Talent on Tap


One of the wonderful things about working on cool service projects is that you tend to meet others who are also working on cool service projects. When people hear about Friends Without Borders, they often say, “You should really meet so-and-so. They are working on something you would find interesting.” If we have time, or if it seems there may be a synergy between our projects, we usually try to meet.

Yesterday we met a very inspiring young guy, Irshad Alam, who runs a program called Talent in Old Delhi. The project, which is affiliated with Room to Read, aims at increasing functional literacy, imparting life skills, and prolonging school attendance among kids who have the highest dropout rate in the metro area. “The kids here say, ‘Why do we need to go to school? We will never have big jobs, only small jobs like shopkeeper or worker.’ So they leave school and become child labor.”

Irshad uses a curriculum driven by music and the theater arts to keep the children interested in the learning process. Irshad’s is, himself, an actor and musician, specializing in mime and physical theater. His skills seem to transfer easily to his students. So do his ideals of pluralism and intercommunal harmony.

The old walled city is a predominantly Muslim area, dominated by the beautiful Jama Masjid. But it is also home to many Hindus, Sikhs, and others. The students at Talent come from all backgrounds, and they are encouraged to dig deeply into each other’s religious and cultural heritages. Every Muslim child we met at Talent could sing Hindu prayers and bhajans in Sanskrit; every Hindu child could chant Islamic prayers and verses from the Koran.

Old Delhi is one of the magical urban places in all of India, and its contrast with the broad-avenued soullessness of New Delhi probably enhances its allure. Its lanes are so narrow that bicycle rickshaws are the large, traffic-choking vehicles of the neighborhood. Every aperture in every gully brims with commercial activity. The non-vegetarian food vendors of Old Delhi are legendary.

Irshad is using the rich history of the old walled city as way of engaging his non-formal students in the learning process. “This place has an ancient past,” he says, “but also a future. I want these kids to understand the place where they live and appreciate it.” The kids of talent are currently undertaking a fascinating mapping project of the old city, which entails researching and writing essays about the derivation and significance of the names of each of the myriad lanes and gullies of the ward. “Many of the names go back to Mughal times,” Irshad explains, “but others are more recent. They all have stories, and they kids are learning those stories.”

One of the projects on the horizon for the kids from Talent is to collect oral histories from the elders of the neighborhood. “There are old people here who have seen and experienced many things,” says Irshad. He wants his students to continue the process of interviewing them, begun with the mapping project, to capture the full richness of their stories. He would like for the kids to be able to photograph the old city, to capture each subtle texture of its fabric. He also wants them to record their interviews with the city elders on video tape. His problem is one of technology, and of resources: his program has neither cameras, nor the money to buy them.

So here’s a chance for those of you with old digital cameras and camcorders sitting in your cupboards, growing dust and becoming steadily more obsolete, to turn that equipment into tools for good. Send your discarded (but functional) cameras to: Irshad Alam, Talent, 1784 Turkman Gate, Main Bazaar, Delhi 110 006. You can transform a child into a historian.


1 Response to “Talent on Tap”

  1. 1 swati kumar 26 February 2008 at 12:47 am

    Hello IRSHAAD SIR,
    This is SWATI…..remember me??

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