COMMUNITY LEADERS: Sikha Patra, Salim Shekh and the water tap in Nehru Colony near Ultadanga
A dinner date with Melinda Gates in Seattle, addressing Unicef officials in New York, meeting executives of Google. Pixar and Adobe in Silicon Valley, and making speeches in Abu Dhabi with Bill Gates and crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the audience.
All in a month’s work for Salim Shekh and Sikha Patra. The two teenagers, who just finished their Madhyamik exam, live in Nehru Colony near Ultadanga where they work as community leaders.
But ask them about their biggest achievement and they point to the taps in their neighbourhood from where drinking water has started flowing after years of a campaign that they spearheaded. The supply, which started a month ago, will remain a trickle till the under-construction tank to hold the Tallah Palta water works supply is ready near Golaghata. “But it’s a start,” they say of the 90 minutes of drinking water now available daily.
So long, the water in their taps had so much iron that people of the colony had to queue up before dawn at a faraway tap for potable water. That is the sequence with which The Revolutionary Optimists — the film now taking them to the US — starts, Salim and Sikha accompanying their mothers with buckets in the faint glow of the street lights.
The Revolutionary Optimists, as Metro had reported earlier, is a documentary film produced by Stanford University focusing on the way the NGO Prayasam is empowering children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods to bring about a change in their community. Salim and Sikha are two such community leaders. The film, which premiered at the International Film Festival of India in Goa last November, will now have multi-city screenings in the US with Salim, Sikha and the founder of Prayasam Amlan Ganguly in attendance. On Saturday, the trio will take the flight to New York as guests of Stanford University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Salim and Sikha’s fairy-tale trip starts with a Tribeca Youth Screening, organised by the Robert De Niro-Jane Rosenthal-Craig Hatkoff-founded Tribeca Film Institute in New York. “Children here have been inspired by the Map Your Community project that Salim and Sikha’s group used to campaign for water and are doing the same to highlight their lack of access to fresh food,” Nicole Newnham, the university’s film-maker in residence with Emmy-nominated documentaries to her credit, said over phone from California.
With the breakthrough in getting drinking water supply, the film went back to the edit table two weeks ago to put in pictures that Sikha had taken of the water line being dug. “It is not a film on poverty but an answer to poverty and people will walk out of the theatre filled with hope and awe,” Nicole added.
Other than screenings at the Unicef headquarters and Stanford University, a high point would be an interview by Melinda Gates at TedxChange in Seattle which would be webcast. TedxChange is an annual event hosted by the Gates Foundation to enable discussions on global health and development. The request for Salim and Sikha’s presence came from the Gates Foundation. “I am worried about how they would tackle her American accent but they are so confident,” says Ganguly. The trip would end at Abu Dhabi on April 24-25 where all three would speak at the Global Vaccine Summit, organised by the crown prince, United Nations and the Gates Foundation, after screening a clip of the film on Salim’s work to make his colony polio-free.
Salim and Sikha have been checking out the Statue of Liberty, streets of New York and their hotel on the Net. “Years ago on their introduction to Google Map on our office computer, they had wanted to see their colony and found the space blank. That disappointment set them off on their mapping project, to create an identity for their colony in cyberspace,” says Ganguly. They have carved out a bigger identity for themselves in the process.
Ask Melinda Gates.