How My Battle To Empower Slum Kids Through Arts Keeps Me Going, But There’s A Catch

Posted on July 25, 2014 in Education, Society

By Zeba Rizvi:

I chose to make the slums of Delhi NCR my workstation. I get to take off on days when it rains because most of the places are inaccessible and children are falling sick often. It follows a trend among the children- in summers, all children go bald to get rid of the lice. Monsoon is the time for frequent flues and infections; almost every house has a sick person. During auspicious wedding seasons, some, or more than some families take off to go to their villages for weeks. Houses are tightly packed, which makes it hot and stuffy during summers – that is one issue we do not face during winters. It is much easier then, but the trouble is that the days are shorter.

Last year, I started a community- based project at my organization called Arpan, where we take literature and Art to the children living in urban slums. We introduce them to various children’s literature, train them in acting, and also give them colors to paint their walls with, as a symbol of their free expression. Art is not limited by economic and geographic boundaries, I have seen these children perform. They are very good at it.

If I were to list out some of my favorite things about my work, then I would say (in no particular order)

1. Two sisters – one is 11 and the other is 9, put on their best clothes every time we have a session lined up.

2. If a session is interrupted by a stray dog or pig that might seem to be chasing us (it never does, the kids just like to pull a prank or two), all the children return within 5-7 minutes, right where they were sitting. Little fun is harmless, I feel

3. If our team is late even by 10 minutes, it is unacceptable to the children, because they say they look forward to all the fun from the beginning of the day.

4. The euphoria with which the hold their crayons.

5. Currently, we are targeting two slum communities, and the sessions happen twice a week with each slum. Almost every time, at the end of each session the kids ask “when are you all going to come next?”.

Yes, there are bad days too. We are constantly writing proposals to various government departments, social initiative competitions, and corporate houses for funding. From most places, we haven’t got a reply that would make us very happy. Then there are friends in their stable jobs and assured monthly paycheck. It makes me a little nervous. Am I doing the right thing, or just chasing a fantasy that would fizz-out soon? Some friends would be too polite to tell me the truth of not dreaming too big. Some actually believe in my dream wholeheartedly. I want to take literature, art, and positive role models to every child, irrespective of his/her family’s socio-economic position.

Many say, “What use is art to a child in poor economic conditions? That is not going to get them a job anywhere?” It isn’t about economic returns, it never was. It is about inspiring a child, tapping on his creative side, and activating his mind so that he can learn better what they teach in schools, It’s about getting the child in touch with the right sort of people to counsel her about her options after completing 12 years of schooling, or motivating her to finish those 12 years at all. It’s about expecting more from a child.

I would be lying if I said that I have never been tempted to take up a full time job. But then, almost every week, I have big, dark, happy eyes asking me “when are you all coming next?”

“I am here for good, sweet-heart, and I will be back next week, every week”

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