Routinely described as one of the largest slums in the world and the setting for Slumdog Millionaire, Mumbai’s Dharavi has been home to some unlikely innovations in the last two years. They are the handiwork of a group of local teenage girl coders have been making apps to solve their community’s problems.
he girls, aged between eight and sixteen, are part of Dharavi Diary, a slum innovation project in Dharavi’s Naya Nagar neighbourhood, started in 2014 by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan. Using the open source developing tool MIT App Inventor, the girls have built several mobile apps to tackle everyday problems, including sexual harassment, access to water and education.
However, the project received a setback when the slum was ravaged by a fire on Jan. 4, destroying the houses of over 50 families along with the tablets and computers used by the girls. Ranjan hopes to raise more resources for the programme through a new crowd-fundingcampaign that will help get more computers, laptops, and even food and clothing for the children.
Until now, Dharavi Diary has been running with private funds raised by Ranjan and his friends, and non-profits such as United States Institute of Peach and Iridescent. The girls also participated in the international Technovation challenge in 2014 to get phones and laptops.
anjan first got involved with the neighbourhood while shooting a documentary film calledDharavi Diary in 2012. A couple of years later, he moved to Mumbai from San Francisco, where he was teaching at a film school, to work more closely with the community. His aim was to use stories and technology to empower the girls to become change-makers.
His focus was on the neighbourhood’s girls, who faced additional social and familial barriers in accessing technology. “If there is a glass of milk in the family, it’s the boy who gets it,” Ranjan told Mashable. “The girls also do most of the household work and don’t get the facilities that the boys do.”
“These kids didn’t have dreams and aspirations because they live in such difficult circumstances, with many facing abuse and domestic violence,” Ranjan says. “I tried to get them to understand how technology can be used to make a paradigm shift and challenge the status quo.”
Ranjan used the MIT App Inventor, online video tutorials, documentary films and Powerpoint presentations to teach the girls the ABCs of coding. “A lot of girls in the neighbourhood don’t get the chance to use computers and laptops,” Ranjan says. “I showed them how technology can be used to solve problems and improve their job opportunities. I told them that these were things that they could learn on their own.”
The girls identified a few key problems and then built the apps around them. For instance, the Android app Women Fight Back focuses on women’s safety and has features like SMS alerts, location mapping, distress alarm and emergency calls to contacts.
There are several other apps in the pipeline as well. The Padhai app has language lessons and other tutorials to educate girls who don’t get a chance to go to school. Many of the girls also faced the problem of scarce water supply, and had to fill water from common taps and tanks in the neighbourhood each morning. To tackle this, they built the Paani app to streamline water collection for each household by setting up an online queue that alerts people when it’s their turn to fill water.
The experience has already transformed the lives of girls like 14-year-old Ansuja Madhiwal, who was raised by her mother after her father died in a road accident. Ranjan says that she was depressed and without hope when he met her, but gained tremendous confidence after building the Women Fight Back app. Madhiwal hopes to become a computer engineer when she gives back, and teaches her mother, who works as a domestic help, in her spare time.
Despite initial reservations on the possibilities of technology, the number of children involved in the project has grown from 15 to over 200 in two years, including a few boys as well.
The project also teaches the kids science, mathematics and English through experiential activities. For instance, the kids learn English by taking photographs of nouns and pronouns, pick up trash from the neighbourhood and see how they can reuse it to make everything from a remote-controlled car to a Xbox.
Ranjan hopes the campaign will help the project reach more kids from low-income families in Dharavi. “It has slowly changed the girls, and now they are the spokespersons of the programme,” Ranjan says. “My plan is to teach one girl who can pass on the skills to five others.”
For The Dharavi Diary slum innovation project’s crowd-funding campaign, please refer to the link below
Source – MashableIndia
Image credit: mashable.com