Encouraging Creativity & Design Thinking to solve India's most pressing problems : Reviving art at Protsahan.

Every day, as I walk past the slums in Delhi, I see hundreds of neglected people; naked children, most devoid of mothers or sexually abused by their fathers, women who don't understand the concept of sanitary napkins, and children lining red light districts, hoping to help their families with money to survive.

In Delhi, I had come across a woman in a slum in my early years as a microbiologist. She had six kids and was trying to send one of her eight year old girls to a red light area. My heart tore at the simple fact that one’s own mother can willingly give her girl child up, for money. Simply said, her extreme poverty demanded that she sacrifice one child, in order to pay for food for five others. She was also pregnant with her seventh child. When I asked her, what about it, she said, as a matter of fact, 'If it is a girl again this time, I will strangle her the minute she is born.' Within 15 minutes, I had decided, I would start a creative arts school for the sexually abused girls in the area. Only later, I came to know, young girls as old as 9 years, from nearby slums, were sexually abused by their own fathers.

Without any real know-how, I took the help of locals and carried a feasibility
study. Within three weeks started the creative arts school that I had envisioned to start up. Thus, Protsahan was born as a one-room creative arts center for educating the girl child in the ghettos, exactly the same place where a girl's integrity was getting ridiculed in a trafficking market; Project Educare as we call it today.'

We use simple techniques, but with a difference. We use scrabble to teach them English, cartoons and photographs to keep the interests alive, game and art based education, digital storytelling to make teaching a fun process. Our sole mission is to encourage creative education and skills development through creative design thinking approaches. Thus was born the teaching pedagogy using Art and Technology. We are compiling all our approaches and releasing it under open source soon. Protsahan has always believed in innovative and unconventional way of doing things. We are a creative youth organization. Our team comprises of the best brains from across India; ranging from students from IITs, IIMs to youth from well-known companies in Johannesburg, Singapore and New York, and those in the creative industry. We believe that working with one child, and transforming her in entirety, has to be right. This approach is all-inclusive and can help you reach numbers in the right way.

To make the organization largely self sustainable, we started Project Artisans' Honor and Project Stree and started involving the mothers of the children into creating micro-entrepreneurial ventures by training them on designing fabric crafts with some basic design approaches from creating embroidered kurtas to jewelry to even making sanitary napkins, a concept that was 'new' for most. It worked wonders. Not only did it get us funds to run our class, it solved the issue of 'opportunity cost' for mothers not being sacrificed by sending their girls to school, because now their mothers found jobs. They were getting introduced to the concept of gender rights, health and dignity. Design Thinking at the level of urban slums was getting redefined by young Protsahan change makers.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that Millennium Development Goals will be achieved with clichéd approaches and depending on the public sector. Governments have largely failed to deliver innovative solutions. However, they can scale up approaches that work. These approaches have to be thought of by young people now for it is they who will create history tomorrow.

 We had started a school to educate at risk street children facing sexual and drug abuse; at least 65-70% have been admitted back to government schools.  Several women have been empowered and have increased their income by 400%. During the last 24 months, since we started, we have touched the life of more than 800 people. We have seen change happen right in front of our eyes. We seek to further expand our reach to at least over 10,000 families by the year 2025.  If 800 lives could change in the last 24 months, we have no reason to not believe that 80,000 wont someday. We are a non-profit organization and we count our revenue in terms of number of lives we have impacted and transformed for the better. We call it the gross happiness index.

The World Bank, United Nations, Confederation of Indian Industries, Australia India Youth Dialog and other organizations of national and international repute are recognizing us. Yet, the journey has only begun.


By Sonal Kapoor