KHUSHNUMA JABULEE brings into the limelight Young Innovators Foundation that helps educate slum kids from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Education is something that is being taken for granted by most people who enjoy its privileges. Almost eight years ago, slow winds of change blew over the villages of Tumni Pada, Taley Pada, Maley Pada, Chinchpada and Nava Pada that are located in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) due to the mind of one young innovator whose main goal was to create a holistic yet fun process to educate underprivileged children.
Ritika Arya founded My India Empowered which later became Young Innovators Foundation (YIF) when she was but a college going teenager who dreamed big. “Poverty, inequality, filth, children begging on the streets bothered me. I wanted to be a part of the solution and education seemed to be the answer to it all,” said Ritika.“I had set out to change the world around me. I began sharing my education and idealism with the next generation. I thought if the children grow up with love, wonder and a wholesome set of beliefs then this world could be a better place.”
Soon, Srishti Arya and Priyam Datta brought forth their own expertise to Ritika’s vision and became the co-founders of YIF. On being asked why she joined her sister Ritika on her venture, Srishti said, “I started believing in and seeing the goodness of the work that YIF was doing with just one person at its center. Soon I realised if more people joined in, YIF could go to whole new level. That’s when I decided to stick around and build this beautiful organisation along with my sister and my co-founder, Priyam Datta.”
What started off on 17th August, 2008 as a class being taught to 4 kids from the nearby slum in the living room of her home, Ritika has now managed to rope in 60 volunteers who come from various fields of life to teach kids from the 5 villages in the SGNP on Sundays and alternate weekdays. They have always been involved in thorough research and development within the dynamic field of education. Over time, they have learnt and taken inspiration from several institutes, approaches and philosophies, some of them being Shri Aurobindo’s teachings, National Entrepreneurship Network and Waldorf Education. In 2011, YIF also built a bamboo schoolhouse called ‘Masti Ki Paathshaala’ in Tumni Pada when the old schoolhouse structure there collapsed due to the monsoons.
‘Masti Ki Paathshaala’ is their flagship program that mainly focuses on children living in and around SGNP. “We work towards opening creative spaces for holistic development, through the integrated learning principles of the Head, Heart and Hands philosophy inspired by Waldorf Education,” says Ritika. YIF try to humanize education, create wonder, appreciate play, imagination, questions and nurture the sense of self, rather than using education for a limited goal of doing a particular job or earning a living.
April 2014 saw the kids make a trip to Kidzania which provided a simulated environment for them to step into the role of working professionals in various sectors of life. Each child was free to choose and attend a session of a profession that interested them. They served as cashiers at the supermarket, worked at the coke factory, danced like theatre artists, recycled for the joy of sustainable living and more.
In October 2014, YIF organized a trip for 30 children from 3 different communities for an experiential learning journey to Auroville. The highlight of this trip was that the children travelled by an ‘Airplane’, which for them was a dream come true. At Auroville, children started mingling with one another and left behind petty village rivalries. When the children headed there, they were simply children from 3 different villages, but as the days passed it became more and more difficult to identify who was from which village. In 5 days everyone had become such a well-oiled machine.
40 children and 15 volunteers made a trip to Kolad for a 5-day monsoon camp called Project Bhoomi in June, 2015. They lived by the banks of river Kundalika where they farmed, cooked and stayed together like one big community.
YIF have recently started a Mentor-Mentee Program where a bunch of resourceful mentors are brought on board from diverse fields like Photography, Hair & Beauty, Dance, Sports and Accountancy to mentor the kids who are interested in such fields of work. Some of the kids have received mentoring and have greatly benefitted from it. Many of them have started up their own initiatives using their entrepreneurial seeds.
It has almost been a decade since YIF started planting seeds to rejuvenate the poverty stricken sector of Mumbai by granting an all-access pass to amazing standards of education, training, learning and excursions for the kids of SGNP. In the years to come, founder Ritika Arya does not intend to slow down. “I see the ripples of our work growing, the children and the communities we have been engaging with empowered and further empowering others. YIF will be an organization that will stand on the pillars of love, kindness, truth, magic and spark a new movement in community service, education and innovation in the country.”