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Enabling Art-Based Learning In At-Risk Communities: Our Journey With 5000 Kids

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When all that’s being taught in schools is just reading, writing and arithmetic, we are not only disempowering children to solve their own problems but are also stymying our ability to create leaders who have a voice and will solve global problems such as climate change, threats to democratic institutions and widespread sexism and local problems, like that of making an informed choice. Because of the lack of a holistic curriculum, spaces and experiences that empower them with a voice, our children are left ill-equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Children from underprivileged backgrounds often do not have a choice in what their lives are like, there’s also a lack of space for them to express themselves and be understood. One of the most effective tools to enable their voice is through art.

Although there is no set definition for art, it can generally be said to be a creative act of expression that employs our skill and imagination to make something that is original. Thomas Merton famously quotes, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”, signifying the way that art is a deeply personal activity that both helps us explore who we are and also directly expands our experience of who we are.

Art also helps us enhance our perception of the world, our connection and communication with others, and our quality of emotional and physical living. Since there is no clear-cut way of defining art, it is also infinitely flexible in the mediums used to create it. Directly through the body: as in music, dance, theatre, and so on, and through mediums separate from the body: as in painting, poetry, sculpture, and so on.

Slam Out Loud was founded by Jigyasa Labroo and Gaurav Singh, after having met during their Teach For India Fellowship in 2014. Since then, we have held short-term engagement workshops with 3500 school-going children and 500 college students, and another 1000 children and youth through the Jijivisha Fellowship. Awareness projects have been held within and outside the city such as the Spoken Word Fest, Assessment Roundtable, National Youth Poetry Slam, and other showcases of our work.

What Slam Out Loud aims to do is to provide people with access to, and understanding of these mediums in a way that combines the arts with education and leadership. We do this by enabling artistic activities and arts-based learning in at-risk communities, such as those who are limited by their socio-economic, physical, or social status. Our fundamental aim is this: to give everyone a voice that empowers them to change their lives.

Our work ranges from working with learning spaces (such as in classrooms and in other formal and informal learning centres for drop-out children as well as in Tihar Jail), hosting workshops to providing other kinds of help, spanning over 26 unique learning spaces. By providing access to space for art based learning that is traditionally inaccessible to individuals in at-risk communities, we build in them 21st-century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, fostering leadership that can drive universal change.

The diverse group of children, youth and prisoners that we work with, in these communities discover their voices through the transformational power of the arts enabling them to become creative thinkers who dream bigger, achieve more and create the future.

This access to arts is provided through highly skilled and committed artists, who embark on our 9-month fellowship program, The Jijivisha Fellowship, transforming the communities they work with and themselves into lifelong leaders of the movement of arts for social change.

Through workshops taken by the artists and current teachers, we ensure that the needs of the entire collaborative association are met. While all our programs are directed towards our purpose, they look different from each other, each program achieves that mission in various ways, and to varying degrees of measured success.

For one of our most recent events, on the 13th of May, we gathered for an open mic and mini-workshop event that was hosted by the Slam Out Loud kids. They took the participants through various steps of writing poems—from a three-line poem to individual performances—all done with unmatched enthusiasm, warmth, and professionalism. The kids completely took charge of the event and confidently insisted: “Of course you can do it!” “Of course you can write!”,” Of course, you can do anything you want to!”

The goal of this workshop was to perpetuate the belief that everyone can engage in the arts in a meaningful and satisfying way. We aim to make everyone see that they are special and unique, and that their voice is as important as anyone else’s. By the end of the event, a storm had begun outside, becoming wilder and wilder by the minute. It seemed that the sky too had found its voice and was sharing its poem with the rest of us!

Art in its many forms, whether it be poetry, theatre, or storytelling, is a very direct way of channelling this uniqueness and transforming it into something that goes beyond the realm of everyday experiences. The easiest way to make your life extraordinary is by creating! At Slam Out Loud, we keep these things in mind to help others lead extraordinary lives, full of joy and originality. Laughter, of course. And most of all: growth.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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