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Neigbourhood Diaries: Growing Citizen Journalists from Grassroots

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Kalam is a 3 year old project to discover young people from marginalized communities in Kolkata as creative writers and critical thinkers and instigate their cultural consciousness. It is a movement for young people to claim their right over their lives by rewriting their own stories, their communities, and their world according to how they see it. Its manifesto emphasizes:

“We must talk about ourselves in our own words, on our own terms. Poems and stories of our lives will now be written, and we will write them ourselves. And we will share our poems and stories with everyone.”

The word Kalam (ka-lum) exists in six languages [Hindi, Urdu, Bangla, Nepali, Farsi, Arabic] and it means a pen or pencil or an instrument to write. It is the perfect title of this commendable initiative for the multilingual community in Kolkata. They’ve already made notable works and produced content using print to encourage creativity and self-expression with poetry and creative writing.

But now, affordable, online technology can help Kalam achieve its goals better.

A Rising Voices micro grant helped them establish “Neighborhood Diaries”, which trains underprivileged youth living in Kolkata’s slums to be citizen journalists. They will conduct workshops on critical thinking, journalistic writing, audio-visual media and new media technologies like blogs, podcasts etc. According to its project proposal:

“ND will benefit the target community — youth slum dwellers (child laborers, children of sex workers, and low-income school-going youth) — by mobilizing them to think and write about their personal and community stories, issues, and histories, as an integral and vibrant part of the socio-cultural fabric of urban India and publish them on blogs accessible to the globe. This program and practice will foster dignity within communities often viewed as powerless, illiterate, and culturally impoverished.”

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Meet the people behind Neighborhood Diaries (and Kalam): Bishan Sammadar, Harleen, Sahar Romani, Rohini, and Maitrayee (picture above from left to right).

The team of educators includes Urbi Bhadhuri and Bina Dalui who were chosen from a time-consuming selection process.

We are glad to announce that after the long process of setting up the infrastructure from staff, to partners, to neighborhoods, finally Neighbourhood Diairies started its 15-week workshop series. The workshop commenced on November 26, 2007 in partnership with the local NGO, Sanlaap taking place at Bow Bazaar High School in Kolkata. The participants were 15 youth residents of the area recruited by Sanlaap, a non-profit organization which helps sexually abused female children in the red light areas of Kolkata, South and North 24 Paraganas with youth shelters and vocational training. It has an integrated child development program in the red light areas of Kolkata as well as a support group for women in prostitution.

Read about the participants, the Bow Bazaar Neighbourhood Journalists, a vibrant group of growing teenagers with great spirit and enthusiasm here.

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The first session put a series of questions to the participants:

“Just like we’ve realized the false/fragmented/skewed stories around different neighborhoods, how do you think other people think or imagine your personal neighborhood? What are the stereotypes surrounding your neighborhood?”

“Do you think it is important to tell the stories of this neighborhood as an insider and resident?”

The participants responded:

The group was amused at how “problems” were the first thing they are asked about Bow Bazaar from outsiders since they live in a red light area. The concluding activity of this introductory session involved the participants to remember the forgotten or ignored stories of their neighborhood and write a brief story/vignette. The stories ranged from incidents of evictions of old neighbors, adolescent love in the back drop of a chai (tea) stall, a girl in the neighborhood being forced into sex work, a heroic brother who pays for his sister’s education and sends her back to school, and a football tournament lost due to a leg injury.

The second day at Bow Bazaar involved filling out profiles of participants, creating personal maps of themselves and of Bow Bazaar.

The day three proceedings included observations and invoking sensory perceptions (sound, smell, light, touch) of Bow Bazaar among the participants. They were also asked to choose a landmark of the locality and describe why it was important for them.

At the end of the day three sessions the participants were able to create interesting postcard vignettes such as this one:

Bow Bazaar Means…

The sound of conversations from the road leading home,
The smell of alcohol,
Bow Bazaar means the sight of fallen, drunk man on the stairs.
Bow Bazaar means feeling coolness on the rooftop of my home.

By Pooja Dolui, Age 13

Please keep an eye on the Diaries Blog (or subscribe to its feed) for more updates from this unique project.

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