Backgound:
Michigan University Global Scholars 2016 (3)Despite many organizations being run for the sole purpose of the betterment of marginalized communities right in our own city, most of the people are unaware of the situations and difficulties the minorities endure. Even though literature is being distributed to spread awareness it doesn’t really ignite the spark in the general public to work for a change. It is the firsthand experience of their hard living situations that makes one think and act in that direction. The largest slum of Ahmedabad, Ramapir no Tekro, houses more than 7000 females who wipe the city clean every night, walking kilometers on end, picking up the filth strewn across Ahmedabad. If it was not for these ladies, Ahmedabad would have been a pile of garbage within weeks and the municipality would have had a hard time. For such a noble cause these women are being paid less than laborers, their children struggle with finding education, and health and hygiene are a second priority as struggling for survival takes up their days! There is much more that needs to be told about them. To experience this firsthand, 10 students from University of Michigan used ten days of their summer holidays going to the slums of Ahmedabad and listening to what the people had to say.

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University of Michigan’s Global Scholars Program:
As per the Global Scholars Program run by University of Michigan, students are exposed to different areas and cultures of the world, stimulating their vision for international benefit and growth. It is a living-learning community in which students discuss global issues through a critical lens and facilitate dialogue about social justice, the interconnectivity of the world, and what it means to be a global citizen.

Selection of Jeevantirth:
In 2015 a team from GSP visited India in search of an NGO that would suit best for their exposure trip to India. Jeevantirth’s intervention in the slums of Ahmedabad and in the tribal regions of Dediapada caught their interest, leading to their trip in May – June 2016. GSP’s aim in uniting the diversity was evident by the fact that the students themselves came from various cultural backgrounds. Moreover they were all enrolled in different fields of studies; the merging of such students working for the same cause was an inspiration to Jeevantirth.

Work done by GSP students at Jeevantirth:
Michigan University Global Scholars 2016 (6)To grasp the socioeconomic status of these communities at best, within the short span of time on hand, the students drafted a survey form that covered questions concerning the family’s economic and social position based on income, education and occupation. The survey was conducted from 29th June to 6th July, 2016. More than 100 families were interviewed from several slums where Jeevantirth has been involved now for several years. They visited houses where they came in contact with the issues prevalent in the slums; children wandering around instead of going to schools, drunkard husbands, fear of their houses being demolished, etc. Their plight for survival and the vicious cycle of poverty that these communities are trapped in were apparent to the students. Most of the women when asked if they wished to further their education or develop their skills responded in negative; a few that wanted to learn was something in relevance to help them make money to support their survival. GSP’s report said, “Because many respondents lack basic physiological and safety necessities, such as access to food, water, and sleep, there is no room for other, secondary needs such as self-esteem, creativity, and confidence (See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). As a result, these secondary needs are seldom seen as a priority, and are therefore neglected.” Their conclusion was that there is a need for more quality and affordable primary schools, women’s health services, and incentives; all of which Jeevantirth has been working on incessantly.

Visit to Dediapada:
Michigan University Global Scholars 2016 (5)Michigan University Global Scholars 2016 (4)An introduction to Jeevantirth’s rural/tribal program was done through a daytrip planned to Dediapada on 4th July. This gave the students a chance to experience village life in the tribal regions of Gujarat. One of the grim issues of these villages is the treatment of elders in the society. Since it is largely a labor based society, elders are sent off to farms or given responsibility of the children as they are unable to contribute labor. This leads to ill behavior against the aged which in turn causes psychological and social struggle for the elders. Jeevantirth has recognized this issue and has been working on it by gathering the elders and training them as to how to deal with these issues in a positive way. Similar program is also run in Ahmedabad by the name of Nirant Vrudhdh Mandal. Other than this the students were introduced to a traditional medicine program named Aadi Aushadhi Group; the tribal people here have mastered the craft of herb alchemy. Secret recipes have been passed down since generations and Jeevantirth acts as a training catalyst for these traditional healers to cultivate, harvest, process and market their medicines.
Witnessing the village lifestyle, it’s simple and rudimentary ways, had the students overwhelmed. Furthermore the tribeswomen greeted them with a folk song while it rained dramatically; the welcome couldn’t have been less of an experience for the students than the 4th of July back home. Since it was the United States’ Independence Day the students sang their national anthem to the tribals which both the parties enjoyed equally.
With all the sincere learning, field visits and fun time the students had Juna Koba Jeevantirth it was a trip to remember.

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