Homemade lessons

Inspired by an all-girls team from an American university, children stage plays in slums to educate parents on non-violence and cleanliness

As little Ahmed led his troupe with the opening song, "Dariya ki kasam, mauja ki kasam, ye tana bana badlega. Tu khud ko badal, tu khud ko badal, tabhi toh zamana badlega", people slowly trickled out of their shanties at Sangam Nagar in Wadala and crowded the streets.

Seven-year-old Ahmed, a student of NGO-run school Parivartan, was performing on the streets with his schoolmates for the first time, hoping to reach out to his family and neighbours and highlight the importance of sanitation, education, equality and, most important, communal harmony.

It was a clarion call for change, starting with his immediate neighbourhood.

A month's practice and the kids turned into ace actors who could sing and enact short skits rapidly, one after another. "We could never imagine that we would ever have to face such a large audience and perform this play. I feel like I am an actor. Didis have helped us regularly," says Saima, possibly the eldest at the school.

By Didis, she was referring to Juhi Chadda, Shriya and Zohar Fuller, students of Brandeis University in the US. They are in India on a 'Revive Mumbai' project and have dedicated an entire month to Sangam Nagar.

"We were clear about wanting to experiment within the community but weren't sure how. But when we landed here and met the kids, we knew that they were the strongest medium to reach out to our target audience," says Zohar.

For some kids it was no less than acting in films but not all parents could gauge the purpose of this performance. "Our parents don't understand the impact violence has on the lives of children. I have seen my father harass my mother and cannot stop him. I live in the constant fear that he will beat us up. Through this play, I hope to help make my father realise where he is wrong," says one of the kids, who the group thinks is an introvert and less participative.

Another kid, Sahil, thinks he is the strongest of the lot. "I suddenly feel confident. I don't fear anything now," says the hyperactive Sahil.

The girls in the group, though a little reluctant otherwise, put up a highly impressive and confident performance. "We performed a small play that emphasised educating the girl child. I had a lot of fun," said Sana.

A month-long programme was an impromptu exercise. Juhi, Shriya and Zohar have put up a blog, 'Sangamnagarspeaks', with the otherwise unheard voices of these slum kids.

"Our most touching moments have been when the kids unanimously break out in to a 'namaste teacher' chant. The kids never ran out of energy and always rejuvenated us," says one of the blogs by Juhi, who has pledged to continue her association with Parivartan and support the kids.

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