A chance to see both Indias
Shortly after I was elected as MP for Barnsley East in 2010, I was privileged to be asked by Save the Children to be one of their Parliamentary Champions. I accepted straightaway.
Since then, I have mainly been supporting the brilliant work Save the Children do in Britain, especially on their campaign ‘Child Poverty: It Shouldn’t Happen Here’.
Save the Children do an awful lot of good work in the UK and most recently I was learning all about their initiative Families and Schools Together (FAST), an award-winning project that supports parents to improve children’s learning and development at home so that they can reach their full potential at school.
You can check out all the things Save the Children do in the UK here.
But I wanted to find out what Save the Children do internationally too. So this week, along with my fellow MP Jonathan Ashworth, I am visiting India with the charity.
The trip is also very personal for me. My Grandfather, who only died very recently, was Anglo-Indian. He was born in Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, and he went to school in Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
As a very young man, before moving to Britain and to South Yorkshire in his twenties after Indian independence, he lived in Calcutta. It was my Granddad who gave me my affection for India and in particular for its food, which I have eaten since I was a child.
A city in a hurry
India’s economy is growing at a phenomenal rate and in many ways the city is a reflection of that. It is big, fast, vibrant, slightly pushy and very much ‘in-your-face’ – a city in a hurry.
But as my old friend and Save the Children’s Chief Executive Officer, Justin Forsyth, said to me recently:
“Everyone is excited by the growth and success, but still half the children go to bed hungry and are severely malnourished. I hope you get the chance to see both Indias.”
1.5 million children
One of facts that Flora told us as we toured Delhi on Monday was that more than 1.5 million children in India die before they reach their fifth birthday. This is the largest number of any country in the world.
As we returned to our hotel on Monday night in the commercial hub of Nehru Place in South Delhi, a handful of women beggars were tapping on the window of the mini-cab we were in.
One woman had a baby swaddled in her arms – the child was perhaps the same age as my seven-month-old son back in England – and she was pointing to the baby’s empty bottle.
Not fifty yards from our hotel, these people live outside on a major road, under a fly-over, where women have been known to give birth.
On Tuesday, we will visit the Okhla slums, the industrial area in the South District of Delhi and home to some 200,000 people living in the slums, to see for ourselves the work Save the Children do, particularly on health and education. I will report back in my next blog.