Childrens Charity, India
I had three fabulous years as a diplomat in India with so many remarkable experiences – including attending a marathon Jaipur palace wedding, watching more high octane IPL cricket matches than my job description really required and swimming with an elephant in the Kanha wildlife reserve; and formed two strong views. If you visit India, you should go to Mumbai and when you go to Mumbai, you should visit OSCAR.
As a diplomat with responsibility for colleagues in Delhi, Bengalaru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mohali, I travelled all over India. Like the USA, India is a country that suggests itself from afar as a single cultural entity; but that’s far from reality. Shortly before we left for India we saw the 2016 movie Lion, where the little boy playing on a stationary train north of Delhi falls asleep and wakes up thousands of miles away in Kolkata. Though many people in Kolkata speak English, no-one understands the boy because he speaks only Hindi – the language of the North and West. It was a good lesson about India’s many cultures.
And that’s why I encourage people to venture beyond the magnificent Mughal architecture around Delhi and the glorious palaces of Rajasthan; and explore the rest of India and especially Mumbai. For if Delhi is to India what Washington DC is to the US, then Mumbai is India’s New York – with its intense cosmopolitan social scene around Bandra, its world famous 1920s and 30s architecture in the UNESCO world heritage district and the joyous and colourful community where OSCAR is embedded near the hotel district in South “Bombay” (as South Mumbai is often still known).
There are a few organised tours to local communities in Mumbai. The Dharavi tour in the north of the city, not far from the airport is probably the best known; and OSCAR isn’t organised to provide tours, but if you “ask nicely” then you will be given your own personal and very special memory of India. You may be guided by Ashok or Shilpi or another of the many OSCAR volunteers with inspiring personal stories to tell. You will see women shelling the prawns at the Sassoon docks that will appear on tables around the city later in the day; you will be taken through the crowded lanes to see the classrooms where pre-school children start their OSCAR educational journey; you will recognise people wearing OSCAR’s distinctive bright red shirts as they go about their business; and you can sit at a chai stall and slowly take in unfamiliar colours, clothes and sounds knowing that you are safely amongst friends.
My wife Georgina and I took our personal and official visitors to OSCAR whenever we could. You will be welcomed into a different world. We were fascinated to see how the local economy worked. And we were awed to see how OSCAR’s mission of education through football is changing lives. And when you go, you will be too.
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