Mar 202012
 

  • Chris at Dharavi orphanage school

    Chris at Dharavi orphanage school

  • Dharavi orphanage school

    Dharavi orphanage school

  • Matt and Aditaya

    Matt and Aditaya

  • Matthew at Dharavi school

    Matthew at Dharavi school

  • Matthew at Dharavi school

    Matthew at Dharavi school

  • Matthew at Dharavi school

    Matthew at Dharavi school

  • Matthew with orphanage kids

    Matthew with orphanage kids

  • Matthew with orphanage kids

    Matthew with orphanage kids

  • Dharavi orphanage school

    Dharavi orphanage school

  • Dharavi orphanage school

    Dharavi orphanage school

Press Coverage

Morpeth family makes a difference in slums of Mumbai

• by Hannah Davies, The Journal

• Mar 20 2012

Most mothers and sons have a close bond, but Chris and Matthew Aldridge really put theirs to the test on a visit to India, and are now closer than ever. They speak to HANNAH DAVIES

CHRIS Aldridge beams when she looks at her son Matthew, 17, and the pride she feels for her eldest son is clear.
“Doing this project together has made us closer as a mother and son,” she smiles.
“We’ve both seen the strengths each other has and it’s built a new level of respect.”
Chris, 46, and Matthew, a pupil at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School, who live in Morpeth, Northumberland, have just completed their second stint working in an orphanage school in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, India.
During their second 10-day visit, they taught 53 children in a tiny classroom, which could only be accessed via a series of ladders and through back alleyways in the slum.
Matthew, a lower-sixth former who hopes to study natural sciences at Cambridge, says the experience has been life-changing and one he’s delighted to share.

He continues: “People have been really interested in what we’ve done and I’ve even done assemblies at school about it.
“It’s important to let people know our experience of school is a privileged one and I’m proud I can help them realise that.”
Chris, 46, is married to Philip, 51, a biotech business consultant. Their second son Thomas is 15.
She decided to set up the teaching project after the years running her own travel business, No News No Shoes, made her realise she could make a difference.
Chris explains: “I’ve always had a passion for travel and in particular India and the Maldives. I’d been on a tour in 1988 and done all of the major highlights Taj Mahal and everything. I loved it.
“But when the kids came along, I fell into the family holiday trap where you put the kids into the holiday club or crèche and you get some quality time together and I hated it. I’d always had a dream to go to the Maldives so when the children were five and three we went.”
Chris couldn’t find a tour operator which catered for family holidays to the Maldives so she ended up researching and booking everything herself. When the family arrived at their destination Chris realised how perfect it was for families.
She says: “I thought, ‘this is a fabulous environment for any child, it’s safe, surrounded by sea and a beach’.”
Chris decided to set up her own business to help families and tourists in the same situation as herself in 2004 and since then the whole family have spent a lot of time travelling around The Maldives and India, researching and running the business.
It was in the course of this Chris decided she needed to do more.
While she knew the luxurious, tourist side of the region inside out, she also knew India is home to some terrible poverty.
She explains: “I’ve always had this desire to help, to give something back to people.
“You can’t not see the other side of India, although in southern India you don’t have the extremes of poverty you have in northern India, but it is still there.
“It seemed wrong to be in the position where you can make a difference. Why would you not?”
Matthew continues: “We visited an orphanage in Kerala when we were in South India and now all the clients who book with mum are offered the chance to go to the orphanage and see a different side to their holiday.
“The company really supports that orphanage now.
“Then one year we came back from India and we watched some TV programmes about the Dharavi slums in the news. Mum said ‘I really want to help’ and I said ‘why not, why don’t we do it?.’”
Chris began researching what best she and Matthew could do to help. They were aware that Dharavi was one of the largest slums in India and so began there.
Chris adds: “The conditions there are horrific.
“I felt a desire to experience it and with my knowledge, contacts and familiarity with India I thought I could do something.” At home in the North East of England, Chris has worked with The Children’s Foundation.
She says: “Yes I’ve worked with children with deprivation here.
“I’ve always had that empathy with children and wanted to try to do something to improve their lives, but it doesn’t come in any more of a raw form than in those kids in Dharavi.”
Chris found a company called Reality Tourism Travel based in the slum. The company give tours of the slums for tourists with 80% of their profits going into a sister company, Reality Gives, supporting community and educational projects within Dharavi. They pointed Chris towards the orphanage school.
Chris continues: “We did teaching work as out there they don’t have an education system as we’d understand it. The school has 53 children in a small room. There is one part-time volunteer local lady who is the teacher and the assistant to her is one of the orphanage children who’s 14. So they were grateful for help.”
Matthew states: “It was incredible to help. Although there is a teacher there, their style is very different to here.
“They teach by rote which is to regurgitate information, but they don’t understand the concepts behind the information they’ve learnt. That was a challenge I wanted to do to try and tackle. We were the first volunteers ever to go in the school. We were thrown in there and told ‘teach’.
“We were expecting a structure but there was nothing like that at all. We were really in the deep end. It was sink or swim. We worked really hard.”
Chris explains that their two trips, last year and late February of this year, haven’t been one-offs.
She continues: “It’s something we’re developing. I’m still in contact with the people out there.
“Apparently every day the kids are asking when we’re coming back. We’ve made a connection now.
“We’re not particularly well-off people, we work very hard for whatever we make.
“Because of my travel business, the children have travelled all over the world and stayed in some amazing places.
“But it’s important they realise that’s not real life.
“They need to know they’re fortunate and not look at others with pity and judgment, but to see what they can do to help. What we do is we immerse ourselves in it not go ‘oh dear me, how sad’.
“Because, actually, those kids are happy kids, but what you can add to them, bring to them is so fantastic just in love, attention and you give them a few provisions and they are delighted.”
Chris cites an example of one of the orphans, Aditaya, receiving a face cloth, which Manchester United had donated towards their trip.
She says: “It was Matthew’s favourite part of the whole trip. The face cloths are actually really useful because they can use them when they go to a tap on the street and get clean.
“Aditaya was six-years-old on the second last day of our visit. They gave him this face cloth for his birthday present. You’d think that child had won the lottery.
“He came into school that day, showed Matthew and got the teacher to pin it on to him. He was made up.
“When you can do stuff like that it’s wonderful.”
What their work in India has also given Chris and Matthew though, is a strengthening of the mother-son bond, and strong respect for each other.
Chris smiles: “I was so proud of Matthew. I am proud he went, that he has the same kind of values as I do in life, but I also learnt about his strengths as a person. He’s very good at thinking on the spot and being creative.
“While I’m good at being organised and thorough, working behind the scenes to plans things, he’s the one at the front of the class interacting with the children, pretending to be a gorilla.
“There were points where there was a complete language barrier and he would come up with something to help.
“I’m just so proud of him.”
And Matthew adds: “I’m proud of mum setting this up, I couldn’t ask for a better mum in that sense.
“To be aware of all of these issues and to actually set something up through her business, I really admire.
“And because of that I can go and help people.
“Seeing the children enthusiastic about learning was amazing.
“The Dharavi Orphanage School is now a part of my life. It’s a given I’ll go back there.
“It’s made me much more aware of other people’s situations which will stay with me.
“I really enjoy it and really value the opportunity to help the children and I couldn’t have done that without mum.”
For more information on No News No Shoes visit www.nonewsnoshoes.co.uk

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