This Bank Holiday Monday a group of students with sleeping bags, hoodies and socks in toe; gathered on concourse to take part in Slum It. The event raised money for the Apnalaya Charity (www.apnalaya.org) which was formed with the aim to give the men and women living in the slums of India a sense of empowerment. Students showed their support by braving the cold and smiled at the thought of using cardboard boxes as mattresses. Although the rain did hamper initial proceedings, this did not deter the Slum It Team as they ensured that spirits were high and the event got underway.
The story behind the event begins with a late night discussion between third year students Zoe Lewis and Genevieve Craig. After watching the Channel 4 programme Secret Millionaireas part of her Geography Studies, Genevieve was inspired by the depiction of the Mumbai Slums and so posed the idea of raising money for the people, by holding a sleep out at university. Zoe recounts, ‘I instantly got very excited and said we should do it!’ Subsequent meetings with the union and RAG meant that this scheme was slowly but surely becoming reality. More importantly, the response from the students was encouraging with over 100 students signing up. Zoe continued, ‘We’ve been planning this for 2 months and we’ve had so much interest from students and businesses alike’.
The special guest of the night and star of Secret Millionairethat inspired Genevieve Seema Sharma, also showed her support by slumming it with students. After appearing on the show Seema set up her own charity helping underprivileged kids from East London and India. Sitting in the Stags, I asked her what she thought of Genevieve and Zoe’s commendable efforts to which she replied, ‘Someone once told me that you spend the first 25 years of your life learning, the next 25 earning and the next 25 should be about returning. Genevieve and Zoe show that you can start returning at a really young age!’ She went on to tell me that her visit to Mumbai was ‘distressing humbling and inspirational’ all at the same time. Her most memorable experience was meeting a woman who made 80p a day working on a garbage heap whilst her husband would cycle 2 hrs each way to get water everyday. Despite the evident struggle to obtain the basic human need of water, the woman invited Seema to her house and made her a cup of tea. This hospitality affected Seema so much that she felt compelled to help in one way or another. So, when contacted by Genevieve, paraphernalia was not the only thing Seema offered. Impressed by Genevieve and Zoe’s entrepreneur skills. She decided that she would come down and surprise them on the night- that was before the girls asked her to join them. ‘I was so impressed by the girls ideas that I wanted to come down as a surprise. So when they asked me, my mind had already been made up.’
During the night, a raffle was held with prizes such as DKNY and GUESS bags donated by Seema and her brother. Local businesses were also in support with £50 Joe Daflos restaurant vouchers, £20 Waitrose vouchers, £15 Good Looks beauty salon vouchers, whilst Somerfield donated a bottle of wine and chocolates. Newly opened restaurant Gandhi provided 170 snack packs including onion bahjis, samosas and mango chutney dip all free of charge. There was also great support from societies including 2 live music acts whilst Comedy Soc provided 5 live comedy acts. From 10pm onwards, a team from the CU served tea and coffee keeping slummers warm and hydrated. Slummers Carla Costa and Nandi Mundeta came ready with sleeping bags, multiple socks, deodorant and wine in hand. Carla said ‘ I think it’s a really good cause’ whilst Nandi commented ‘ I think it’s a really fun way to raise awareness.’ Third year English student Seth mason said, ‘I’ve come because it gives me the opportunity to help people in an accessible way.’
The following day, Zoe said of the night ‘we are so happy with how it turned out – we had so much support from so many people’ whilst Genevieve said, ‘I am so happy with how it all worked out in the end, what with the rocky start caused by light showers and gusts of wind removing the cardboard! The atmosphere created was awesome and that is down to people throwing themselves into the event and the performers, and for that I am so grateful’. The success of the event has meant that the girls, with encouragement from Seema, are hoping to go nationwide, actively going into and go into universities and schools, encouraging students to come up with innovative ways to give back back.
Genevieve and Zoe would like to thank:
Emma Palmer who threw herself into helping and organizing the event.
Their housemates whose help allowed them to make the event happen
Everyone who helped to set up, showed up, and all the performers who kept spirits up on the night!