“As a girl, I am always being told that things happen because of fate, but it’s the things I do, not luck that determine my fate,” says Sikha, a young girl from the slums of Kolkata and one of the children featured in “The Revolutionary Optimists,” a documentary following several children living in the slums of Kolkata and making a difference.
Salim is an eleven year old boy who lives in a community that has no water. Every morning at 4:30, he has to go to a neighboring slum to collect water for his family. By mapping their community and collecting data, he is leading a team of child activists to persuade the government to provide their community with a water tap. Priyanka is a sixteen year old girl who teaches and leads a dance troupe as a means of fighting tradition and the pressure to enter into arranged marriage and to keep girls in school. These children and others featured in the film are the child activists of Prayasam.
Founded by Ashoka Fellow Amlan Ganguly, Prayasam is an organization that doesn’t work to rescue children; rather the organization empowers them to become “agents of change.” The philosophy is to reach out to these children who live in dire circumstances but believe that they decide their own fates. Prayasam works with six child advisors and more than thirty children as core members who take the lead in spearheading projects that address social issues within their communities.
Through methods from street theater to data collection, the children have managed to organize education campaigns, first aid training, and vaccination drives for polio, and turn garbage dumps into playing grounds. Fueled by child-led activism, the work of Prayasam and its child activists has had a considerable effect on health, hygiene, and sanitation in their neighborhoods having decreased cases of malaria and diarrhea.
Inspired by the film, the BAVC Producer’s Institute for New Technologies developed a project called Map Your World based on Salim’s mapping of his own communities. The technology would allow other child activists to map their community, track and collect data on health issues, and improve health in their communities using cell phones.
“The Revolutionary Optimists” was the recipient of the Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award this year from Sundance and is set to officially open in New York on March 29 with other cities to follow.
– Rafael Panlilio