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Hope and dignity in the slums of India - social innovation in action

Published:31 January 2018

Dr Judith Wake (blue shirt) visits the Mahila Housing Trust supported community in Ahmedabad with CQUniversity Science, Environmental Science and Digital Media students.

CQUniversity students recently had a unique first-hand opportunity to see the amazing difference a well-designed social innovation project can make to the lives of slum dwellers in the Indian city of Ahmedabad.

"With the help of New Colombo Plan funding and the CQUGlobal Outbound Program, our students spent two weeks in India, working with the Centre for Environment Education India (CEEI), to understand, and contribute to, sustainability practices and education," says Senior Lecturer Dr Judith Wake, who helped lead the excursion.

"Students looked at two communities being helped by the Mahila Housing Trust, an autonomous organisation which engages with poor women in the informal sector to help them access basic services such as sewage, water and electricity, and to provide education about land tenure rights, health and hygiene.

"Students first visited a community where Mahila had recently started working with the women and talked to them about their aspirations for their community.

"This gave them an idea of the enormity of the problems the community faced but also the community’s determination to improve their living conditions.

"The students then visited a community where they could see the progress that had been made through empowering women to solve the problems that were of most concern to them, and to overcome opposition from both within and outside the community.

"Our CQUni students could see the tremendous value of engaging with community members and empowering them to find their own solutions to the problems that were most important to them.

"The community not only had secure land tenure but also a healthy environment with safe water, sewage and electricity.  This also improved their ability to do paid work and for the children to go to school."

While in India, the students visited the forest campsite at Bakore; a chance to get out of the city, to have a real experience in nature and to visit a small rural school. A working example of sustainable living and agriculture is presented during camp activities.

The chance to reflect on the biodiversity of nature in idyllic settings and to learn about local ways, foods, herbal remedies, mythology and history has made a lasting impression on all of the students.

Another project enabled students to visit a city-based solid waste management and recycling facility to gain first-hand knowledge, an overview of future directions for waste management, and a broader perspective of this global issue.

* The trip was organised by Education lecturers Karena Menzie and Miriam Ham in conjunction with Applied and Environmental Sciences lecturer Dr Judith Wake. The 20 participating students are studying Education, Science, Environmental Science and Digital Media. Education students focused on school visits but also took part in the Bakore visit.

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