Freelance Nomad

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tadiwala Road...from the air

Here's an aerial photograph of the Tadiwala Road area.

The dark blue line runs along the 1km length of Tadiwala Road, right up to the river. You can easly spot the densely-packed slum areas. Approximately 30,000 people live here.

The green dot shows the location of Deep Griha Society's Family Welfare Centre. The red dot marks the block of flats where I stay, just a minute's walk away.

At the south end of the picture you can Pune's finest hotel - Le Meridien - which has just hosted Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for a few weeks whilst they've been shooting in the city. The media went crazy.

The light blue line shows Boat Club Road, one of the most exlusive addresses in town. It's a little leafier around there.

As you can see, the slum-dwellers (average income, Rs1000 per month) live almost side-by-side with people who can afford property at Rs2500 per square foot, or a hotel room at $150 (Rs6800) per night.

Interesting na?
Pablo entrusted with responsibility

On Sunday I joined 29 children from Deep Griha Society’s Aadhar Kendra Sponsorship Programme for a day trip to the National Defence Academy (NDA). Going one these kinds of trips is one of the (many) perks one often gets as a DGS volunteer. This particular visit was well worth it for all concerned.

We'd initially been approached a couple of weeks ago by Shailaja from Perfect Relations, a PR company, whose corporate client wanted to arrange something around Children's Day on 14th November.

I went along to the head office of Synygy (an IT consulting firm) with fellow volunteer Jenny and DGS Team Leader Rajendra to meet the Managing Director and discuss how the firm could get involved with Deep Griha. Eventually we might be able to arrange a formal volunteer programme, but in the short term they wanted to arrange a field trip for approximately 30 children in the 10-14 age group.

To this end, they lined up a trip for the kids to NDA, a few miles outside Pune city up at Khadakwasla.

At 8.15am on the day itself, I joined Rajendra, two teachers and the kids outside the DGS office on Tadiwala Road. Then the Synygy-organised bus arrived and we were away.

The Synygy staff welcomed everyone with snacks and drinks as the bus weaved its way through the heavy city traffic. I hadn't been on a school outing like this for a good few years now and I have to say these kids were a lot better behaved than we ever were. In fact, they were on their best behaviour all day, always listening attentively and waiting patiently when required. Synygy pulled of a masterstroke by giving out corporate baseball caps, which enabled us to keep a close eye on our flock all day.

On our arrival we were met by two young cadets who looked after us throughout the visit, answering our questions and explaining everything for us. Although Sunday is their official day off, the cadets had generously volunteered to show us around - cheers lads! Interestingly, as a foreigner - woooo - I had to get prior security clearance to visit NDA, although they didn't seem too concerned once we actually arrived.

NDA itself is very impressive. Spread over 8,000 acres, the site is the premier training facility for cadets in the country and houses thousands of cadets and officers. Unlike most centres, the Academy trains cadets for all three of the combined services of the Army, Navy and Air Force. There's a parade ground, assault course, gymkhana, stadium, many sports pitches, an Olympic swimming pool, a firing range, fully equipped classrooms, a large auditorium and all the other facilities you’d expect from a top-quality Academy. For a country that spends eight times as much on defence than on education at least this is a place that combines the two.

We got to watch a short promotional film about the Academy before taking a walk around the grounds. On the way we visited centre museum and posed for photographs by various tanks, jet fighters and other military hardware.

There are portraits and statues around of the NDA graduates who gave their lives for the country and were posthumously awarded medals of honour for their bravery. Nearly all of them were in their twenties.

One of the highlights was visiting Peacock Bay on the shore of Khadakwasla reservoir. The children got to look around the TS Ronnie Pereira, a land-locked concrete training ship for the junior Navy cadets to familiarise themselves with the layout of a real vessel.

There was a slight hitch when our bus driver went temporarily AWOL and left us all stranded on the wrong side of the campus. Fortunately, Sunil from Perfect Relations demonstrated that he had the right stuff and managed to rustle up a spare bus from a nearby village. I’d hoped that we’d be able to blag a lift in a passing tank but you can’t have everything I suppose.

By the time we'd had a good explore it was time for some lunch. Synygy sponsored lunch at the NDA cadet canteen which serves up some pretty good food. The children certainly took advantage of a hearty meal, although perhaps a few had a little too much since we had a few bouts of car-sickness on the journey home... Still, the swag-bags distributed the children went down well. I wouldn’t have minded one myself. Sometimes I forget I’m not a 12 year-old.

For the children of Tadiwala Road slum, a trip like this is a rare opportunity. Aside from the educational value, it’s a chance just to get away from the city pollution and get a little fresh air. Hopefully, we’ll be able to run more trips like this in future.
Wake Up Pune

I know. The posts have dried up again recently. I know I'm in danger of crying wolf if I plead lack of time but things really have been chaotic recently (though wonderfully so).

Workwise, at the moment it's all systems go for Wake Up Pune, which kicks off on the 20th November.

Wake Up Pune is a city-wide HIV/AIDS awareness campaign being organised by a coalition of agencies working in the field of HIV/AIDS. DISHA (Deep Griha's Integrated Service for HIV/AIDS) is playing a major role.

What the campaign boils down to is this:

Does Pune have a problem? Yes.
Does Pune know there is a problem? No.

India is now the country with the single largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PWLHA) at 5.7 million (UNAIDS 2006). One in five of those cases are in Maharashtra, Pune's state.

According the the latest figures we have, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) conservatively estimates that HIV prevalence in Pune is 1.8%, nearly twice the WHO epidemic mark of 1%! These are numbers from 2002... I think they've given up counting recently.
Given that Pune has a (rapidly growing) population of 4 million, that's at least 80,000 PWLHA. Nobody talks about this. People are burying their heads in the sand. Hence Wake Up Pune.

I've just been working on the campaign website - - designed by Coen with content from yours truly. If you're interested, full details about the campaign can be seen there.

Since I'm on the subject, here's a quick refresher for everyone...

There are only four ways to contract HIV:

• Unprotected sex

• Sharing infected needles
Exposure to HIV infected blood
Mother to child transmission

HIV cannot be transmitted through:

• Coughing, sneezing
• Shaking hands, kissing or touching
• Sharing food or drinks
• Sharing crockery or cutlery
• Contact with toilet seats
• Insect or animal bites
• Swimming pools, baths
• Eating food prepared by someone with HIV

Check out the website if you have time. It's got a few images of the posters we're producing for the campaign, along with details of the various activities in the pipeline.