After some minor transportation confusion, I left the Gokhales' place this morning armed with my camera and notebook and bound for Thane, a city north of Mumbai.
The first project on my agenda was slum sanitation -- MMRDA's officer C.K. Patil took me on a tour of four toilet block facilities: magnificently clean community restrooms furnished with all necessary amenities, for the use of slum-dwellers. I had heard a lot about this project from Uncle, but was so pleasantly surprised to see the sites myself -- I am generally hesitant to use public restrooms in India, but these facilities were certainly good enough for me!
I also had a chance to chat with the community users of these toilet blocks, who really appreciate the improvement. In addition, I interviewed the toilets' caretakers, generally a couple -- the wife will clean the women's restrooms and the husband the men's. In return, they receive a residence atop the two-story toilet block structure.
I tried to probe into what the issues/complaints were at each site, but I was met with a whole lot of contentment! 24-hour electricity, water, and hygiene certainly beat squatting in the street!
Our next stop was a center for treatment of child malnutrition. This program provides young children with healthy supplemental snacks thrice a day to help them recover from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) or medium acute malnutrition (MAM).
At this site, we met with Gaikwad Uncle, who was following up on the progress of the iniative.
Watching Uncle in action is literally incredible -- everyone who has worked with him is in awe -- no detail is too small for him to care about; no challenge too large. He embodies a balance of proactivity and attention to detail which is something beyond human. I now understand why Papa refers to him as a blend of Gandhi and Alexander the Great.
We then checked out a hospital opened under the auspices of the National Rural Health Mission. There, Uncle again grilled the administration with difficult questions about their monitoring system, most of which they were unable to answer. Oops! On a different note, though, this visit reminded me of the importance of the noble cause of NURSING! Props to JennPenn, future pediatric nurse practitioner. :)
I was excited when I heard that we would next be visiting a nursery -- hoorah for primary education! Thus, I was momentarily taken aback when we were driven to a green patch where many young plants were being held. Ohhh, that kind of nursery! This visit was really cool, as this nursery is one of the sites growing saplings for Maharashtra's ambitious Billion Tree Program. My main takeaway from this visit was Uncle's stress on sapling survival over scheduling. That is, he would prefer that half a billion saplings are planted and all of them survive than that a billion trees are planted but many of them die. The specialists at the site also showed us some genetic modification of the trees, by which a more drought-resistant variety is created. Gotta love treehugger talk!
Our final visit was one to which I had been looking forward for a very long time -- an old age home plus meditation center designed by Gaikwad Uncle in Khadavali. We started by eating lunch there, which brought back my very ripe and very, very fond memories of yummy Vipassana Center food.
Next, there was a ceremony to honor the nursing home's workers -- those who give their time and their service to make the atmosphere safe and enjoyable for the elderly inmates. While I could not follow most of the Marathi, I was referenced in Uncle's address as someone who was immediately drawn to Vipassana meditation, and I was even invited to present awards to a few of the elderly female workers~
We then took a tour of the two facilities -- a nursing home which strives to bring joy and dignity to "the eve of one's life" and the meditation school which aims for a more peaceful life for all ages.
Both complexes are excellent, and find themselves situated on the bank of a tranquil perennial river. What could be more conducive to inner peace? I sat in on a meeting of the society's trustees -- the main discussion topic was funding through establishment of lifetime donors, so I was definitely able to glean some ideas for Gyaan Ghar.
[Speaking of ideas for Gyaan Ghar, I planned a party while driving from one place to another today. I have in mind an Earth Day Bash for the kids on April 22nd, to get them really excited about the environment -- I'm envisioning a simple event during class hours, but with green everywhere. We would wear green and think green and create green. I also have an idea for an art project the students could work on, and my favorite interior designer Sonal Chawla is on the job to help me plan a great celebration!]
Uncle and I left Khadavali in the early evening, and I requested that we meditate soon after sitting in the car and debriefing about the day a bit. We closed our eyes for a one-hour sitting and opened them just as we arrived home! How perfect.
Auntie awaited us with open arms and all my favorite foods. I can't believe I only have one day left here -- I honestly can no longer imagine being anywhere else!