Monsoon Progress

This monsoon has been marked with achievements and challenges as we begin the groundwork for Neighbourhood Diaries. We’ve spent the last two months (August and September) setting up the infrastructure for ND – from staff, to partners, to neighborhoods.

It took us quite some time to select the right team of educators for Neighborhood Diaries. August and September were spent looking at applications and facilitating interviews. After meeting many individuals – we are privileged to have Urbi Bhadhuri and Bina Dalui. Both Urbi (a post-graduate in literature from Jadavpur University, experience in alternative education work in West Bengal and Rajasthan, and a passionate to create spaces of writing in Calcutta) and Bina (formerly a poetry workshop participant in Kalam and an activist around issues of women and child rights) are hired on as Kalam staff and will be leading Diaries as workshops begin in November.

We’ve been meeting with various local ngos and community based organizations exploring options for supporting partners and suitable neighborhoods to launch Diaries. Keeping in mind that Diaries is a pilot project we finally decided that is best to work with partners we have strong, trustworthy relationships. We are planning to work with Sanlaap and DIKSHA. Sanlaap is an anti-trafficking organization committed to ending violence against women and children. Working in West Bengal over decades now, Sanlaap has shelter homes for survivors of trafficking and community drop-in-centers for youth at risk to violence. In Sanlaap’s Bow Bazaar community drop-in-center, Kalam will begin Diaries.

The second group – DIKSHA – remains tentative for the time being. Although they are partner we would like to work with and while they are interested in the project, there are two challenges we are still negotiating: 1) the set up of a safe blog station and 2) language of instruction. DIKSHA – is a small and budding grassroots organization working with youth on identity and rights in different urban slums throughout the city. DIKSHA is keen on implementing Diaries in Khidderpore – a Hindi and Urdu speaking dominated neighborhood. Diaries therefore would be facilitated and experienced in Hindi instead of Bangla. While this is an exciting prospect for Diaries to consider (especially in terms of diversifying language and readership), it also means having greater resources and time for its implementation. The second challenge is the set up of a 24 hour safe, blog station. DIKSHA’s community drop-in-center is a rented from the greater Khiddderpore community. Conversations with DIKSHA continue to see if we can work out these crucial details to begin our work.

As the initial groundwork for Diaries takes place, we are considering an important shift in timeline. Workshops are scheduled to start post Durga Puja (Kolkata’s most famous and extravagant festival), hence, first week of November will mark our first session. However, instead of beginning work in two neighborhoods simultaneously we are considering beginning facilitating Diaries workshops simultaneously. Keeping in mind Kalam’s working capacity as a budding organization, planning for safe blog stations, and exploring options for Hindi workshop, we think it will be more effective to work with group consecutively. Through facilitating workshops consecutively we can work with greater focus on the dynamics and nuances of each particular neighborhood, and we can also evolve the challenges our first neighborhood workshop into strengths for our second neighborhood workshop.

This is where we are for the time being. The curriculum is coming to life slowly. Stay tuned for more updates by us. We plan to be around.

The old Neighbourhood of Bow Bazaar

Bow Bazaar is an old, bustling neighbourhood in Central Calcutta stretching along Bipin Behari Street to Mahatma Gandhi Road, between the city’s old college district and primary train station, Sealdah. This locality is bustling with a market of jewelers, carpenters, and musical instrument craftsmen, and is also made of crooked alleys and lanes — notorious for being home to one of the city’s red-light areas and famous for being city’s oldest Chinatown.

This vibrant locality is the first site where Kalam will be implementing Neighbourhood Diaries. In partnership with Sanlaap, a local human rights organization, Neighborhood Diaries will begin work with 12 young resident living in the locality’s red-light area starting the first week of November.

Sanlaap has been working in Bow Bazaar’s redlight area for over a decade now. It established an after-school youth community center at the local Bow Bazaar High School where youth from the surrounding slums and redlight areas attend after-school academic support classes, creative art classes, other youth empowerment programs.

Neighbourhood Diaries will be setting up a studio in Bow Bazaar High School as an evening program for youth associated with Sanlaap. Presently, conversations continue with Sanlaap on youth selection, computer safety, and the mobilizations of community involvement. Thus far it has been determined that Neighbourhood Diaires will take place once a week with a group of 16-19 year olds.

With more logistics cemented in the coming week, we are eager to start workshops after Durga Puja, and see how youth journalists will give voice to Bow Bazaar.