Lalita Devi and her family were forced to pack up their slum-dwelling belongings and move to a new location 15 years ago. They had done nothing wrong in the slum of New Delhi, the nation’s capital. But the residents were considered to be too close to an up-market residential complex housing influential people, including politicians and bureaucrats. "We were around 3,000 people in the slum," Devi said. "But we were moved to a place on the outskirts of Delhi totally unknown to us."
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Devi had no choice but to start from scratch in Holambi Kalan in the northwest of the capital. The area had no electricity, only a couple of street lights, bad drinking water, no health facilities and not even a school nearby. The problems of people there prompted nuns of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to start a project in 2004 to help the displaced residents. Devi recalled that when the nuns came, they were still living without basic facilities in a vast field. "It was scary, especially at night," she said. Women discuss issues of their savings and loans at a meeting of Self-Help Groups that Catholic nuns have formed in Holambi Kalan, a New Delhi slum to help poverty-stricken women. (ucanews.com photo)
The area also houses people moved out from slums elsewhere in New Delhi because of development projects such as road widening and rail developments. "We did not know them," Devi said. "Our neighbors changed and it was not easy to develop trust." About 90 percent of slums in Delhi sit on public land mostly belonging to the railways and state government. In 2012 there was an estimated 1.2 million people living in Delhi slums. Now there are an estimated one million people in relocation areas. The majority of sites do not even have community toilets, forcing habitants to defecate in the open near drainage channels. However, the nuns have introduced welfare programs including self-help groups, vocational training and informal education for children as well as adult literacy. Sister Rajni Minj, who coordinates the project, said it was important to empower women and young girls so that they can earn money to help support their families. The nun said when the project started they found many young girls sitting idly at home. The nuns then began vocational training courses on tailoring and how to run a beauty parlor as well as the making of henna tattoos. The program over the years has helped women become financially independent. Self-help groups also enabled them to save and take out loans to building better houses. Manju Jha, said in 2005 she and her family moved to the relocation area with practically nothing. Jha said she became a project administrator and her mother was assisted by one of some 35 self- help groups benefitting 652 women. Sister Margaret (who goes by one name) said at least 30 women have started small tailoring shops with loans. "Some, who have gained confidence from our classes, are working in the nearby factories," the nun added. The project was started by Sister Taurina Vaz, who was the then principal of the Mater Dei School in the national capital, as an outreach program run by the nuns. The congregation funded it in the initial four years. But now the school funds it. The staff and students continue to visit the area and donate clothes and other goods.