‘What I’ve learned from 10 Days in Mumbai’

We are so excited welcome our summer development consultant, Rob McGillis, who is working with us in Mumbai for the next few months. Read on for Rob’s first impressions of the city and Sundara’s work:

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Ten days in Mumbai are all it takes to dispel any preconceived notion about what life in India is like. In reality, I’m not sure what I had imagined – all I know is I didn’t expect this.

And by this, I mean a city so bursting with life it makes New York appear like a sleepy backwater. A city that rivals London in its cultural diversity. And perhaps most strikingly, a city whose inhabitants are the friendliest people I have ever met.

Mumbai is filled with people who are dreaming of a better life. They have come here in droves from all over the country in the hopes of joining the ranks of the hundreds of thousands who have found unimaginable success here. I have met people from Punjab, Gujarat, Telangana, Goa, Rajasthan and rural Maharashtra in just over a week. Each had a unique story that contributes to the richness of this city.

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The sheer wealth of many Mumbaikars is in stark contrast the poverty of so many who have arrived in search of opportunity. Last week, I visited the Sundara work center in Kalwa, just north of Mumbai near Thane. The operation was brilliantly efficient; the small space on the second floor of a building in the slum processes thousands upon thousands of bars of soap. While there, I met the wonderful local women who Sundara employs to recycle the soap that helps keep their communities healthy. The residents of Kalwa live in very difficult conditions that typify many parts of Mumbai. It struck me to learn that many people in the slum pay relatively expensive rents to live there. Such is the housing shortage that even slum life is costly.

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In contrast to the frenetic life of Mumbai, I joined my colleague Kenneth on a trip to the rural villages of Ashte and Shilonda where Sundara works. These villages are in the far north of Maharashtra, near the Gujarat border; they are very isolated from transportation links and life there moves along as it has for hundreds of years. I was thrilled to see the good work that Sundara is doing there. Without the soap that Sundara provides, many of the villagers would suffer unnecessarily from ailments that basic hygiene prevents. I plan to return in a few weeks when the children are back in school to see firsthand how Sundara’s education programs inspire life-changing hygiene habits.

While just ten days have passed, I feel like I’ve seen a whole different world. I am really looking forward to the next two months of work, exploration, and meeting more of the wonderful people who call Mumbai home!

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Photo credit: Andrew Tonn