They were born in the country, yet are not considered citizens. They don’t have access to a stable job, so they live on less than $10 a month. They are not provided schooling or healthcare, when they are the ones who need it most.
The social class caste system of India known as Varna prevents the Dalit—the lowest rung on the caste—from opportunities we take for granted in the United States, according to borgenmagazine.com.
The Vision Foundation is a nonprofit education that provides healthcare and education in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai, India every summer—yet the foundation’s president, senior Esha Chadha, is 18 years old and lives half a world away in Lewis Center.
“They are not citizens, so they have no fundamental rights,” Chadha said. “They are not allowed education or healthcare, so they need an outside source to provide those things.”
Last summer, the foundation gave artificial lenses to 133 blind children in the slums of Mumbai, India.
“The children were not born without sight, but were made blind to be more successful at begging,” Chadha said.
Orphanages use maiming techniques on children to gain more sympathy from passerbys unlikely to give their money to a healthy child, according to Chadha. The Vision Foundation’s primary goal is to turn children away from begging and toward learning.
“Once they have their eyesight, they can focus on getting an education,” Chadha said.
Over a two-week period, Chadha taught basic math in the slums alongside a few volunteer teachers. She also spoke to 300-400 women and children in the slums about domestic violence, civil rights and the dangers of sending children—girls in particular—out on the streets to beg.
“Begging causes a lot of problems in India. It leaves children vulnerable to rape and murder,” Chadha said. “No one else would talk to them about [their rights].”
Chadha’s history of volunteering in India began long before she took up the presidential role in summer 2016. Chadha grew up between two places she called home—one in the state of Ohio and the other in Mumbai, India. Her aunt, Neena Chadha, brought along E. Chadha and her twin brother, Arjun Chadha, to donate food to the slums. According to cia.gov, 43.5 percent of children in India under five years of age are underweight.
“Most of their food is donated, but other than that they’re on their own,” E. Chadha said.
- Chadha also paid for education needs on occasion, since people in the slums are not granted schooling.
“We’re doing a project on Malala [Yousafzai] in English class, comparing education all over the world. [Olentangy is] so much more advanced in comparison to both [schools in the United States and around the world],” Kirsten K. ‘20 said.
- Chadha claims some applied for televised Indian dance shows, but were turned away due to their social status.
“They aren’t provided education, but they are talented kids, especially in dancing and music, since they don’t have much else to do,” E. Chadha said. “In the slums, they are all moving backward while everyone else moves forward.”
Family friend Prasoon Dixit ran the foundation before he appointed E. Chadha as president. E. Chadha said he noticed her throwing herself into the foundation following her aunt’s death.
“My aunt was one of the last of my family still in India. I wanted a reason to come back home even without having family there,” E. Chadha said.
The foundation morphed into a family affair following E. Chadha’s new role. E. Chadha’s sister, Neha Chadha, is putting together an official website, while A. Chadha attended the trip last summer to clean up slums in disrepair.
“The slums do not even have houses. Their roof may be a bedsheet. Their bed is the floor,” E. Chadha said.
While A. Chadha removed trash and recycled plastic, living conditions in the slums cannot remain clean without continual support.
“People complain about life in this country, but they have no clue about the conditions [the Dalit are] living in,” English teacher Sarah Zettler said.
According to cia.gov, 71.5 percent of India’s rural population—where most slums are located—has unimproved sanitation facility access. These living conditions allow “major infectious diseases” in India such as malaria, dengue fever, rabies and hepatitis strains to spread more quickly throughout slums.
“It is really dirty and unhygienic there. A lot of kids are passing away from infections. If you ate their food, you would get sick and have to go to the hospital,” A. Chadha said.
While attending school in the United States, E. Chadha recruits U.S. doctors, nurses and teachers to work with her in India. She is seeking a new doctor to help her set up another blind camp this upcoming summer.
The foundation has already created massive positive change, but E. Chadha claims the Vision Foundation is relatively small and hopes to expand the charity over time. Those who would like to get involved with the Vision Foundation can visit their Facebook page or email E. Chadha at email@example.com.