Hello from Mumbai!
It's spring break, and I'm here in Mumbai, India with my Engineers for Social Impact class.
You might have also heard this city called by its colonial British name, Bombay. We are partnering with a local NGO, called URBZ, to work on small-scale urban development projects in Dharavi, one of the major communities in Mumbai and the world's third-largest slum. We left for the airport 15 minutes after I finished my last exam, so that was a little crazy. One nice thing about living in Abu Dhabi is that the flight to Mumbai is just about 3 hours, so it's pretty easy to travel there.
|Abu Dhabi is closer to Mumbai than some people might think|
We're working in groups of 3-4 students, and each group is mentored by an URBZ staff member. The URBZ staff members help us with translation, technical knowledge, and transportation, and we use their office, which is on the edge of Dharavi, as a work space. They have a lot of connections to community leaders and local businesses, which is really helpful when setting up meetings for our research. Some of us are continuing projects that previous NYUAD groups have started, and others are starting new projects as suggested by our mentors. My group is generally focusing on applications of small-scale solar power in Dharavi, and how the costs of using solar would compare to using the municipal electrical grid for things like pumping water, heating water, cooking, various manufacturing industries, etc.
|Entering Dharavi for the first time (note the beautiful blue mosque)|
My group has mainly been visiting small electrical shops and solar panel dealerships, looking into how much people spend on electricity in the community and what they use it for, and specifically examining a site in Dharavi where we think it might be useful to install a solar powered water pump to provide running water to a public toilet complex (right now people just come to the toilet carrying small buckets of water with them). We can't order all the equipment in the time that we're here, or get authorization from the government, so it's unlikely that the project will be implemented anytime soon, but from the logistical/engineering side we are planning which components would be used, doing the calculations for the power requirements, and gathering data for a cost analysis report. Even if I'm a bit doubtful that anything we do will make an impact right now, I'm learning a lot from the experience and understanding more about what can be done, what has been done, what should not be done, and what needs to be done to alleviate conditions in urban slums. This was definitely a good follow-up to my Wealth and Inequality class in Accra back in January.
|Visiting small electronics shops|
I was interested to learn that, despite it being called a slum, not everyone in Dharavi is poor. Property values in Mumbai are really high, and there's a system by which you earn the rights to government land if you've been informally living on it for long enough. Thus, a lot of people have earned rights to valuable land, they run successful businesses there, and they're very involved in the community, so there's no motivation to leave.
In general, I get the feeling that people are interested in improving the community as long as it's financially feasible on their part, but they tend to be pretty skeptical of outside agencies and governments because they recognize that people have been trying to "fix" things for years and changes tend to be ineffective and disruptive to their lives. I get the impression that there are a lot of semi-illegal activities that go on here, not so much in terms of violent crime, but more because the government tends to regulate in ways that limit the community's economy, getting proper permission and licensing is a slow and inefficient process, and things aren't always uniformly enforced, so it's often easier to "act now and ask forgiveness later" with regard to government regulation. That being said, URBZ has a pretty good relationship with the community; it does a lot of community-based construction projects, and there are a lot of NGOs working here, some more effectively/ responsibly than others.
|One of the wells, though not often used anymore now that the municipal water supply is more accessible|
It's a very multilingual community. English is widely spoken with varying levels of proficiency, but Hindi is the most common colloquial language, and many of the Dharavi people have immigrated from villages where they speak another local language: Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, and more. Many people migrate to Dharavi temporarily for work, send their salary back to support their families, then return to their home villages during the monsoon season. It's an interesting comparison to study the process of migrant labor here vs. migrant labor in the U.A.E.
The main industries in Dharavi include clothing manufacturing, pottery, plastic recycling, and making baked goods. There used to be an active tannery (leather production from animals other than cows, which are considered sacred), but that has been banned due to environmental hazards, so now they produce the leather elsewhere but sell it in Dharavi.
|Women sewing denim textiles|
|Were your jeans made in India?|
|Interesting thing spotted: painting of Jesus and Mary in sort of Indian-style attire|
|Gotta love the crazy traffic + constant chorus of car horns|
|Livestock meets modern life|
|Shopping for kurthis|
|Masala dosa is life.|
The ocean water around Mumbai is mostly too polluted for swimming, but people still come to the beach to spend time with their families.
|Remembering Stephen Hawking|
Goodnight from Mumbai,