“The whole point is to harness traditional skills, things the locals are comfortable doing, and to channelise it into ventures that will bring in money. There is ample talent here that is going to waste. All that they need is a bit of confidence and a sense of being useful not only to their family but also to society.”
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Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti is a labyrinth of sounds, sights and lanes. Hanging over the cheek-by-jowl houses is the omnipresent smell from spilling-over garbage dumps together with a faux Mughlai aroma from the hundreds of eateries that dot the Place. There are snapshots from a diary of underdevelopment – children with running noses and distended bellies, substance abusers lounging in parks, groups of unemployed youth killing time. Over this smorgasbord of senses rules the Sufi spirit of harmony.
The major roadblock is, of course, economic. And in this field the Hope Project Charitable Trust, an NGO, wants to make an impact. The trust was floated in 1975 by Vilayat Inayat Khan, son of the famous Sufi teacher Inayat Khan. What started as a spontaneous reaction to immediate needs for children and mothers (such as providing milk and basic health care) has over the years taken the form of a community programme that includes income generation schemes for women and providing the youth with vocational training.
“In a community as insular as Nizamuddin basti’s, the biggest hurdle faced is the lack of exposure and contacts,” says Kamini Prakash, executive director of the trust. Keeping this in mind, Prakash and her team have devised some programmes, aimed at the local boys that are innovative and financially rewarding.
According to Prakash, most boys end up taking traditional jobs such as carpentry and plumbing, or end up becoming garage mechanics. “Before we embarked on the new programmes, we had conducted a survey among the youth. Topping the list of favoured jobs was being a driver.” So was born Hope Project’s programme of training 10 boys to become drivers of light motor vehicles. The boys were sent to the Institute of Driving Training and Research (IDTR) for a 30-hour driving class.
The second project was training them to become tour guides and take tourists around the historical sites of Nizamuddin. “There are a number of visitors who would like a round of Nizamuddin but do not know where to start and find their way around the hundreds of alleys,” explains 25-years-old graduate Mehtab Alam Siddiqui. He and his friend, 20-year-old Kamal Hassan, have grown up in the area and know it better than the backs of their hands. The tour starts from Inayat Khan’s dargah and kali masjid. A traditional meal can also be arranged, thus topping off a peep into the Sufi culture of the area.
“These projects are still at a nascent stage,” says Prakash, explaining why the endeavours haven’t really picked up. Laments Mohammed Amir who was part of the first batch to take the driving course: “Everywhere you go, they ask for experienced drivers. Nobody wants to give us a break.” He himself is lucky, though, driving a stockbroker’s car. As for the guide programme, the project’s staff are busy networking with government organisations as well as private tour operators.
But such hiccups are part of any NGO’s routine. Hope Project is all set to move into its new headquarters, which will have a full-fledged kitchen. The moment the kitchen becomes functional, Prakash and her team will train a group of women to cook traditional dishes professionally, and start a catering unit.
“The whole point is to harness traditional skills, things the locals are comfortable doing, and to channelise it into ventures that will bring in money,” explains Prakash. “There is ample talent here that is going to waste. All that they need is a bit of confidence and a sense of being useful not only to their family but also to society.”
Till that time, as the saying goes, “Hope floats.”
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