What is Dharavi?
Dharavi in Mumbai is the largest known slum in the world and was the background where the popular movie, Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was set. For the past two years, a group of teenage girl coders in the slum have been developing various apps to cater to the daily needs of their community members. Their meritorious innovations have been solving critical problems faced by their locality.
How did the project begin?
The seeds of this unique journey were sown in 2012 when filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan went there shooting for his documentary Dharavi Diary. It was then he realized for the first time that “these kids didn’t have dreams and aspirations because they live in such difficult circumstances, with many facing abuse and domestic violence.” Simultaneously a desire to make them aware of technology which could be used to make paradigm shifts and challenge the status quo was born in him.
Thus, was born the slum innovation project Dharavi Diary of 2014 in the neighbourhood Naya Nagar. The aim was to use MIT App Inventor, an open-source developing tool, to help the girls develop several mobile applications so that they could take care of daily problems like sexual harassment, domestic abuse, access to water and education. He wanted to empower the girls by using stories and technology so that they could become change-makers. With this end in mind, he even shifted to Mumbai from San Fransisco after some years.
Some of the apps built by these confident innovative girls:
Women Fight Back is an Android app which focuses on safety of women. SMS alerts, location mapping, distress alarm and emergency contact numbers are some of the key features of this app.
Paani app has been built to tackle the problem of long queues in the morning to fill water from the community tap. Instead of real queues, there are virtual online queues! There is an alert for each household in order to let the family members know when their turn to fill the water comes. That saves a lot of time which can be gainfully utilized elsewhere, like studying.
Science, Mathematics and English are taught through experiential activities. In order to learn nouns and pronouns, for example, kids take photographs of such items from their surroundings. Trash is gathered from the locality and kids learn how to recycle them in order to make products as varied as a remote-controlled cat to a Xbox.
In fact, to help the girls to take advantage of free time, the Padhai app is in the pipeline. It is designed keeping in mind girl students who do not get an opportunity to have regular education at schools. It constitutes language lessons and other tutorials.
Thanks to all these innovative methods of learning through technology, these girls were able to participate in the international Technovation challenge in 2014 and bagged phones and laptops in lieu of their skills!
Initially, these girls were shy and hesitant to handle technology. However, due to the perseverance and concerted efforts of Nawneet, they have been transformed from being depressed and hopeless to confident young ladies ready to take on the challenges of life. For example, Ansuja Madhiwal, who was raised by her mother after her father’s death, dreams of becoming a computer engineer now. The project which began with 15 girls has grown to encompass over 200 in 2 years. It also has within its fold some boys!!
Devastation by fire
Unfortunately, a fire broke out in the slums on 4th January, 2016, which gutted 50 houses and razed the hopes of these kids to the ground. They are struggling to stand up on their feet again, trying to cope up with the loss of clothes, food grains, utensils, beds, blankets, books, laptops, tablets, mobiles and other technological items. However, they are cash-strapped since the programme largely depends on crowd-funding for their financial resources.