Many of us in Teach for India visited a poor community in Ahmedabad during our Diwali break. It was part of a programme that was meant to sensitise us to the needs of low-income communities, their issues, introduce us to other people working for their welfare and open our eyes to the vast amount of work that could be initiated. By the end of the day, however, many of us were struck by how happy they seemed with whatever little they had. The rag-pickers, the house maids, the nimbu-paani wala, everyone had the time and heart for a laugh and some light hearted banter. Some of us came back feeling that we shouldn’t intrude on their lives because they had found the secret to happiness and we were probably corrupting them with dreams that they will not be able to fulfil (a-la-Emma).
It reminds me of the urban legend wherein a young successful man chances upon a street ‘bum’ who looks like he could do with some help. Our young chap here asks “Do you need help?” to which he gets back “Don’t we all?” in return. So we all need help. All of us need help on different things but most of us are better off for the help we receive. And who are we to judge the kind of help given or received?
More recently we met an NGO, which is led by a doctor, which works towards improving the health conditions of Commercial Sex Workers (CSW) in the red light area in Pune. They do a lot of work – from spreading awareness of STDs to rescue operations to free check-ups and medicines and education for the CSW’s children. It seemed like a lot of women were benefitting from the help they were receiving. However, for a moment I felt as if a lot of energy was being spent in making the lives of these CSWs comfortable in a place where they shouldn’t have been in the first place. It brought back the age old debate of systemic change vs. being the change in my mind. (That issue deserves to be separate topic by itself)
There is probably a very thin line between ‘intervention’ and ‘intrusion’ and very often it’ll be the “results” of whatever it is that you’re attempting that’ll give people retrospectively an opportunity to label it as either. But I think the acid test to all these intellectual judgements about what to give, whom to give to, are we being righteous in giving - is to ask yourself the question – ‘What if it was one of your kin who was stuck in one of those low-income communities? Would it still be ok to leave them ‘happy’ in their well? Or would you think that they deserved a better life? Would you choose that life of ‘happiness’ for your loved ones?’ I’m sure the answer is a NO.
Finally, I think – it is only natural to give. The earth gives of itself for the plants to grow, the sun gives of itself for everything else to flourish, and the air gives of itself for us to breathe. We are but a tiny manifestation of everything that’s natural. Giving of ourselves only makes us more natural. We can relive the connections that we have with this world. We can find the answer to our existence.