Tag Archives: Urban Community Development

Culture Shock Brought Need ‘To Get Away’

Glendora Press – December 28, 1969

 Culture Shock Brought Need ‘To Get Away’


In the process of rebuilding the dilapidated basketball courts outside my window, I found my most efficient Indi­an worker, the carpenter.

I already had a reputation as a carpenter, which may or may not have been good. Dur­ing those first months, I had built a closet for my room. I did this for two reasons: 1) I needed somewhere to hang my garb — and when the monsoon with its mildew producing tendencies arrived this would serve to hide my mildewing clothes; 2) it was another way to keep me from feeling sorry for myself and daydreaming. Indian nails, which bend on anything but a perfect hit, hammers, whose handles break, and other materials of similar quality caused reason #2 to be quashed under deeper frustration.

The office workers upstairs had heard of my project and daily came by to check on its results. In the process, they’d say, “Ah, Sir is a carpenter too, yes? “ The carpenter came up to see my place after he had been assigned to build the basketball backboards, and I am con­fident he knew I was not a carpenter. But to the Indians, who seldom get the chance and who often look down on work with the hands, I was a ‘carpenter too.’

The carpenter was a good man and good at his trade. I had no problem once I got him the wood for the basketball backboards. I did have problems getting the right materials, and it was irritat­ing to feel that one of the In­dians should be obtaining the materials, but they knew just as little, or claimed to, about finding and purchasing the required materials.

I had not built these on a hunch that the basketball courts would prove popular. Some older boys around the park had been criticizing the center for not doing anything for them. I asked about the courts, and they said that long ago they had been used.  I asked what would they do if they were fixed and equipment made available. They said Dr. Sabnis would not do those things, but if he did they would be there to assist as I requested.

To inaugurate the center we got our Peace Corps team together for an exhibition. The Indian team we had asked to come never showed. The crowd of 300-500 claimed they had some old players and they would play us. They did. It was like the Harlem Globetrotters playing the junior high. We did not try to embarrass anyone, in fact, we clowned it and the crowd loved it. They loved it so much and understood so little of the game’s rules that they encircled the court to some­times one-third its size.

The size of the crowd was an omen. The next day when I stepped out to start some kind of practice sessions I was greeted by about a hundred kids.  The next day almost the same, as was the next, but the same faces seldom ap­peared. Daily, there was al­most a fresh batch of about fifty. I never saw the older boys who claimed they would help form a team, wanted the courts, and knew some bas­ketball.

This protect turned out to be a flop. Had I stuck with it long enough, perhaps I could have shaped the mobs into some teams. But most of the kids spoke Marathi, and Hindi was my stronger medium, weak as it was, and only with much intensive language work would this change. Other in­volvements now would not allow that study and b-ball mob organizing time.

The year 1966 was the last year Peace Corps India had three month seminars: these were most of the physical job accomplishments I would en­ter into my late April report. The seminar was approaching at just the right time for me. Culture shock, which we had been warned about in training, probably had me strongly engulfed. Being continually sick, I was not accomplishing enough.  I was being frustrated trying to find the right, in my own mind, work involve­ments.  I was seeing babies, whose thighs were not any bigger than my first two fingers, being given giant hypodermic nee­dles three times a week just to stay alive. These sights were everywhere and left me with only my diary to turn to for opening my feelings, where I’d wonder if I’d be able to stick it out; all were indica­tors that it was time to get away. Before departing I made another overture through my chief motivator, Dr. Sabnis, to get a few work projects moving. I left before he arrived for work on the 18th of April but left a note for him mentioning a few things which must he done on the movie scheme and this ex­cerpt:

“One other problem. I’ve talked with Mr. Lally on many occasions about repair­ing the rusted out pipes and broken flushers in the public latrine. I’ve also talked to his assistant in charge of the specific repairs. On April 1st these repairs were to be begun. Well, following many de­lays the repairs have still not begun. Mote than a month ago Mr. Mokashi told me he was looking into such repairs, but thus far I have had no as­sistance from him in this area. The latrine is filthy, the stench is almost unbearable, and it’s not very healthy. I would think a little repair such as this would be much appreciated by the users of the center.

“As usual, I have come to you with the work which taxes my patience primarily because around you action usually centers. Today I hope to start relaxing and allow the action to be in the realm of touring the greener places of India.

I think Peace Corps initiated the three month seminars to help volunteers adjust to the throes of culture shock.

The seminar showed that no one was quite sure what they were doing, where they were going, and too proud to admit they were not sure they would cut it.

  1. Dave, and I took ten days after the seminar and bummed it. We ate in little Indian towns that were not crowded with slums, and did we eat! . . . We are prob­ably still being talked about in some towns as we were in the eating circles of our UCD group.

(That’s part of the reason fellow PCVs didn’t invite us over often for dinner. Al tried to rectify this situation through Peace Corps administration by suggesting that the bigger guys should get an extra food allowance. Coming from a guy who would drop 40 pounds, be felled by a special case, which did not kill, of spinal meningitis, and constant amoebic and bacillary dysentery, he deserved to be lis­tened to.  But the adminis­tration’s ears is as far as the request got.)

It was a ball traveling in crowded buses, with smelly In­dians and seeing the green hillsides of the south. It was a ball taking over a bicycle-shaw from an Indian, telling him to sit and relax in the back and speedily pumping dawn the streets amid shocked looks of by-standing Indians.  It was great to travel and to see green lands and healthier people.

We returned to Bombay rest­ed and in a better state of mind. Walking onto the mai­dan (large playfield) made me feel as though I had been working on my last project since I left. In the sundas (toilet) there were two or three gov­ernment employees cleaning the urinal, emptying the toil­ets, and fixing the plumbing.

They did not like the jobs that they were being forced to do, but the jobs would be done.

Fixing the sundas would still take a week or two, and after it was fixed it would often be locked at night. To me, lock­ing it merely meant the alley­way to my sundas would be used instead.

On returning from the break I endeavored to start sonic pure community devel­opment work. Organizing the people in the chawls to under­take projects of their own was what I had in mind. It didn’t take long.

One night while roaming in the chawls area I met fairly well-educated English speaking Indian. He seemed to have many of the qualities a leader from the chawls should have.  But after some talk is some great thing about India’s needs, but I suggested that the councils should be formed in each of the chawls buildings to act as catalysts for worthwhile programs, with the implication that he would make this sound leader of such an undertaking.  He went on to tell me how it was in the chawls.  A Marathi family living in 10’x15’ room and separated by 3 inches of concrete would not trusted the Gujarati family living next door and consequently could not be expected to engage in joint projects for their improvement.  Caste, fear of theft, and the harshness of their economic positions were some other reasons he claimed such group action would not work.  Since my Marathi was too poor to work into the chawls to validate such statements, I had to (though I doubted that such could not be overcome with the proper effort) accept his statements.

Our poor language training hindered many of us from being successful as strict urban community developers and hindered other successes, though it did not kill all successes.  Another example of the poor’s poverty of mine was brought home to me soon after this incident.

It was difficult to live in a chawl because getting a room there meant an Indian family was driven out. They had tight enough conditions. Therefore I had an ex-file closet for a room, and it had a fringe benefit — a night watchman.

Dondi was a neat guy and seemed to think he was my guardian besides being the bearer of my morning bucket of washing and drinking water.  We’d often banter back and forth, in part Hindi and part Marathi. The evening before a national holiday in celebration of independence and President Radhakrishnan who, exemplifying the ideals of Indian democracy, was from the Harijan, or low­est, caste and nonetheless had become India’s first president from that caste, we bantered and Dondi gave me another insight.

“President Radhakrishnan from third class Harijan caste. I from second class Harijan caste. So if he come to my home to ask for water or food, I no give.”

To Dondi’s words I said little. I just thought…

To communicate and change things on the ground floor you must work through the parts of the system available to you.  So I plugged away doing what I thought was beneficial, although the projects were not always as poignant as I would have liked.

India’s People Chained to ‘Structure’

Glendora Press – Oct. 5, 1969

India’s People Chained to  ‘Structure’

(Editor’s Note: For two years prior to joining the faculty of Glendora High School, Dwayne Hunn served the U.S. Government as a member of the Peace Corps. For the next sev­eral issues the Glendora Press will carry articles by Mr. Hunn in which he vividly describes the stark reality of life in teeming India and some of his experiences there during his Peace Corps duty.)


‘Seek to imitate… our Master, who when he sees a poor man does not wait for him to beg for alms.”

—Khin Boron

Stay with me for some of my next few words as they walk down a street for you. After walking down this street I will attempt to become, in some way, analytical about our world’s relation to it. Both worlds are very important, although and because, their way of thought and motivation are different.

Try to imagine that you and I are on the corner of that street. Trust me to guide you down it and view it to you as I feel you would. Trust me, because I lived on that street for ten months and viewed it many times as you probably would in this paper.

The corner is a busy intersection jerkily flowing with small cars, an occasional rich man’s Chevrolet, two-tired and dilapidated red buses, bicycles, and carts of all sizes — all laboriously pulled by thinly strewed, dark skinned legs. The restaurant on the corner, with the walls opened to the street, makes edible curry. Edible, once you have gone through the initial stages of dysentery due to the initial eatings of it. The overhead fans do little to keep flies off your food.

The etiquette of the waiters, who carry six glasses of water at once by inserting their fingers into the innards of the glasses, leaves a little to be desired. Carrying the water glasses as such is not too bad, but when the waiter cleans leftovers from the dishes, blows his nose in his fingers and then brings the glasses — then, more than etiquette enters in.

Passing the restaurant we edge around the queue (line of people) which winds down the sidewalk. They have queued­ up to receive their vegetable oil allotment. The third little shack dispenses it. The short squat man lying in the shack on a raised portion of wood is the proprietor. He lies there with his white clothes and contented smile almost daily. He does not seem to do much else. Others do it for him. We have passed the last of the little shops. They were selling articles from soap and materials, to flashlights and lamps. All domestically made articles – this is the poorer area of the city.

Perhaps along with our visual conceptions a little socio-economic background would aid our journey. The housing area we are now entering is one of the areas commonly termed the chawls. The chawls are India’s slum-tenements. Here, a few hundred thousand of Bombay’s one to three million chawl dwellers reside.

Continuing down the street our senses take in the new and unexpected. But the sense mechanism is so flooded – shocked may be a better word – that initially it is impossible to express. But we do notice the obvious. The air of the street is filled with dirt, vehicle exhaust and the stench of dirty humans, garbage and excrement. But that is merely the air.

Breathing this, we proceed down the street. We proceed slowly, being jostled and stepping between all the little peo­ple on the sidewalk makes our movement such. We become Impatient with the overflow crowd of the sidewall and move to the street. There with part of the overflow crowd, we compete with vehicles for movement.

On the curb of the sidewalk we have just left art little, weary Indian women commonly called “vegetable wallahs.” They sit on a little hemp sack with their income for the day or week beside them. That income may consist of 40-50 small potatoes stacked, ready for sale, in piles of four.

Moving in the street through the foul air and crowd our ears soon become attuned to the honks and screeches of passing vehicles, the call of vegetable wallahs, the clatter-chatter at the crowd, the walls of children and the blare of Hindi music.

Looking through the crowd we can see into the room of a dirty grey, four-storied chawl. Through the barred window we can see that pots, rags, pictures of holy men and very often a picture of President Kennedy adorn the meager wail space. The room we have looked into has that one barred window, one door and no fan. It is 15’x12’ and it is home for usually 5-12 joint family members.

Outside the barred window lies a 20’ separation before the next chawl begins. That space is littered with dirt, rocks glass, red Indian spittle, excrement and garbage. Around numerous large piles of garbage, dining cows and/or pigeons will be found at any time of the day. At night rats in large numbers will be found. Rats in Bombay are estimated at be­tween 5-12 per person.

Returning to the curb our view focuses on a 10 month old child of one of the vegetable wallahs, The mother keeps the child wih her since the rest of her family is out trying to earn a few paises (like a penny). The child adjusts to the environment, she must. The naked child crawls oft the hemp mat and as it does so you notice the large sores around the pelvic area. Medicare? No, not even Johnson’s Baby Powder is available.

One observant walk down such a street is unforgettable. Many walks — and especially living there — brings home the vicious circle of the meager life, education, and experience these people are forced through. The crowded and dirty liv­ing conditions put health, privacy and enjoyment at a bare minimum. Their food staples, rice and dahl, are severely ra­tioned and spreading it to a joint family keeps that family frail and weak.

During the school year the children get out of this envi­ronment six times a week — to be educated. They go to half-day classes that average between 35-50. Teachers are not well paid or well trained, and the environment background speaks for itself. With this classroom setting, rote memory, with next to no creative formation is the method.

At birth those children were as cute as, and their eyes sparkled, as much as any American counterpart. But soon enough their eyes assumed a hollow, weak look. A middle class American baby gets, and soon enough learns to expect, much different treatment.

Incidentally, what we just walked through is how the up­per lower class lives, the class which borders on the middle class. The one-and-a-half to three million who live in clusters of disgusting hutments and under the skies an the streets are lower.

That was a bit of the grass roots description of a RPCV. The Peace Corps is meant to try to effect development on this grass roots level. Sometimes it can, sometimes it must work otherwise. Such was the case with our group. But out of this all of us learned something about the problems which blocked success at this level. At the same time one of ourmost important educations was one of appreciation for the “so much” we have at home.

As an Urban Community Development group some of us came to India believing we should act as proteges of Saul Al­insky. That we should organize the lower classes, have them petition and/or fight for their rightful, human deserts to the government bureaucracy above them.

Yes, the beautifully pyramidal, governmental welfare structure exists — on paper. But to expect redress of life’s grievances from that structure is foolish, and the lower class­es have never bothered to feel otherwise.

Being an American in the city also offers opportunities to get to know the upper and middle classes. The middle class has its own environmental hang-ups. They are aware of how the rich live, desire same of their possessions and experiences. Their teenage children are not like the chawl or hut­ment children — many of which have never been to the downtown, financial, entertainment center of the city.

The middle class teenager has seen it, experienced some of it and adds to the family pressure to enjoy more of it. But that costs money. Money comes from position. Appointment does not depend axiomatically on position, but class position plays a very important role in attaining these appointments. For those below the upper class it is usually a hindering role. The economic structure of developing nations adds to the hindrance.

The middle class father would like to have money for a business venture, would like to have connections to aid this and would like to use both to put his children through the good private schools and then through a foreign university. With these status symbols his children’s aspirations will be more attainable than they presently are to him.

Father has learned a little through life and has been stuck beneath the bureaucracy long enough to realize the impediments thwarting improvement of his position. He can talk continuously of these problems. He has not yet tired of talking, but has tired of believing — if he ever believed such that he or anyone can meaningfully change the structure. He is frustrated, but seems to have accepted his position —beat by the structure.

India’s political structure offers few immediate, effective changes. Such a structure based on a 75-80 percent illiterate and peasant populace, supported by ensuing traditional beliefs and continued by a moderate (for Asia — except when imputed on its base) two point four percent population in­crease; offers few clear spots in the smog.

This is but a sketch of the problems of the world’s larg­est democracy. How does the rest of the free world, and par­ticularly America, aid India with these problems? Propo­nents of aid would generally agree that it should be directed to developing human and economic resources. Opponents would point out that for 20 years we have aided nations like this yet they have not “taken off.” Their answer is — “there­fore taper off.”