Travel Diary: Documenting the Housing Crisis in Hyderabad, India
Author’s note: Hey Alkemy X family. In an attempt to fill you in on my India trip, I’ve put together this recap complete with photos, but I have to say there is really no way to fully describe my time there. Even with the photos and videos here, just know all of this will fall short of my colorful experience in Hyderabad.
Hyderabad is a large, busy city in the state of Telengana. It’s pretty modern in a lot of ways. Google and Dell have headquarters in Hyderabad's HighTech City neighborhood and there is a 3,500 acre Hollywood-style studio on the southside of town. While exciting things are happening in Hyderabad, much of the population is very poor. Most families can’t afford housing on their own, so it’s common for extended families to combine resources and live in one house. Homelessness is a major issue in Hyderabad; many families accept that they will need to live in a slum at some point in their lives. This includes families with young children.
I arrived there with my dear friend Pastor Mark White from Keystone Fellowship. Our host in Hyderabad was Pastor Victor Rampogu and his tenacious staff. Pastor Victor is a legend in his own right. He’s something of a famous musician in Hyderabad. He sings, produces music, and acts in films. He’s involved in so many things, the one thing he doesn’t seem to do is sleep.
His legacy to his community is the Keystone Community Center in Shamshabad, the five story community center that is always teeming with life and activity. The top floor is a worship center and meeting space. Kids meet here often for music lessons. The next two floors down are dedicated to housing orphans. It’s still under construction at the moment, but it’s only months away from being functional. Positioned directly adjacent to a slum, Pastor Victor installed a water spicket specifically for the people of the slums to use whenever they need water. He has also hired and housed several people from the slum. There is a young family from the slums that now lives and works as watchkeepers for the community center.
My specific purpose was to film and photograph the various interests and opportunities that Pastor Victor’s organization is involved in. I was specifically focused on the homeless outreach and orphan placement efforts. India has a well documented homeless crisis among children, which culturally is not necessarily seen as a crisis. However, Pastor Victor and his team have recognized how dire the situation is, and have taken major steps to making a positive impact in their community. While on the ground, I spent time in the slums with multiple families. They showed me their living conditions, and I was able to see how little food they live off each day. There are many children in this particular slum, most of which are being cared for by older children.
I also spent some time with orphans in a remote village in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. The village we visited was tiny, with no major cities or towns anywhere nearby. The orphanage is half the size of one of our smaller edit suites, and houses at least 10 boys and 10 girls in separate rooms. They use this area to study, eat, hang out and sleep. The family that cares for these kids grows much of their own food, and raises chickens for protein. I was told that these children eat only one meal a week with protein. The rest of the week, they eat rice and fruit. Once the Keystone Community Center completes their orphanage, they will be able to house many more children in a larger area with better resources and more adult oversight.
The villagers we met were extremely hospitable to us (as was everyone we met in India). As we wandered around, we met a young man who was so excited to show us how to play cricket that he jumped out of the shower and took us to the field with only his towel on. They LOVE cricket in India, so I would recommend only saying nice things about it. This day in the village was a 33 hour day without sleep, but it was one of the most exciting days of my life. Between cricket, orphans and wild monkeys, I didn’t miss the sleep at all.
Aside from visiting orphans and slums, I rode mopeds in the bustling streets of Hyderabad, ate tons of spicy curry, visited several Hindu temples and one ancient mosque. My days were packed full from sun up well into the night.
I met a young man named Joshua who helped me with my camera gear everywhere I went. He is 17 years old, finishing high school and getting ready to go to university with a focus on science. Joshua was the best assistant I could have ever asked for. He quickly became familiar with my gear and was always ready for quick swaps or complex build outs. We never had lights or tripods, but because Joshua was so resourceful, we were always able to build something to suit our needs.
One day he brought a small fish tank to a lake so that we could dip the camera below the waterline. Another night, we were on a rooftop watching a storm roll in. I showed him how to capture lightning with long exposures. A small group of us took portraits with nothing but moonlight and our phone flashlights. It was an amazing chance to mentor someone, and I am truly grateful that I was able to pass along some of my knowledge to someone who was interested.
Despite the lack of creature comforts, I felt right at home in India. Because of my hosts, I experienced India like I never could have otherwise. As you can see, I didn’t do American things in India, I lived my time there through the lives of the people I met. In turn, it was one of the richest experiences of my life. The texture, culture and lives of the people made it much more so. The work Pastor Victor is doing is very noble, and I hope in some small way, I can help shine a light on his efforts.