August 13, 2009
the past week
Yesterday was a good day. I registered to volunteer for Mother Teresa for a week and a half at their Daya Dan house for physically diabled children. I would have liked to work at their Gandhi School, but I could not give them the 1-month minimum commitment. Surely volunteering at Daya Dan will provide a complimentary experience to CRAWL, perhaps revealing the remedies to some of CRAWL's problems, or perhaps suggesting that CRAWL's policies in fact reconcile some of Teresa's issues.
Yesterday was also productive in that I began to read a book about the Teresa houses, and I also scheduled interviews for next week with two of the founders of CRAWL. A third interview will be conducted via phone once I return home, with the American founder Nancy Chrzan. While I am thinking much on the organization's present state, these interviews should tell me about its past and its future plans. I've been hearing rumours of CRAWL's big future goal--a clinic at Sealdah Station--that would completely alter the nature of the organization.
I've found so far that the organization has many problems, much of it having to do with its lack of its own space. CRAWL doesn't really have a set "location." It is a mobile and a commuting organization, treating the homeless in the lots outside of two train stations and conducting a school of of an abandoned building. It has no formal office or warehouse. The volunteers have to commute with the food, medical supplies and play supplies on their own. There are a few long-term Indian volunteers who bring most of the supplies. We short-term folks bring a minority. But without an office, the commute becomes challenging. Trains in Calcutta are no joke; one can barely fit on the train one's self, let alone bring a few bags. The commute causes many issues. Invariably something is forgotten. Sunday there was no food, soap, or coloring books. Saturday there was no toothpaste. Friday, no vitamins. Crawl operates in both very public and private spaces. People and supplies travel from private homes to the sites and back again. There is no supporting infrastructure to back up the rough transition from private to public space, and so forgetting supplies becomes unavoidable, to the frustration of all involved.
Operating at these public train stations, CRAWL is subject to the elements. Whether it be rain on heat, angry mothers or the Sealdah Station drug addicts clamoring to get a scrap of the children's food, CRAWL must fashion order out of this chaos. This often proves quite difficult. We operate very conspicuously, and so beggars crowd around us while we are trying to find the children sleeping in various areas of the station. Thus, it appears to the Station managers, who do not like us anyway, that we are supporting these beggars.
These complications breed inconsistancies. We may have to relocate to another area of the station. Someone may give food to a beggar just to get him to leave us alone--always a bad decision, I think. Unable to control its environment, CRAWL is prone to dissembling. When this happens, the simple and contained tasks of giving out food and treatment run awry.
But when successful at finding those who need food and treatment around the station, and if the conditions permit a little patience for the needy to wait in a short line, CRAWL can create something good at the stations. What I think it can do is to briefly create a community out of compromised spaces. The location of their services--the lots in front of train stations--exist as liminal spaces, existing sandwiched between the mobile spaces of train tracks on one side and the street on the other. The homeless live in their own small sleeping communities around the station. But when CRAWL brings these people together in one small area, it seems that a new community is created. It a compromise between the tracks and the street, between the volunteers and the homeless, between the station and the organization. But it is a compromise that, however briefly, can support communal institutions. In different areas of the lot there is created a "bath house" where the kids are washed, the "dining hall" where they are fed, the "hospital" where the wounded are treated, and the "playground" where the children play. At the organization's best, and for a brief duration, CRAWL is able to forge a sense of community compromised within the harsh streets of the city. It is the slightly removed character of the space beside the station that allows for CRAWL's community to exist.
Posted by cheyman at August 13, 2009 03:24 AM