Canadian development expert congratulates film maker for unflinching look
at life in the slums and says something is being done
TORONTO, Feb. 24 /CNW/ - Although it's been slammed by some for
"glamorizing poverty," the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire is also
being praised for drawing attention to a growing global crisis.
Pat Ferguson, President & CEO of Canada's Operation Eyesight, which funds
community development programs in Mumbai and other Indian cities says the
movie accurately depicts how hard life can be in an urban slum.
"Almost a billion people live in squalid slums scattered across the
globe," says Ferguson. "Although Slumdog Millionaire is set in India, similar
living conditions can be found in most countries."
"And it's a growing problem. The UN predicts the number of slum dwellers
will double to two billion by 2030 if no action is taken," she said.
In the movie, the young hero Jamal lifts himself up out poverty in a
classic rags-to-riches fairy tale. As with most fairy tales however, it rarely
happens that way in real life. For the vast majority, being born in a slum
almost certainly means living your whole life in a slum.
But while many experts study the problem and governments are seemingly
paralyzed by the enormity of it, one woman has been quietly and successfully
tackling the issue on a shoe-string budget for over two decades.
"Our partner, Indian pediatrician, Gopa Kothari is an eminently practical
woman," explains Ferguson. "She knows it would be a herculean task to
completely eliminate the slums, so she focuses instead on improving health,
basic infrastructure and quality of life for the people who live there."
In 1981, Dr. Kothari learned that childhood blindness was epidemic in the
slums of Mumbai and decided to do something about it. She soon realized that
simple interventions like vitamin A supplements were not enough and began
offering classes in modern child rearing, sanitation and nutrition, basic
literacy and running small businesses.
"Dr. Kothari empowers the community by training volunteers from within
the slum," says Ferguson. "People take charge of their own health and work
together to improve their lives. Wherever her program is implemented,
malnutrition, disease and infant mortality drop dramatically."
"Best of all, these are not short-term interventions," explains Ferguson.
"Every project is still up and running on a self-sustaining basis. A one-time
investment of about $150,000 Cdn can make lasting change for a community of
about 20,000 people."
Dr. Kothari has transformed life for hundreds of thousands of people just
like Jamal in Mumbai, Delhi and in impoverished rural villages in Gujarat.
Although she has been offered positions in prestigious institutions, she
chooses to continue her work in the slums.
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