The Revolutionary Optimists takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Kolkata (Calcutta), India where lawyer-turned-activist Amlan Ganguly has created the multi-faceted program Prayasam, which empowers children to improve their communities. With some families working in the brickfields carrying 1500 bricks a day to earn $1.45 –and many of children facing the same (lack of) employment options– Amlan creates schools and afterschool clubs that empowers the children and give them the opportunity to dream, and to make those dreams into a reality.
Through plays, dance, co-ed soccer, and puppet shows, as well as surveying their slum, the children give voice to their neighborhood as a whole as they work for access to clean water, vaccination programs and more. But there are obstacles: An apathetic population, the needs of the children to work when their parents cannot, and the pressure to marry. Despite setbacks, two of the children in Ganguly’s program take a visible part in making the government and media aware of their goals: Salim is chosen to speak before the Indian Parliament and discuss Prayasam’s goals and struggles to obtain a tap for drinking water in their slum (water must hauled from a neighboring slum, and even then it is at times not potable); and Sikha speaks before a national conference on the state of girls in India. Prayasam also mounts polio vaccination drives, turns garbage dumps into playing fields, and conducts education campaigns that have resulted in a significant drop in malaria and diarrhea in their neighborhood.
The 2001 national census of India estimated the total number of child laborers, aged 5–14, to be at 12.6 million, and the majority of them work in jobs considered to be hazardous (9 million children live in the brick fields which provide the construction materials consumed by India’s rapid economic growth). And while there is a government mandate that children aged 6-14 be educated, access to school is limited and children often must work to supplement their families’ income. The problem is especially acute for girls who face familial and cultural pressure to work and/or marry at an early age.
Tonight’s guest, Nicole Newnham, (along with co-director Maren Grainger-Monsen) is a filmmaker in residence at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Bioethics and Film at Stanford University; Dr. Grainger-Monsen, a physician, is also the program’s founder and director.
The Revolutionary Optimists shows the power of children, who, empowered by education, sports, art, data and technology, are making a difference in the world around them, and for the world as a whole. The Revolutionary Optimists opens its theatrical run in New York on Friday March 29th at Cinema Village and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on April 19th, with other cities being added.