The gap between rich and poor worldwide is growing rapidly. Today, over 1 billion people (1 in 6 of us) live in an urban slum and this number is expected to double by the year 2030. That is enough to make anyone pessimistic. For Amlan Ganguly, however, the future is as promising as we make it. “Make the surroundings your product,” Ganguly implores, “Don’t become a product of your surroundings.”
For the past seventeen years Ganguly has been working to improve the lives of children in the slums of the capital city of West Bengal, India. Home to some 5,500 slum neighborhoods, Kolkata lacks sufficient infrastructure to accommodate the mass influx of rural poor who have steadily migrated to the city since the partitioning of India in the 1940s. Despite rapid economic growth in India over the last decade, conditions of poverty are worsening.
Ganguly looks to the youth of the city as the ray of hope and optimism amidst devastating poverty. “If you want to start any type of change, start it with the children,” he advises. He founded a community-based organization named Prayasam – meaning “their own endeavors” – with a focus on educating and empowering children to become confident change makers.
Using street theater, puppetry, and dance as their weapons, the Ganguly’s advocates-in-training have cut their neighborhoods’ malaria and diarrhea rates in half and turned former garbage dumps into playing fields. Prayasam is the subject of Independent Len’s upcoming film The Revolutionary Optimists, broadcasting Monday, July 17 (check local listings).
The Women and Girls Lead team had the privilege of interviewing Ganguly and the young stars of The Revolutionary Optimists, Shikha and Salim, in April, 2013 during the film’s U.S. premiere. Hear what they had to say about the film:
Learn more about Map Your World, the interactive community mapping project inspired by the film.