Learning in the Patna Slums

We returned to Patna proper for our last meeting of the day–with a group of women in the Patna slums.  Dodging vehicles and livestock, turning right and left and right again, through exceedlingly dusty streets, we arrived to a chalk-decorated pavement, a reception table with marigolds, the blessing ritual, and a welcome song of many lovely verses.

In the Patna slum we were greeted by a grouping of the very small--5 women--savings and education groups.

In the Patna slum we were greeted by a grouping of the very small–5 women–savings and education groups.

The nutrition lesson included a fascinating exercise.  Each 5-woman group was given a picture of “Meena and her family” a commonly used ‘typical’ Indian family:  Mother, 5-month old nursing baby, young son, adolescent girl, father.  The decision they were asked to make is how does the mother divide 8 pieces of chicken among the family.  Of course you know the correct answer, don’t you?

After the "chicken lesson" the women stood to sing the promise.

After the “chicken lesson” the women stood to sing the promise.

The correct answer is–

3 pieces for the nursing mother, 1 piece for father, and 2 each for the boy and girl.  While most groups gave the right answer, the follow up was the tough one (this was not the first time they had done this exercise)–is this what YOU do in your family?  Happily many women raised their hands, and one woman stood up to explain that her husband trusted her to do the right thing, and he was fine with it.  Now that’s progress.  For the women, and as importantly, for the next generation for whom they are responsible.

FFH lessons are used by Nidan to teach nutrition--again, employing the symbolism of the 3 colors of the Indian flag.

FFH lessons are used by Nidan to teach nutrition–again, employing the symbolism of the 3 colors of the Indian flag.

The program leader from Nidan is a woman--still unusual--teaching nutrition according to the Indian flag metaphor.

The program leader from Nidan is a woman–still unusual–teaching nutrition according to the Indian flag metaphor.

We were given the opportunity to ask them what difference the group had meant in their lives.  The answers were freely and quickly offered–

  • We like managing our savings in a group where we have mutual support
  • We have the opportunity to learn things that are relevant to our lives
  • Now that we are involved in the financial dealings of the family we can make other decisions without being dependent on our husbands
  • Before we didn’t know anything about banks or what they do, but now we understand what a bank is
  • We used to pay interest to money lenders, but now we pay interest to ourselves

When the meeting was over we went up to stand with the women for pictures, and for the first time turned around toward the street, where we saw a large group of mostly young men, who all had their cell phones out taking pictures!  Maybe some of those lessons were sinking into them, too.

We had to leave to meet the other group for lunch, so we were back into the mini vans and off to navigate the dusty crowded streets of Patna to the revolving restaurant, where we ate too much and then headed to the airport for our return to Kolkata.

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This is one of the fancier roadside haircut/shaving kiosks.

This is one of the fancier roadside haircut/shaving kiosks.

We saw many roadside vendors of clay vessels.

We saw many roadside vendors of clay vessels.

All of the taxis are painted, and most hung inside with the favorite or guardian god of the driver.

All of the taxis are painted, and most hung inside with the favorite or guardian god of the driver.

We didn't see any riots, but the district has had some unrest lately which was in the papers.

We didn’t see any riots, but the district has had some unrest lately which was in the papers.

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One last note–as we stood outside the restaurant waiting to dash across the street to our van, two young teenage girls came walking past holding hands.  One was dressed traditionally Indian, the other was in colorful clothing but a full head scarf with only her eyes showing.  She was staring at me, so I smiled and she smiled back (her eyes were unmistakable) and gave me a little wave.  As she walked on she turned back to give me one more look.  I hope our encounter made her as happy as it made me.

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