a total lack of hope and self esteem. 

Charan residents had been so beaten down by life that little or no aspiration remained.

Part one. Part two will be published Friday.

Rosemarie Briggs is a Yukon teacher currently studying in India and Nepal.

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