“My Perch is a space that I run in the Barola slum in Noida. Children come over, generally after school hours and spend as much time as they feel like, just being themselves and doing whatever they feel like doing, without the fear of being judged”, Kamya explains to me on phone.
While on my way to the place, I am expecting to find a dilapidated space in the middle of a filthy slum surrounded by broken houses next to unpaved roads.
The location is none of that. ‘My Perch’ is essentially the basement of a typical NCR building, right on a main road. I would soon discover that the slum from where most kids came over to this space, is not far behind the main road.
Kamya’s perspective on life changed when her dad was diagnosed with brain tumour. She took care of him as he lay bed-ridden for ten years.
After she quit her corporate life, Kamya joined an NGO that provided free education to kids in this very slum in Noida (acting as a “bridge school”). But she realized that the kids were unhappy there. While most non-profits (and schools) focussed on “education”, these underprivileged kids had little to no access to a safe and nurturing space where they could just hang out, do their own thing, open up and learn stuff that interested them – often from one another.
She left her NGO job, got a small grant to rent the space that could offer all of this, and in spite of struggles in raising funds, has been successfully running ‘My Perch’ for three years now. Children read books, work on computers, play games, learn dancing or cooking or art or whatever else fancies them (and can be arranged for). In fact, children run and manage the entire space.
Let me tell you what typically does not happen in most schools and definitely not in the types where most underprivileged children manage to go.
Nobody asks them “so what would you like to learn”? Few months ago, when the children were asked this question at ‘My Perch’ – some said they wanted to know how to cook healthy food. Just reading about the dangers of the kind of food that they ate outside was not enough for them. So, cooking materials were put together and soon, with the help of Youtube, the children started learning and cooking, teaching each other in the process, and even selling the ‘healthy’ cooked food for nominal prices to those who wished to eat it.
Many still don't understand why a child needs to spend time here when it's not a school or a tuition!
Such a positive environment has been super effective in changing the outlook of many children. Some teenagers who were into smoking and consuming narcotics, have now quit their habits.
Others who were often found picking fights, learnt to channelize their energy to creative pursuits. These changes are helping some parents appreciate the need for a space like this in slums. Many still don’t understand why a child needs to spend time here when it’s not a school or a tuition! Convincing parents was and is an ongoing challenge that Kamya struggles with (other than the struggle to raise money to pay for rent, buying new stuff for the space etc.). But the effort is worth it, she believes.
“When a slum kid goes up to his sister during her periods and tells her that he can do some of her work, in case she is feeling pain in her stomach, that is the kind of change that makes me feel proud of the work that I am doing”, Kamya gleams.
I was commissioned by India Fellow to make a 3MS (3 min story; essentially a short documentary film) on Kamya and other fellows, who are bringing in a change in society in their own ways. India Fellow is a 13 month long social leadership programme where young Indians can apply, and if chosen, get to experience what working on ground for various non-profits and social enterprises across India is. Visit their website to know more about the fellowship and to apply.