An action-packed day in the field meant an early 7am start for #UnSchoolMB. As the last fellow sneaked in the back of our awesome BEST bus in an attempt to avoid the (often rather embarrassing) consequences of breaking the don’t-be-late-rule, we headed out for a series of experiences.
En route, Leyla and co-host, Sri, led a feedback session reflecting on the mini-gamification challenge from the night before. We were entertained as we talked through all the motivations and game mechanics that were drawn upon to create the gamified experiences, while balancing ourselves on the moving bus. Designing games that make change is not as easy as you think it might be, and the fellows helped to dissect the ways in which games can have a positive learning experience.
At the peak of the morning city bustle, we arrived at Mumbai Dhobi Ghat: The World’s Largest Open-Air Washerman Colony and were met by our insightful guides, Suraj, Hitesh and Jatin from Reality Tours & Travels. Before leaving the bus, Leyla took the fellows through ways of respectfully engaging with people in their own community, while seeking to gain insights and understanding. With open minds, we followed the local experts from Reality Tours (an ethical tour company that hires local guides and donates 80% of their profits to educational initiatives in Mumbai's slums) into the Dhobi Ghat.
Home to over 7,000 washermen (or Dhobis), the dhobis clean, scrub, bleach and iron (with an iron heated by coals!) an estimated one million items a day. Their clients include hotels, clubs, caterers, garment retailers and neighborhood laundries. Traditionally, the washing has always been done in concrete washing basins, however in recent years, some wealthier Dhobis have invested in large washing and drying machines, halving the colony’s population. Further automatization is expected, and concern for the subsequent reduction in jobs is a big concern throughout the community.
Manoeuvring between the washing cubicles, fast-spinning tumble dryers, and endless lines of drying garments (in a unique clothespin-free way), we observed a tight-knit community that works and lives in tight spaces. In this incredibly complex city within a city, temples, kitchens, sleeping areas, shops and services blend together in a highly tolerant and interconnected space.
Next we were hosted by Dharavi Diary, founded by Nawneet Ranjan and guided by a mission to empower Mumbai youth, especially girls and women, living on the fringes of urban & rural lower income communities. Through STEAM learning, storytelling and skill-building, they quickly develop skills to become innovative leaders.
We were welcomed by their warm and hospitable students, who guided us through Dharavi (Asia’s second largest slum) showing us several of the hundreds of waste recycling micro-businesses that receive thousands of tons of used plastic, paper, metals and other materials every month to break down and resell. We witnessed ‘jugaad’ in action (the Hindi word describing hacks and workarounds to find flexible solutions), along with the incredible amount of material that we consume, and then have to deal with on a daily basis.
After a locally prepared lunch with the students, served on plates made of leaves, we created mixed groups of UnSchool fellows and Dharavi Diary students to explore the contrasts, challenges and opportunities that we engaged with during the day.
The groups delved into some of the complex realities faced by the people who live in Dharavi, using a systems thinking approach. Together, we explored environmental issues, education, gender inequality, women in leadership, social work and adventure. New insights and beautifully articulated, creative, possible solutions were presented by the groups as they collaborated to gain a deeper understanding of the social and environmental complexities surrounding us. The afternoon session filled us with awe, humility and hope, as we hugged goodbye (for now), and traded contact information with our new Dharavi Diary friends.
Day 4 of #UnSchoolMB was full of new perspectives, fresh insights, and a whirlwind of emotions. We were tired and reflective as we made our way through the ever-present Mumbai traffic… until an impromptu dance party got us jumping around the aisles of the BEST bus as we wove our way through the evening light.