There are many fathers who travel to different countries for business, but I imagine there are not many dads who do it the way my dad does. My dad, first and foremost, dedicates vacation time to visit slums and impoverished areas of Mumbai to see how people are living first hand.
He gives out food, essential supplies and clothes, and donates his time, money and services wherever needed. However, if you are Gary Kaplan, that is exactly what you are doing.
On a recent family trip to India, my dad, who is a very busy international businessman and the founder of three separate charitable foundations, that basically operate on three different continents providing for the underserved communities he encounters, had several days of back to back business meetings on the books during our stay in India. What my dad did not plan out was the hours and hours of meal handouts that we would give away as a family to men, women, and children who lived in the slums. Honestly, other than the list of Gary Kaplan business meetings scheduled, my dad had nothing technically planned but a Kaplan family Indian dining experience.
Little did Gary Kaplan, (that’s my dad) know, but while walking down the street on his first day in Mumbai, he would meet a man that he and I would end up devoting the entirety of the next several days of their vacation to helping.
As my dad was walking through the streets of Mumbai, debating the consumption of particular street foods and his chances of coming down with food poisoning in the process, he came across a young man giving tours of the slums. Being his first time in India, when the man asked if he wanted a tour he said why not. He introduced himself to the guide as Gary Kaplan and was promptly taken through one of the larger slum areas in Mumbai, and the area where the Academy Award-Winning Bollywood film Slumdog Millionaire was filmed.
The young guide explained that this area of Mumbai called Dharavi was known as an ‘industrial slum’.The young tour guide then went on to explain that there could be as many as 60,000 structures, most basically were shanties, and probably about 1 million citizens living and working on a patch of land that was barely two-thirds the size of Central Park. Finally, the tour guide proceeded with the tour telling my father all the different ways in which the community members were working and thriving together:
He showed my dad the 13th Compound which was made up of Mumbaikars that worked in the recycling industry. 80% of Mumbai’s plastic waste is recycled in 15,000 or so single-room factories by countless citizens.
Many of the buildings they passed were owned by landlords in Dharavi, whose structures were unauthorized by the government. These landlords rented their space room by room and most were made up of garment industry workers packed into small spaces, creating and packaging much of the brand-name clothing that is shipped to the world’s developed markets and sold at insane markups.
The tour guide explained that the slum had become the hub of some of India’s finest small-scale Industries and Factories made up of skilled craftsmen in the Leather, Wax Printing, Aluminum Brick-Making, and Pottery-Making industries.
As my dad walked through this industrial area, he realized that this was not matching the perception that he had always had of a slum. The more of the area he saw the more he understood that Dharavi was an impoverished area, but an area where most people were working hard and getting their basic needs met.
Being that the Gary Kaplan motto is always ‘what can I help with now,’ my father asked the tour guide if there were other parts of Mumbai, other slum areas where people were in greater need. He explained that he was in search of a community that he could help or a group of people he could feed.
Instantly, the tour guide disappeared into the ‘slum’ and when he returned he told my dad about areas where you could purchase food for the poor. There were areas where you could buy pre-made meals and hand them out. With unoriginal, but always exciting Gary Kaplan enthusiasm, my father said “Let’s Go” and urged the young tour guide to abandon his post and take him there.
The first place they went to was a girls-only orphanage where my dad and his new tour guide friend provided lunch for a group of around 60+ young girls. Feeling good about the days work so far and not wanting to be done they followed a group of boys living at a Mosque. At the Mosque, they handed out another 40+ meals. Still not done, my dad ended his slum tour handing out another 50+ meals to any random poor man, woman, or child on the streets. Interested in his experience and enjoying the opportunity to be of assistance he asked if his guide could arrange something for tomorrow. Knowing that his daughter (me) would be joining him in Mumbai, for a short break/visit from her own India trip, he gave his new friend, Torab, a sort of homework assignment of finding an area where he and I could put together bags with a few basic needs for some of the more poverty-stricken families.
That night when I arrived, my dad and I spent a relaxing night inside, ordering room service. We even watched the new X-Men movie.
The following day I knew what was in store, so I put on my Gary Kaplan-sized helper hat and my dad and I met “Torab”, in the hotel lobby and went over the day’s plan:
Off to the black market or wholesale area of Mumbai, we found a towel vendor from whom we bought 100 towels and 100 bags. This was only the beginning of the ‘Goody Bags for Impoverished Families’ outreach. As the towels and bags were being prepared for pick up, my dad and I, and Torab set out to find 100 toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soaps to add to their Gary Kaplan-style care packages.
As we finished up gathering the items needed for the care packages, we passed a building full of small, but chaotically loud voices. Only Indian children could be the owner of those sounds and that kind of decibel output. Of course, children being my dad’s very favorite to help, he
STEP 1) Asked if it was a school,
STEP 2) Asked if we could come in and check it out, and then my father, the one and only Gary Kaplan,
STEP 3) Asked if we could help by providing the children of the school with anything that they might ‘need’ at the moment. We were promptly introduced to the headmaster who was happy to take us on a short tour through the school and share the community and the schoolhouse’s needs…
And in pure Gary and Remy Kaplan style, the cycle of giving began again.
After a morning of preparing gift bags and touring a school, the real fun finally began. Torab took us to the most impoverished areas of the slums where families of 5 or more were living on the side of the road or in tiny 4×4 tin shacks, literally shacks stacked on other shacks. It was quite a site. We found a local who was happy to help us share with the community. He went by all the living quarters and had one person from each family come line up to receive a gift bag or two for their home. As Torab and our new friend helped hand out gift bags for the house, my dad and I began handing out lollipops and toothbrushes to all the children in the area. Truthfully, the smiles and excitement on their faces is the true reason we make giving part of our family trips. In fact at the end of our day of giving, my father’s only requirement for the school house’s donations was that when the donations and bag of candy arrive the following day the headmaster keep in touch and email us a picture of all the kids holding a lollipop with a smile we knew would be on their faces.