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Young advocates of change & hope

Do adults listen to you, was one of the first questions the pint-sized stars faced as soon as the film screening ended at American Center.

The audience were about the same age as the main characters in Revolutionary Optimists, a documentary film by Stanford University on Amlan Ganguly of NGO Prayasam and his efforts to turn children from colonies and brickfields into change-makers.

Sikha Patra and Salim, the “stars” of the film, were there for the screeening. “Power doesn’t come from having a title or a job. These young people are examples of how anybody can create change,” said Rachel Sunden, deputy director, American Center, with Sikha, Salim and Piyali Mazumdar of Prayasam seated by her.

Asked by students what kind of lessons they were spreading, Salim said they took babies to polio vaccination booths after convincing parents. “We teach mothers the seven steps of hand-washing and ask people not to throw garbage at their doorstep.” The children have even approached the local municipality to spray bleaching powder in the area, for which the civic body sent two workers along. “At first we were not taken seriously but now that the club dadas have seen we mean business, they help us,” Sikha said.

It is not just their neighbours who listen to these teens. Sikha and Salim have addressed audiences in Said Business School, Oxford, done a TedX interview with Melinda Gates in Seattle, attended the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi and refused a scholarship to a public school in the US because that “would take us away from the community we serve”.

Students put in requests for the film to be screened in their respective schools. “In the film we saw how a girl got married underage. Awareness needs to be built against this. Each of us can teach one kid in the neighbourhood,” said Anusha Banerjee of DPS Newtown. Sharmila Ganguly of Garden High International School was fascinated with the way the Prayasam kids spread messages through puppetry and street play.

“Youngsters are bubbling with enthusiasm. It is for us to harness the energy and give them the direction,” said Mazumdar, watching Sikha and Salim surrounded by admiring peers.