Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Oasis in the slums

Today is the Muslim festival of Bakri-Id. In my home of rural South England, this would go largely unnoticed, but in Mumbai, with its high percentage of Muslims, it meant there were approximately 15,000 Muslims assembled for prayer at the mosque near our YMCA.

Our morning was spent at the main Oasis office, located in the middle of a Muslim part of Mumbai. Four goats had just been slaughtered next door, as part of Bakri-Id, and were strung up to be skinned (taking a photo was not appropriate, so I'll let you imagine the scene).

The Oasis team gave us a fantastic, family welcome (my reading of Mark 3:31-35 that morning was particularly poignant). Jeanie and Aabuu briefed us on Oasis's work, which was both distressing and encouraging at the same time. The numbers are devastating:
  • According to the UN, 58% of Mumbai's population live in a slum, or on the streets.
  • This figure has increased by 5-8% over the last 5 years.
  • Human trafficking (e.g. forcing women into prostitution) is now the world's second largest industry (the first being arms, the third, drugs) and has an estimated annual revenue of $5-9 billion.
  • 50% of trafficked victims are under 18.
  • It takes 1-2 years to rehabilitate someone freed from forced prostitution.
  • The global recession has had a noticeable impact on Oasis's fund-raising over the last two years - less money is being given to support their work. 
Whilst this figures make the task seem near impossible, Oasis is unswervingly focused on transformation, one life at a time. We visited two slum projects today, which clearly showed the difference they were making:
  • A sewing training centre, which has helped over 500 women in the last five years to learn to sew and thus start earning an income. Over the next few months Oasis are exiting from this project, as its women convert to their own self-run and self-managed federation.
  • An office training centre, which has trained over 300 students in English and basic IT skills. This is funded out of DHL's (Blue Dart in India) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget. This project has now been replicated in two other Indian cities.
During our visit to the slum, we also went to see the family of Mina, who Dave knew from a previous visit. She was a single mother, with two children, one of which has Cerebral Palsy. They live in a 4ft x 10ft room, which is not bad by Mumbai's standards.

I was stunned by my first experience of the slums. The smells and claustrophobic living was overpowering, but as was the friendliness of the people we met, and the seeds of hope that Oasis has planted there.

The day was capped off with an after dusk walk through a back-street, Muslim community, to have a shave and head massage at a local barbers. It was, again, a unique experience. The sights, smells and sounds were deafening: people lived as much on the street as in the densely packed houses. Tuk-tuks, cars and bikes wove through the people. Choosing where to walk was a balance between being nearly run over or stepping  through someone's kitchen. It was surreal.

Today has left me speechless, but thankful. God is at work, through Oasis, in bringing restoration to these communities.

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