How Dharavi slum girls built apps to solve critical living problems in their locality


Dharavi in Mumbai, the largest slum in the world has become home to some unique innovations over the last two years. A group of teenage girl coders in the slum have developed apps to solve their community’s problems, reports Mashable India.

Image: ( L ) Mashable India ; ( R ) ILTWMT

Girls between eight and sixteen are part of Dharavi Diary, a slum innovation project in Dharavi’s Naya Nagar neighbourhood, started in 2014 by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan. Using the open-source developing tool, MIT App Inventor, the girls have developed several mobile apps to tackle everyday problems like sexual harassment, access to water and education.

Nawneet first got involved with the neighbourhood while shooting a documentary film called Dharavi Diary in 2012. A couple of years later, he moved to Mumbai from San Francisco to work more closely with the community. His aim was to use stories and technology to empower the girls to become change-makers.

“These kids didn’t have dreams and aspirations because they live in such difficult circumstances, with many facing abuse and domestic violence,” Ranjan says. “I tried to get them to understand how technology can be used to make a paradigm shift and challenge the status quo,” Nawneet told Mashable India.

The girls identified a few key problems and then built the apps around them. For instance, the Android app Women Fight Back focuses on women’s safety and has features like SMS alerts, location mapping, distress alarm and emergency calls to contacts. There are several other apps in the pipeline as well. The Padhai app has language lessons and other tutorials to educate girls who don’t get a chance to go to school.

Image: ( L ) CAAM ; ( R ) The Huffington Post

Many of the girls also faced the problem of scarce water supply, and had to fill water from common taps and tanks in the neighbourhood each morning. To tackle this, they built the Paani app to streamline water collection for each household by setting up an online queue that alerts people when it’s their turn to fill water.

The experience has already transformed the lives of girls like 14-year-old Ansuja Madhiwal, who was raised by her mother after her father died in a road accident. Nawneet says that she was depressed and without hope when he met her, but gained tremendous confidence after building the Women Fight Back app. Now, Ansuja hopes to become a computer engineer.

The project also teaches the kids Science, Mathematics and English through experiential activities. For instance, the kids learn English by taking photographs of nouns and pronouns. They also pick up trash from the neighbourhood and see how they can reuse it to make everything from a remote-controlled car to a Xbox. Until now, Dharavi Diary has been running on private funds raised by Nawneet, his friends and from non-profits. The girls also participated in the international Technovation challenge in 2014 to get phones and laptops.

Despite initial reservations, the number of children involved in the project has grown from 15 to over 200 in two years, which includes a few boys as well. The Dharavi Diary slum innovation project’s crowd-funding campaign can be viewed here.

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