It is usually said that the courage to speak your heart out is empowering. While childhood is characteristic of vitality and unfettered imagination, the educational system often does not include arts as a must-have in their curriculum. Due to the mundane rote learning system, the reservoir of creativity possessed by children is often left to decay. This problem was apprehended by Jigyasa Labroo, a Teach For India alumnus during her experience as a class teacher for two years in a government school in Delhi. She realized that there was no space for children to experience themselves freely. On the other hand, growing up in an artistic family, Jigyasa’s exposure to music, painting and poetry acclimatized her to the colourful world of the arts and culture. Along with her passion for arts, Jigyasa actively volunteered for social causes since childhood. Battling with the dilemma of whether she should secure a stable income with her engineering degree or explore the social sector where her true heart lied, Jigyasa naturally opted for the latter.
With her deep-rooted love for teaching, combined with her undying adoration for travelling, Jigyasa travelled across different parts of the country to observe and integrate alternative educational spaces. In the course of her solo excursions, Jigyasa reached out to thousands of children by conducting workshops on spoken word poetry. She became aware of the diverse range of feelings children expressed. During this stint, she observed, that when she took a workshop in Shillong, most of the students wrote about joy and laughter, on the other hand when she took a workshop in a low-income school in Kashmir, the children mostly wrote about anger and sadness. It was this experience in Kashmir that left a deep imprint on Jigyasa. This ignited her determination to provide children with a safe space to express themselves. And with this purpose in mind, Jigyasa along with another co-fellow from Teach for India, Gaurav Singh, started ‘Slam out Loud’ with an objective to create a learning experience for underprivileged children rooted in context through poetry, theatre, visual arts, and storytelling.
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Slam Out Loud, which initially started as a project four years ago, is now a registered organisation. The duo believes in the power of deep and unflinching intervention in the lives of children who formerly weren’t given an opportunity to nurture their creativity. To develop the essential feature of confidence in these children, Slam Out Loud provides a stage for these children to perform in front of others. “We focus on building relevant life skills, such as collaboration, communication, and gratitude through the arts. It is one thing to just talk and explain certain things to children. But explaining something through arts is an actual experience of it. The effect of art to explain issues is more comprehensive and meaningful.” states Jigyasa. Slam Out Loud challenges the idea that marks in science and mathematics stands as a primary indicator of a child’s potential whereas arts are considered only as a sidelined hobby. This organisation works towards incorporating the conventional 21 st century skills such as teamwork, leadership and empathy into mainstream academics through the arts.
Slam Out Load also runs a volunteer program called Jijivisha Fellowship. Through this program, highly motivated individuals are placed in various learning centres across the Delhi-NCR regions for a period of one year. These individuals are specialized in different art forms such as spoken word poetry, storytelling and theatre. The Jijivisha fellows facilitate the journey of the children towards blossoming into talented and confident individuals. Currently, there are 30 learning centres mapped across 30 government schools and non-profits. “On average, the amount of exposure students in governments schools get for arts is just 19 hours every year. The ratio of art teachers to those who teach other subjects is 1: 1400. However, we at Slam Out Loud focus on each of our students individually. These children engage in artistic pursuits for about 144 hours every year.” explains Jigyasa. Slam Out Loud has played a role in the lives of more than 6,500 underprivileged students and collaborated with around 100 artists. There is a positive retention rate of the students at 80%. The children have produced about 15,000 original pieces of artwork.
A testament to the success of Slam Out Loud’s mission is the fact that the children are being invited to perform their art pieces at renowned art fests. This year, 10 children from Slam Out Loud performed at the second edition of the Spoken Fest in Mumbai. The children were given a platform to encompass their feelings through highly laudable poetry, storytelling and theatre. Anjali, a student of Slam Out Loud for almost four years was one of the performers at the fest who produced an excellent piece on the theme of her childhood. Talking about her journey at Slam Out Loud, she says, “The act of self-reflection has been one of the most significant learning experiences at Slam Out Loud. We get so much time to be with ourselves, but we also come together as a group and brainstorm on different topics which we never discussed. I’ve also realized the power of gratitude. If you see something good in someone, you should just tell them. It’s important.”
Highlighting the importance of their objective, Jigyasa says, “Advocating for the inclusion of arts in mainstream education is our big picture purpose. Starting this organisation was more of a need than a dream. Through my experience, the most important thing I believe in is the power of love. No matter who you are engaging with, to show love and care can change a person’s life and that’s what we are trying to do at Slam Out Loud.” Recently, the organisation has opened a learning centre in Kashmir. This year, Slam Out Loud plans to expand their outreach to rural areas by spreading local art forms. Along with conducting workshops in rural areas, its aim is to utilise e-learning resources in vernacular languages to expand its outreach.
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