Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bangkok: Venice of the East



One of the best things about living in Bangkok is having the time to wander around aimlessly with a camera. I've been to palaces and temples, day and night markets, protests and rallies, rivers and canals. It was the 19th century Italian nobleman Salvatore Besso who first hailed Bangkok as the Venice of the East because of its labyrinth of canals (called 'khlongs' in Thai). Some of the ancient waterways remain and, though pungent, they're still picturesque in places. Here's a collection of some of my favourite photos from the year so far, including a stroll down Khlong Saen Saeb.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Recipe for success: Delhi children learn to cook

Former street children working in the kitchen at the Butterflies catering school.
© UNICEF India/2011/Andy Brown

The notion of India as a single country is a relatively modern one, forged in the ashes of British rule in 1947. “India is more of a continent than a country,” my colleague Shweta said. “Most people here identify themselves as Punjabis or Bengalis first, and Indians second.” A quick glance at Wikipedia backed up her assertion. India has 28 states, 21 official languages, nine religions and over 200 ethnic and tribal groups.

As well as these wide variations in culture, India has perhaps the world’s widest gulf between rich and poor, with some of the world’s wealthiest people living alongside those as destitute as in any African failed state. Along with China, it is one of the world’s two emerging superpowers and already the world’s largest democracy, but even more than its neighbour to the north-east, the benefits of economic progress have not trickled down to those at the bottom. Nowhere is this more evident than in the capital city, Delhi.

This was my second visit to UNICEF India but my first to include a project visit. My task was to train six country office staff in blogging and online video. I wanted to do this in a real-life environment. UNICEF regularly works with local charity Butterflies to include sport and play in children’s development, including through workshops and monthly play days. During the Commonwealth Games and Cricket World Cup, we worked together to provide sporting events for street children in Delhi. Butterflies has a number of other projects across the capital, and they agreed to let us visit two of these for the training – a catering school for former street children and a night shelter and community bank near Old Delhi railway station.

Down and out in Delhi: a home for street children

Former street child Suraj listens to an English lesson at the shelter for street children
© UNICEF India/2011/Andy Brown

After our morning at the culinary training centre (see part one of this blog), we went to Old Delhi to visit a night shelter for street children and a community bank. This time, I was training Lalita, Ruchi and Omesh, from the UNICEF India office, in blogging and online video. The afternoon’s projects were again run by Butterflies, a local charity that UNICEF works with on sport and development, including by provide sporting activities for street children during the Commonwealth Games and Cricket World Cup.

Old Delhi is a bit like the evil twin of New Delhi, where the UNICEF office is located. Where the new town has wide, tree-lined avenues, clean streets and vast, gated mansions, the old city is full of narrow streets and dilapidated buildings. Its streets are filled with a dense crowd of people and animals, including goats with full udders and carts drawn by large oxen, which battle tuk-tuks, cyclists and cars for command of the road. Disabled beggars limp between vehicles chasing a few rupees and entire families sleep rough on the pavements wherever there is a patch of shade. It was hot, noisy, chaotic and bewildering.

We stopped outside the railway station in Old Delhi, which is a hub for street children, drawn by the lure of begging from tourists and travellers. The train station is a red and white brick building, mirroring the style of Mughal-era architecture, if not its magnificence and antiquity. There was a tap on the van window, which I initially ignored as you get conditioned to do by all the touts and beggars on the streets. The noise became more insistent and I turned to see Stayaveer Singh, education coordinator for Butterflies. He was sitting on a motorbike and smiling broadly. Indicating for us to follow him, he drove off down the road and down a small side alley, where the night shelter was located.