Slam Out Loud: The power of art that transforms children’s lives in India and beyond

Slam Out Loud: The power of art that transforms children’s lives in India and beyond

Young social entrepreneur Jigyasa Labroo founded Slam Out Loud in 2017 with a mission to give impoverished children everywhere a voice that empowers them to change their circumstances. Now, with a reach across 23 Indian states and 19 countries, her vision is surely coming to light.

‘Slam Out Loud’ is an award-winning non-profit organisation that uses performance and visual arts, such as theatre, storytelling and spoken word poetry, to build creative confidence skills in children from disadvantaged communities. The organisation places professional artists into classrooms across the nation on a one-year placement. Throughout the five-year programme, students are exposed to five art forms and modes of expression. Artists including actresses Dia Mirza, Ira Dubey, Neha Dhupia, Soha Ali Khan, and author Malini Agarwal helped to create arts-based videos during the pandemic to be premiered in classrooms nationwide.

Despite being a fairly young organisation with a lean team, their response to the Covid-19 pandemic and execution of strategic partnerships has led them to bring the magic of arts to over 4.7 million children across the world.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with co-founder Jigyasa to find out the motivations behind the organisation, how she went about creating such an extensive reach during the pandemic, and why she thinks it’s important for the global diaspora to get behind such initiatives.

Safe spaces for expression

As a child, Jigyasa was encouraged to sing, dance, paint and write, and she had a great many powerful experiences using creative mediums to express herself. Upon finishing her education, she worked in the organisational development space before joining the ‘Teach for India’ fellowship.

Deeply passionate about social justice and equal opportunity, Jigyasa’s choice to teach was influenced by her innate calling to better the circumstances of impoverished communities. When she started teaching in classrooms across India, it became obvious that academia was the primary focus for her students, and discovering their passion or acknowledging their mental wellbeing was not a priority.

“The idea of safe spaces for expression for children is something that's really important to me. The lack of it because apparent when I started teaching low-income communities. They had absolutely no access to any art or artistic opportunity, and there were no spaces where they were able to express how they felt, and that felt like a problem.”

Zero hours of arts-based education

She investigated the problem deeper and found that even in big metropolitan cities like Delhi, the ratio of art teachers to children was one to 1400, which translates to less than 20 hours of art-based education for children who go to public school, “one of the most progressive education systems in the capital”. By that same token, she found that children studying in rural areas in India had zero hours of art-based education in a year and to her that felt like a disservice to a civilisation and culture that holds creativity in such high regard.

“Slam Out Loud really started as a project in my own classroom where I brought in music and poetry. There's this one particular incident where my co-fellow, Gaurav, who later became my co-founder, and I were in Kashmir and we were delivering a workshop in a low-income, heavily conflicted area. We began as we always do by asking the children to write a poem about their emotions. On this particular day, in that school, the only emotions that children chose to write about were confusion, anger, sadness, hurt and hatred. Both of us felt quite helpless in that moment, but it showed to us how impactful our work could be. We knew then that it wasn't just 'good to have', but it was a 'must have'.”

Last year they pledged to implement their "Voice for All" rural project across UP, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which engaged over 50,000 children. In collaboration with Pratham charity, they worked with a thousand villages, including Nokhelal Kheda, Bhaumau, Daulat Kheda and Subedar Kheda in Unnao, to provide e-learning theatre resources and an opportunity to showcase their talents on a global platform.

“Agency is a real game-changer for the children who come from the backgrounds that we serve. We hope that the skills we equip them with will allow them to have better outcomes in life. We have seen many success stories where children are able to translate these skills from performance settings to other aspects of their lives.”

Persevering in the pandemic

Despite Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, Jigyasa and her team have managed to scale their work and reach considerably during the pandemic. While in-person workshops haven’t been possible for most of 2020, they have made the most of the virtual e-learning world to deliver resources and video content to their students.

They have leveraged strategic partnerships within the government, entertainment and non-profit sectors to reach 4.7 million children across the world. Partners include the governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, and even World Bank who researched ‘Slam Out Loud’ for a global case study which amplified their work worldwide.

Message for global diaspora

“It’s not an Indian thing to not be expressive. We’ve really copied the individualist culture of the West, which tends to only value that which can be calculated in terms of money. Our expectations of our children have, as a result, changed drastically.

“Arts education doesn’t just upskill in the individual. As a society, if we invest in creativity, we will surely see that we are able to succeed in all other aspects of life. It allows everyone to have a seat at the table.

“We’ve forgotten the values that were precious to our indigenous culture, such as creativity and community. In ancient India, communities were designed to allow each member of a community to express themselves freely in their own way. It’s time we remember that and bring it back.”

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