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Protsahan: Art That Encourages Lives

Posted: June 24, 2011

Protsahan, a young NGO explores art as a tool to teach children from tough backgrounds and help them learn marketable skills.

By Sonal Kapoor

Protsahan was born in the summer of 2010, when I was shooting a corporate film for an organisation I was working with at that time. By chance I got some time off. It was then that I ventured out with my camera and visited a slum that was nearby.

There, I met this family where a woman lived with her six young girls. She was expecting her seventh child. She told me that her husband was a panipuri-chaatwallah and made about Rs 2000-2500 per month. Her children observed me with inquisitive eyes, flies taking turns to feed on their muddy skin and unkempt hair. None went to school. I was curious to know what plans she had for her children and also for the one who was to be born. Her matter-of-fact reply made me gasp in shock. “If this time it’s a girl, I’ll strangle her the moment she is born,” she said.

I froze.

It was perhaps at that instant that I decided to go all out and change the collective mindset of the community. I quit my job. Not even for a minute did I think whether this would work or not, whether I would be successful or not, whether I would have funds or not, or for that matter, whether I even had the strength to take it on all by myself after a comfortable communications job. This place needed a change. This family needed a change. Despite our obsession with reading and writing and rote learning & RTE, I knew it all had to be done differently for a girl from the red light area, or a girl who gazes at the hot sun while her dad bricks up the wall at a construction site, or a rickshaw puller’s daughter. So, I decided to teach them through creativity and Art.

We knew, we had to design “real solutions for real people”. So, we designed our basic curriculum with ART & colourful stories. We learnt Warli Art from YouTube and taught them. We painted the walls in the slums; got the women in the slums to paint diyas during Diwali. A woman who didn’t know the difference between pink and green, a few months back was now churning out designer diyas. We sold these at Airtel, Moser Baer, TCS and Infosys to raise funds.

It was interesting to see that art was not just uniting people, but also being valued. We taught germination and photosynthesis to girls from the red light area, by first aesthetically painting the mud pot, which would hold the seed. Nothing else could explain the concept better. They still nurture that plant in their little jhuggis. They exclaim everytime it sends out a flower. And yes, they know that for a plant to grow, they should give it enough sunlight, air, nutrients and water. Art can be a way to teach Science too!

These children come from very tough backgrounds. As a creative medium, the arts stimulate cognitive development, encourage innovative thinking and creativity and engender understanding.

These children come from very tough backgrounds. As a creative medium, the arts stimulate cognitive development, encourage innovative thinking and creativity and engender understanding. If art can hone your skills, help you earn and bring happiness to a family, why keep stressing on rote education? Just because it’s been the norm for ages? Why neglect the creativity of colours and storytelling in bringing change just because everyone NEEDS to go through a formal education system? In the last 14 months, we have seen change in young innocent lives, by simply giving them unhurried time to use and play with computers and colors. Most of them had held crayons for the first time in their lives. We will gradually train them with livelihood skills using Madhubani and Warli art forms amongst a host of other creative skills, so that these little ones can stand on their own feet, earn a living and make beautiful and strong careers.

Thousands of at-risk children are going to create and sustain livelihoods by means of Art. Families are being encouraged to get trained in a skill and bring their products to market.

The girl who stood begging on the street, is now painting ancient Indian art forms. A young single mother from slums, who had given up hope to live, is now an art teacher at Protsahan. A special child, who was always ridiculed on the street and slum, is now doing coffee art; she may not be able to hear/speak but she sure exclaims with delight when the aroma of coffee wafts up from her painting. Here, the innovation is not a product, but a method of bringing change all together, in lives, which just needed ENCOURAGEMENT.

If 69 girls could change in the last 13 months, I have no reason to not believe that 69,000 cannot undergo a change in the next 20-25 years.

About The Author: Sonal Kapoor is the Founder-Director of Protsahan. You can follow Protsahan’s work on Twitter or Facebook.

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  1. It’s wonderful that u r ding all this! I make and design handpainted sea shell jewellery and taught the same at an orphanage in Goa… the kids picked it up beautifully and with great joy… however we came to know that what’s made by children under 14 cannot be sold, so I did not know how to take it further, and in the meantime I moved base to Mumbai. I still wish to be able to contribute in my own little way. Could u guide me regarding the same. Thanks

  2. dear sonal, you are so fortunate and above all a doer who could make a beginning. if i could provide any assistance, let me know. i am delhi based, mother to two adults with loads of free time, enough energy and eager to begin somewhere. look forward to your reply. by the way, i make products like coasters, trays, wall hangings etc. with real pressed dry flowers and foliage

  3. Hello, i am impressed by your work and wish that the children you work with, become happy, independent and good human beings.

    My cousin wants to be a social entrepreneur. She plans to source products directly from artists / craftsmen and sell them online. To begin with, we are trying to get products that do not take much colume like greeting cards, paintings, mats, rugs, cloth bags, etc. The madhubani and warli paintings that your children make seem Percy for the!! Can you please guide us on how we can take this forward.

    Regards, Poorvi

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