Although, true to his character, he shies away from his job title, Asim is the co-director of the Ashayen Community Centre, Manager of the Reality Tours and Travel Reception Centre, Tour Guide Manager and tour guide himself but everyone who comes into contact with him immediately realises he’s even so much more than that. He’s an inspiration, a mentor, and a truly great chap.
Jonny, a volunteer of Reality Gives in 2011 interviewed him about his job, his ambitions and the kids of Dharavi. Since Asim has a lot to do, there is also a lot to read about him:
When I mentioned to Asim that I’d like to interview him, he immediately invited me to his house and said that we could talk over lunch- he explained it would have to be on a Sunday though as he works every other day. It’s not until we’re sipping tea, after four courses of delightful food cooked by Asim’s mother, that we begin to discuss what he thinks of Reality Gives. I feel almost guilty disturbing the sleepy post-food haze, but his eyes light up when I ask him to tell me about his ambitions, ‘More community centres [like the one on Dhravi] is what we need. That way, we can empower more kids. It’s simple; we can use the same programs and the same techniques, only in different locations. There are thousands of youngsters in Mumbai who would benefit from what we do, millions even.’ He pauses briefly as a cat appears and settles down under the chair he’s sat in. Asim’s hand reaches down and the cat automatically nestles its head into his palm before he continues, ‘The thing is, these kids don’t all have the opportunity to be able to do what they want to do. We help them by providing them with a chance. Also, some of them aren’t natural learners and the approach we take appeals to them a lot more than the approach of Government schools.’
As he speaks you can feel the belief in his work runs right through him. Asim’s famous for his commitment to his tasks and Krishna, co- founder of the Reality Group, once told me how Asim had visited the home of a student who was having some issues and spoke to her parents. It turns out Asim also took the learning material from each of the classes that she had missed and sat for hours explaining each point to her one on one. A week later the student returned to classes and, in June 2011, completed the course. This represented a huge achievement for the student, ‘Asim often goes beyond the call of duty’ Krishhna explained. ‘But he’s not doing it to impress or for overtime; he just does it!’
Krishna also mentioned how much Asim has developed professionally, something that I ask Asim about as I start my second cup of tea. ‘Oh, I’ve changed a lot. When I first started I used to worry about my job a lot. But Reality Gives has helped me to become more organised, more professional and also provided me with a syllabus that I follow every day in class. It’s well structured and the students really like it, and it helps me because I can concentrate on the students rather than worrying about planning lessons.’
Asim visits the new Jazz Dance Class. He uses every free minute to come to the Community Centre! By end of 2011 Asim’s trainee Shabana who was a Youth Empowerment Student herself one year before took over the computer classes because Asim had many other tasks to fulfil. It was hard for Asim to let go: ‘I know my days in the classroom are numbered. As much as I will miss teaching hands-on every day, I totally agree that I should be training other teachers. I’ve been in their position and I know what they’re feeling and this way we can help a lot more students. I really want to take the Youth Empowerment Program to as many places as possible; in Mumbai, in Maharastra, in India… and then who knows? But for this to be possible we must have good teachers, and lots of them.’
Asim also manages the Reality Tours and Travel Reception Centre and sees huge synergies in the performance of the two different organisations. I ask him how he manages to do so much work and what he feels about having two jobs. ‘It’s simple really’ he tells me, ignoring the question about his workload, ‘If the tour company continues to do well, then Reality Gives will be able to expand and help more people’.
‘Simple’ is a word Asim uses often, and as he walks with me to get a rickshaw, ducking under his neighbour’s washing, dodging the kids playing cricket, and taking it all in his stride, I understand how ‘simple’ it all is.
To find out more about the Community Centre, the Youth Empowerment Program and all other projects of Reality Gives, please visit www.realitygives.org.