During my trip to Mumbai in 2009 for our graduate class research project, a few friends and I decided to take upon a bigger challenge than what we were doing. We wanted children to help fix issues in their community by sharing their ideas and stories
In 2009 I went to Mumbai for a class project. Our research revolved around a redevelopment plans that was currently under discussion in Asia's largest slum Dharavi. Our goal was to provide housing government officials the opinions and thoughts about this plan from locals who live and work there as well as provide a building prototype that would help sustain their livelihood. We basically did ethnographic research. We interviewed doctors, tailors, shopkeepers, food vendors, bakers, mothers, fathers, and many other people who called Dharavi their home. What we got was resistance from some people and acceptance from others. Land was definitely an issue that date back to 16th century. Who owns the land is one that is left to be contested.
From this research, five of my classmate and I began questioning and developing an idea that many of us saw and wanted to do. For the three of us this was the first time stepping into a developing country. What we saw in the field impacted our lives and changed our views forever. We saw children walking on top of landfills barefoot. We saw restaurants opened on top of these landfills. We wanted to do something and saw something that was valuable: a children's view.
We titled our pilot program "The Third Eye" because we knew how important building a community is with the involvement of children. They too are part of the community and is sometimes left out of the discussion. They have opinions and ideas just like adults do and we wanted their voices to be heard. We often fail to see their vision and know that they can help shape and solve issues within the community and possibly in city.
We worked in liaison with another NGO who helped gather children in the community to take part of our project and opened a community space for us to use. We created 6 questions for children to respond to either written or drawn. Many of them use their drawing skills. Questions such as "what do you want to be when you grow up?", "how do you get to school?", "what is your favorite place in your house?", "what do you want to see in your community?" were asked to gauge their vision. Once they were done they had the option to talk to us as we video recorded their response. Many were excited by this and wanted to share their story to us. It touched our hearts in many ways.
We knew these children did not have much so we gave them backpacks, notebooks, and markers to thank them for sharing their time. We even got a surprise dance performance from them!
I guess what I want to address and point out is that sometimes we forget that children can help shape our community. Their voice matters too. I think if we all gave children a question about how to restore our community, I'm sure we would come up with ideas that we often forget and overlook as adults. I think creating a design charette would help foster creativity and open ideas because they too are part of this community.