It is beyond humbling to discover kindness in a place that has little to give.
When I visited Dharavi, India’s largest slum, in Mumbai back in November 2010 I was struck most not by the disarray of the surroundings but the generosity of the people. Amongst swampy streets and littered wasteland children played with smiles on their faces. Workers toiled proudly in unsafe conditions; women kept the floor of their simple homes spotlessly clean. It was Duvali and celebration cake was being dished out to excitable children. They clutched it in their grubby hands and ran barefoot through piles of human and industrial waste to find a quiet place to enjoy it. Not before they had offered their guests the first taste though, they were exceedingly well mannered about it.
I was visiting this part of the city largely because of the light that had been shed on it by Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Thankfully, though, I had chosen to visit the slum with a company that would both educate me and benefit the residents far more than the film had.
Reality Tours take tourists into Dharavi with the objective of breaking down the negative attitudes that many people have towards people from less developed communities like the slums. The common stereotype – often reinforced by media and popular culture – of idle, passive and often criminal slum-dwellers is something they strive to change. Instead they work closely with these communities and ask the guests who take the tours to leave their cameras behind – a mark of respect for the residents which meant we could meet and speak with them without the intrusion of a lens.
Reality Tours & Travel is a social business, with a model that allows tourists to contribute responsibly to the communities they visit. Since I last visited, Reality Tours has begun offering multi-day tours in Rajasthan and Kerala, and just recently launched city tours in Delhi. The social commitment of the company still stands, as it has from the beginning— 80% of the profits from each and every tour are used to fund projects, run or supported by Reality Gives, that improve the relevant communities. Communities benefit, and visitors get to see how they’ve made an impact. This is a simple and scaleable model, and as travellers, we should hold all of the tourism organisations we support to such high standards.
Reality Gives runs a community centre in Dharavi. We visited it as part of our tour and I got to speak to the young boys who were chuffed about being able to use the centre’s computers to complete their schoolwork. The charity also runs a Youth Empowerment Program in the Dharavi area and provides English language support at a local government school.
No one can explain better what these projects mean to the residents of Dharavi than the people themselves. Nusrah (aged 22) shares what joining the Youth Empowerment Programme means to her:
I want to impress my father after finishing this course and talk to him in English. I want to work in a hospital – for four or five years I was always going there. I understand the feelings of the people and want to do something for them. I want to encourage them. I have come out of cancer. I want to give them hope.
You can read more about the projects Reality Gives run as well as those they support via their website. A particular focus for the charity at the moment is a project they are working on with their partner, CORP, raising funds for hearing aids for hearing disabled children.
Of all my travels it is the people of Dharavi and the work of Reality Group that have touched me the most. I mention them again now because I would like to ask for your help, to join me in supporting this worthy cause and consider visiting the projects and people they have helped at some point in the future.
Thanks so much for your attention and any support you can give.
Read next: Inside Dharavi with Reality Tours