Dharavi is a locality in Mumbai, india, which hosts one of the largest slums in the world. Estimates vary but it is said to have between 700,000 and 1 million inhabitants. In this informal settlement, which is home to a multitude of businesses of every kind, fires and other disasters are common…
Dharavi is a locality in Mumbai, india, which hosts one of the largest slums in the world. Estimates vary but it is said to have between 700,000 and 1 million inhabitants. In this informal settlement, which is home to a multitude of businesses of every kind, fires and other disasters are common.
The latest took place a couple of months ago.
On January 4th, a fire broke out in the Naya Nagar neighboorhood, burning in the process not only forty houses, clothes, furniture.
It destroyed tablets, smartphones, laptops as well: the ‘weapons’ by which a number of teen girls, part of the Slum Innovaton Project, were trying to build a better future for themselves.
The group was born for initiative of Nawneet Ranjan, a young film-maker who, after shooting four years ago a short documentary called Dharavi Diary, felt that just raising awareness about the difficult living conditions of the slum’s inhabitants was not enough.
He wanted to do something more tangible, to help the youngest part of the slum’s population. Women, in particular.
“Most of the girls here, come from low income families that left their villages and migrated to the city. In the slum houses are cheap, but there are a lot of problems in terms of domestic violence, drug abuse, harassment, and these girls often are not able to see beyond their day-to-day life,” Ranjan tells me in a long Skype conversation.
“They think that because their father or mother is a taxi driver or a house help or a construction site labourer, they are not allowed to dream much more than that.”
In this context, technology could be instrumental not only in addressing daily problems, but also in changing the girls’ mindset, their vision of themselves, allowing them to participate more in the life of the community as well.
The first outcome of the Girls for Change group of the Slum Innovation project, was Women Fight Back, an Android app against sexual assault and harassment, built using MIT’s open source developing tool.
“The girls themselves did the mapping of the different community problems and then sorted out the top things which we needed to address. They started with woman security,” Ranjan says.
Women Fight Back includes several features designed to help women call for help in an emergency, like when they are being stalked on the way home from work, a situation unfortunately not uncommon in India, or simply for health related issues.
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In the video shot by Ranjan you can see the pride and joy of these girls, all between 12 and 15 years old, that, maybe for the first time, have the feeling they can take, at least a little, their life in their own hands.
The Women Fight Back app was meant to be just a first step: other apps were in the making, to address other community problems like child labour, water collection, cleanliness.
The fire destroyed all that.
Not only they lost clothes, food, shelter: they had to stop learning and experimenting. This badly affected the girls’ self confidence and self esteem, even though they are slowly coming to terms.
“Until now they haven’t got any help from the government. We can’t rebuild the houses, it’s too expensive for us, but we’re trying to give them all that is possible in terms of food, clothes and also counselling and helping them find a safe place where they can meet and study and learn new things,” Ranjan says.
That’s where crowdfunding comes in. With the support of the United States Institute of Peace, Girls for Change is running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogoìs Generosity throughout the month of March.
The “Help Tech Girls Rebuild After a Devastating Fire” campaign is seeking 10,000 dollars from backers, to help Dharavi girls resurrect their dream from hashes. So far, they raised 3,500 dollars, 35% of their goal.
“This summer we’re planning to start a workshop in which 150 girls will participate in mobile technology, application learning process and also science, technology and engineering, robotics and things like that; so that it keeps them engaged and they see beyond poverty and start dreaming that they can also create, change their lives.”
Besides fulfilling basic needs, and paying for technology, the money raised will be used also to buy a Lumkani fire sensor.
To make sure that, this time, no fire steps in the way.
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