August 04, 2009
First Few Days!
Well now, so much to say. It is now Tuesday Night. And since I arrived in Calcutta late Sunday night, and Monday and Tuesday are CRAWL's days-off, I will not start the volunteer work until tomorrow. However, from my experiences and my conversations with fellow volunteers, I've learned and experienced many things that are both interesting and applicable to my project.
CRAWL works on a weekly schedule that consists of 3 main different sites. There is an informal school Wed, Thurs, Friday mornings and a pre-school on Wed, Thurs, Friday in the early afternoon. Both of these are in Kardah, a village 30 mins from the heart if the city. There are also the two other sites: the Dum Dum and the Sealdah Train Stations. At Dum Dum, Wed, Thurs, and Friday mornings there is wound care and food duistribution for the needy. Saturday and Sunday mornings outside Sealdah, one of Calcutta's largest train stations, there is wound care for the street people and activities for street children. This is the organization's busiest project.
Walking around Calcutta these past few days, I've already learned of some of the spatial complications facing the organization. What I've noticed is that for us volunteers, the line between volunteer and tourist, between on-duty and off-duty responsibilities, and between working and living is extremely blurred. And I believe that this confusion is actually a spatial issue. It stems from the close proximity between the Sealdah Train Station--where the organization often works--and the Calcutta Lodge--where many of the volunteers (myself included) reside.
I believe that the heads of CRAWL chose the Calcutta Lodge as our place of residence precisely because of its nearness of only a few blocks from the train station. Its nearness is extremely convinient for walking. But our presence as both workers and residents of this small area has caused complications in terms of our relationship to the street people. For the people attending the organization's projects are the same street people that we find in the neighborhood, and our conspicuousness while working has translated into recognition, and even familiarity on the street. The homeless recognize the volunteers, and ask for help every time they see us. And this puts us and the organization in an intersting bind. To give or not? And of the other five volunteers, all have given. One man in particular with a bad skin disease has recieved his last four meals from indidicual volunteer purchases.
This problem cuts at what I predict to be the heart of the organization: community involement. I believe that the CRAWL may see itself (at least some of the volunteers do) as an alternartive to Mother Teresa, which houses hundreds of volunteers. While Mother Teresa has a specific location where street people can seek treatment, I think CRAWL's montre is to come to the people who cannot really transport to a specific place. Following this concept, CRAWL's operations are spread at main sites within the community. Yet being so close creates issues of self sufficiency for the street people. Of course, CRAWL wants to encourage people to seek help rather than to wait for handouts. But it seems that spatial issues between work and residence have been producing an opposite effect.
Is the top organization even aware of these problems? Do they see it as a problem? Do they plan to reconcile it? How does Mother Teresa's compare spatially to CRAWL? And where does CRAWL see itself situated both geographically and figuratively to the street community?
All this and much more to say and learn over the rest of my trip. Now that I'm settled in, I expect to be blogging more frequently. Sorry if this post was too long, please let me know.
Posted by cheyman at August 4, 2009 12:44 PM