Fun in a slum? What a concept! But it’s true – I have met cheerful and playful people in the slums of India that I have visited. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine that a slum can represent anything other than disease, despair and grinding poverty. But surprising things can happen in surprising places.
Here’s a story for you. In the Rasoolpura slum in Hyderabad, community development teams attached to Operation Eyesight are hard at work bringing eye care and health education to thousands of people. A simple message like “you don’t have to be sick and blind – we can help” should draw everyone in the district. But sadly, a great many people who need help still don’t ask for it, so our teams have become very creative.
A few years ago, the Rakshana community development team under the leadership of Jyothi Rao (a very resourceful community health care worker) organized what they described as a “week long extravaganza which would get the women-folk of this slum excited and curious while also make a meaningful difference by addressing various issues close to their hearts.”
The week culminated in a mega-health screening program promoting health-seeking behaviour in the community. Team members, who are mostly women from the same neighbourhoods, went door-to-door and personally invited nearly every women in the slum (that’s a lot of women, but it’s a compact area).
The “extravaganza” featured games like musical chairs, lemon-on-a-spoon races and talent-based competitions such as rangoli (decorative designs made on floors of courtyards with colored rice, dry flour, sand and flower petals), mehendi designing (application of henna on palms) and painting competition for children. Jyothi and her team were thrilled with the turnout and the experience of seeing these women and children laughing and enjoying themselves.
The buzz (and no doubt some trust) that was created led to a tremendous turnout to the actual screening for eye problems and other health issues. This slum neighbourhood is well on its way to being a much healthier place.
This story underlines an important principle about Operation Eyesight’s work: even the poorest, most humble of people have hope, initiative and capacity. When that is encouraged in individuals and multiplied across a whole community, there’s no telling what good things can happen. This is what can ultimately turn a slum into a healthy community.