Caring for vulnerable children and communities in India.
Mumbai is home to 22 million people, and over 70% live in slums. People living in the slums have limited access to electricity, clean water, food, and educational opportunities. Slums have overcrowded communal bathroom facilities and many have open sewage that contaminates sources of clean drinking water.
The slums are also home to over seven million children under the age of 14 who are growing up in abject poverty. Because food is scarce and the need for families to pool their resources for survival is great, there is tremendous pressure on children – even as young as four years old – to work. Slum children often work as rag pickers, sewage cleaners and other unhealthy and dangerous jobs all around Mumbai, earning a few rupees a day in order to stave off their families’ hunger. Education and literacy are put off as parents struggle to balance the immediate needs for food over the need of a child to grow, develop, and study in order to build a different life.It's a matter of basic survival.
Some other facts about poverty in India should also give us pause: India is estimated to have one third of the world's poor. According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 42% of India, 456 million people, fall below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Almost 30% of workers are casual workers who work only when they are able to get jobs and remain unpaid for the rest of the time. Only 10% of the workforce is in regular employment. The lack of adequate sanitation, nutrition and safe water has significant negative health impacts. It was estimated in 2002 by the World Health Organization that around 700,000 Indians die each year from diarrhea.
Children suffer in some harrowing ways from this situation. Lack of new farming techniques, difficult weather conditions, poor storage conditions, misuse of insecticides and lack of water all mean that many families cannot grow enough crops to feed their children all year round. It is this reason why families leave rural areas to travel hundreds of kilometers just to live in the slums of large cities, like Mumbai. The families reasoning for relocation is sound; back in the villages they starve, in the cities they may find work and survive in the slums. According to the New York Times, it's estimated that about 42.5% of the children in India suffer from malnutrition. The World Bank, citing estimates made by the World Health Organization, says that about 49 per cent of the world's underweight children, 34 per cent of the world's stunted children and 46 per cent of the world's malnourished children, live in India.
Girls have it even worse. Some girls are married off early, work as indentured servants or end up in prostitution just to survive. Indeed, a major issue which faces India is illiteracy amongst women. There are over 200 million illiterate women in India. Recent studies show that infant mortality is directly inversely proportional to the education level of the mothers – in other words, the children of illiterate mothers are much more likely to die young. These women have high fertility rates, poor earning potential, little autonomy in the household and bad quality of life. Girls’ literacy greatly affects the lives of the women, their children and their whole society.
The GPM Solution
Education is a vital key to addressing poverty, child-labor and malnutrition among children in vulnerable communities.
However, education does not happen in a vacuum. In order to have the best chance at success, educational opportunities need to be combined with nutrition and health care. GPM calls this the "Triad of Children's Well-Being". By attending to all three issues at once, GPM is offering children the best chances at breaking the cycle of poverty and child labor.
In order for children to thrive, they also need a supportive environment, clean water, hygiene, and a community that is also cared for. GPM works on both immediate needs and root-cause efforts by engaging in community development projects such as women's empowerment, waste paper recycling, clean water, community centers, and more. GPM works in collaboration with local NGOs, businesses and communal leaders in order to advance the most effective solutions for the children and the entire community.
The Jewish Ethos
The GPM vision emerges from a strong Jewish ethical drive to advance social justice and alleviate human suffering. There are several key Jewish principles have influenced the development of the Gabriel Project Mumbai: The Jewish ethos. Jewish laws, traditions and moral teachings encourage Jews to provide relief for the poorest members of society. All four sides of the patriarch Abraham’s tent were open, for example, so that he could readily tend to people in need at all times. The giving of tzedaka (charity) is a driving force of all Jewish communities around the world. Yet, Judaism teaches not only to give but also to enable. GPM feeds the poorest of children while enabling them acquire a basic education which will empower them to break the cycle of poverty.
Empathy for the vulnerable. Many Jewish communities inthe world are thriving. The Jewish State, international Jewish organizations and Jewish groups are well organized in looking after the needs of the Jewish people. Although there is still a lot of important work being done, overall the Jewish community is looking after itself and the needs of its members. That was not always the case, and 70 years ago a third of the Jewish people were decimated because-in a large part-communities around the world remained bystanders to human suffering and pain. From this history, the Jewish people have particular sensitivity to human suffering, and pressing mission to get involved and to care. When faced with extreme poverty and illiteracy in the slums of Mumbai, the Jewish people have a responsibility to step in and take action.
India’s warm relationship with the Jewish people. The Jewish people have been at home in India for 2000 years. The ‘Bnei Israel’ are said to originate from the ten tribes of Israel and were joined by other groups of Jews who made their home in India throughout the past 20 centuries. While the Jewish people wandered around the world facing violence and hatred, in India Jews have been welcomed and integrated. There has been virtually no anti-Semitism over two millennia, and Jews have prospered and enjoyed their stay in India. Projects such as ours are an important way that Jews can continue to foster the mutually warm relationship between our communities; working together to promote human rights and fight extreme poverty.