In a tiny room in Dharavi, a Christmas tree made out of waste material greets you as children sit around it working on laptops or studying. There is palpable excitement in the room – in the first week of January 2015, an app for women’s security, known as Women Fight Back, is expected to go live on the Google Play Store.
The room, in which they designed the app over 90 days, has served as an alternate reality to these children as they set aside a few hours every day to change the way things work in Dharavi —Asia’s largest slum — with the use of technology.
“Our parent’s weren’t comfortable sending us out alone. This is when we thought of developing an app that could help provide somebody’s location in case of emergency and give out a sound alert also,” said Kusum Verma, 10, one of the girls who helped creating the app along with Anjusa Madiwal, Mehak and Rani. The average age of the girls is between 10 and 15.
Meanwhile, Roshni Shaikh (13), speaks confidently about the app created by her and two other girls from the area called ‘Padai Hai Mera Hak’ which aims at promoting the concept of education among girls. “In Dharavi, girls are not encouraged to study. Instead they are encouraged to get married young or help their mothers in chores. We want to change this. My parents are proud of what I am doing. I want to make more such apps,” she said.
There are four screens to this app that was created by using MIT App Inventor.
“The ‘Padai Hai Mera Hak’ has four screens, which include two for learning English and Hindi alphabets, one for learning mathematics and another to call a doctor in case of an emergency,” said 11-year-old Kiran Verma. The app logo was put together on MS-Paint.
The third app, Pani Mera Jeevan, is aimed to reduce the fights that happen over turns for filing up water. “The app is aimed at providing information on whether dirty or clean water is coming and providing number system for providing water so women don’t fight over water,” said Fauziya Aslam, who studies in an Urdu medium school in Mahim. All the prototypes were made by the children within three months. “We come from school and head here. Then we play football from 4.30 pm onwards,” said Maidwal. On Christmas Day, they all went out to watch the Aamir Khan-starrer PK and had a ‘big party.’
Nawneet Ranjan, a filmmaker who works out of San Francisco and Mumbai, brought these children together. In 2012 he made a short film, Dharavi Diaries, before dedicating his time to educating the children of Dharavi this year. “Most of them aren’t taught (to use) computers in school. This room in Dharavi was their first exposure to the online world. For right now, we have six laptops that I bought after enlisting the help of family and friends,’’ he said.
The group initially had 20 girls and now there are 40. The girls have learnt to make Power Point presentations, use MS Excel sheets and MS Paint.
Ranjan hopes that the girls can participate in the ‘Technovation’ competition next year. The international competition held in the US invites entries in the form of technology projects from children across the world. A selected few make a pitch to investors and the winners see their apps launched. Ranjan is trying to raise funding in this regard.