Mumbai: In the days before CoVID-19 struck the nation, Dharavi Art Room –a 135 square feet space in what is known as Asia’s largest slum– was an escape to the children residing there. They would flock to their happy space, where they would sketch, paint, play and read from a small library and even learn some manners.
Since mid-March, its founder Himanshu S, 39, (an artist) and Aqui Thampi, 30, (a PhD student at TISS), who run the space together, have been serving cooked food to the 75 children who were regulars at the space. When the lockdown posed challenges, they began distributing weekly cash (Rs 100 per child a day) instead, which now goes straight into the accounts of the parents of these children.
The initiative is funded through donations, which they seek via Instagram and WhatsApp from the people who know about the work Dharavi Art Room has been doing for the past 15 years.
“The parents of these children are mostly daily wage earners, who had no work coming their way even a few days before the lockdown was imposed. Some are children of single parents. Since schools had closed, many children had lost their mid-day meals. We thought the simplest thing we could do was provide cooked food to them,” says Himanshu.
The initiative took care of the children’s lunch. It also provided fruits and snacks in the evening. A few women from Dharavi –who were also mothers of a few children who came to the art room– would prepare the food. These women had lost their income, as they used to make papads and other items at home and sell.
Knowing the families personally over the years, Himanshu says, “The atmosphere in these families is changing with each passing day as their financial position gets worse. The children are exposed to all this. We’re trying to make it a little less difficult for the families, with at least the children being provided for.”
Himanshu and Aqui plan to continue the initiative till the end of May or even mid-June if required, as they anticipate that normalcy may not return for some time. Contributions can be made through GPay or PayTM to 9773361243.
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