In Dharavi, it’s the teenage girls who are driving change through science and technology, by developing apps to keep women safe, to get water, and for education.
It all started as an initiative by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan. In 2012, he was in Dharavi to document the daily lives of people in Dharavi. While he was shooting the film, he was deeply moved by the lack of inspiration in the lives of the girls who lived there. Faced with hardships, injustices, and domestic violence, the girls didn’t have any ambition or motivation to get out of the situation.
That was when Ranjan, a resident of San Fransisco, moved to Mumbai to give the girls a reason to live by instilling in them the confidence that they too can become someone. He began a slum innovation project in Naya Nagar, calling it Dharavi Diary of 2014. Through Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Learning Program, the girls were taught coding, and used an open source app development tool, MIT App Inventor, to create their apps.
Today, the 12- to 14-year-old girls of Dharavi, nicknamed the ‘Dharavi coders’, have an app that tackles most of their everyday problems.
For instance, they innovated Paani, an app which alerts residents of the slum when it is their turn to collect water from the community tap. It made the lives of slum dwellers much simpler, and saved them all the time that they waste standing in a queue every day.
To help women feel safe, Women Fight Back has a distress alarm, SMS alerts and location mapping, along with a feature for emergency contact numbers. As for education, the girls have come up with an app that teaches subjects such as math, English and science. Instead of taking the traditional teaching route, these are taught through experiential activities, like taking photographs of a objects to learn what it is called.
Then there’s an app that teaches kids the importance of waste management, by collecting and segregating.
The app also gives ideas to recycle items to create new products. Besides these, the girls are developing an app that has tutorials and educational materials. Some of these apps are still in its testing phase, and not released into the market.
In 2014, the girls won phones and laptops after bagging prizes in the Technovation Challenge, a competition that recognises women and girls who have the potential to develop innovative technology.
What started as a pilot project with just 15 girls, in two years the project has managed to rope in 200 students, including boys. Today, the children at Dharavi have the opportunity to dream.
However, a fire broke out and caused serious damages in the slum in January 2016. The children have lost their mobiles and laptops, along with blankets, clothes, books, utensils and beds.
Nawneet Ranjan appeals for donations to the slum and its young tech developers, so that they can get back on track.
To help these girls, you can donate here.