Which place has 15 schools and several hospitals, imports plastics from all over the world for recycling, and is home to more than a million people in just over one square kilometer? That place is called Dharavi: a well-know slum that is the largest in Asia. A visit to Dharavi, however, may challenge any understanding of a slum.

Dharavi spreads over Mahim, Bandra and Sion areas in Mumbai. As home to a mass of human lives crammed into a very small space, Dharavi faces many sanitation and public health issues. However, it’s also a place that is filled with purpose and prosperity.

Dharavi_Bronwyn_McBride_ITKT-1Dharavi is home to many small-scale industries. Clothing, pottery, baked goods and soap are all produced in mass quantities within the slum compound, and are sold all over the city. Leather goods and plastic cutting machines are also manufactured and exported to countries like Dubai and China. Dharavi has an annual export value of $665 million USD.

Reality Gives is an NGO that runs a community centre and school in Dharavi. The work of Reality Gives is not one-sided: it’s more of a partnership between the NGO and the residents of Dharavi, who are fully involved in running many of the Reality Gives projects. Residents of Dharavi undergo training to become tour guides of the slum, or teachers in its schools.

The slum tours organized by Reality Gives offer a glimpse into the lives of a million people, and the revenue generated by the tours is poured directly back into the community. Rather than being sad or scary, a walk through Dharavi is refreshing. No-one will hassle you or demand anything from you: Dharavi’s residents are far too busy focusing on their own work. More obvious even than the poverty and population that is so well-documented is the spirit and resolve of humanity.

New-Bronwyn-McBride-250Bronwyn McBride is a student from Vancouver, BC, and now lives between India and Canada. After quitting her intensive study of circus arts and dance in Quebec, Bronwyn flew across the globe alone to see if she could live in a very different way. It wasn’t her first visit to India, and wouldn’t be her last!

Wherever she is, Bronwyn explores different ways to volunteer and get involved with local communities. She’s worked with severely disabled kids in a Mother Teresa orphanage in Kolkata, crossed the country with a social change performance tour, and has spent long months through the boiling summer in Varanasi, working in a school for girls. Next up: enjoying volunteerism and a foray into Bollywood in India’s cosmopolitan metropolis, Mumbai.

More of Bronwyn’s writing can be found at: www.bronwyngrace.wordpress.com