Shortly after arriving in India and making New Delhi our new home, there were some aches and pains and complaints about what our new home would really be like. No, it was not going to look like the home we left, nor have some of the comforts that we never appreciated until now (where’s that garbage disposal?). When you leave a city with a population of 65,000 and land in a city of over 18 million, “home” is going to be something a little different. As we transitioned and tried to take a positive view of our situation, we decided that Phillip Phillips song, “Home” was our new song — “As we roll down this unfamiliar road, Just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m going to make this place your home.” We have definitely done our best to make it our home and along the way, more importantly, we have learned quite a bit about the definition of home for a large number of people in the world today.
60% of the population in New Delhi lives in self-built homes put together with whatever can be found on land that is not necessarily owned. These homes are in a range of neighborhoods from the freeway underpass or sidewalk to something thrown up in a slum neighborhood. Many individuals find their home to be the servant’s quarters for those whom they work which are located in the back of the apartment buildings. Drivers, maids, cooks would fall in that group. These servant quarters are free of rent but they are small — let’s just say our bedroom closet in San Clemente was larger than these living quarters. For those individuals that can afford rent, those “homes” can consist of a very small concrete room, with a communal bathroom shared with as many as ten other families in the vicinity up to apartments that would be a little closer to what we in America would define as an apartment.
According to a non-profit group, Indo Global Service Society, there about 150,000-300,000 homeless people living in New Delhi. The government here has about 170 shelters that house about 15,000 people but there are various reasons why a lot of people choose to make their home on the sidewalk or park instead of the shelter. For example, when you put drug users, alcoholics, and families into one big room, it creates a pretty emotional place. Theft is a huge problem in the shelters as well as the spread of sickness due to hygiene.
So, in April I attended a silent photo auction fundraiser to help support a non-profit group that has developed a “home” for those that have no shelter. It consists of 5 bamboo sticks, a few metal joins and a canvas cover with some mosquito netting when the side flaps are left open. It is basically a simple tent. It can be put up and put down within a few minutes, making it very easy to take your home with you during your work day and it costs $20 to provide this shelter. This non-profit has been handing them out at a freeway underpass where many of the individuals are sleeping on the pavement and are migrant individuals that have come to Delhi to work as rickshaw pullers, ware sellers, and rag pickers. They hand these “homes” out free of charge to help improve the living conditions of those who currently define home by the simple clothes on their back and maybe a few items in a bag.
I have been in all sorts of “homes” during these past two years in India, and I have loved visiting each one. Most of America would have a hard time finding a way to make some of these living quarters feel like a home, but I love the spirit of the Indians and how they welcome people into their home, want to treat them well, and always have a smile upon their face. I have been most impressed as I have glanced around at these “homes” to find out what is really important to these people — their family and their religion. I see it displayed in what they have occupying these very small spaces and am so impressed with their ability to make wherever they are, their home.