The Street Art project is aimed at creating the means for the social inclusion of a disenfranchised group of children who spend a crucial part of their lives on the streets. The objective is to raise their confidence and self- esteem and give them some respite from their harried lives. Sessions take place once every 8-9 days at Khadda market in DHA, Phase 5, Karachi when the St.ART team and volunteers spend an hour making art with the kids.
“Most people can’t even speak to us without yelling and cursing and it makes me angry. So how come you are doing this for us?” questions a 17 year old girl who sells hair clips. She gave us a huge happy smile when she spotted us but didn’t join in the session because her aunt, who works in the market, doesn’t allow it. The young girl can’t seem to fathom why a group of people would take time out to teach kids to draw and paint amongst other educative projects, but appreciates it nonetheless.
The presence of street children is a tragic case of neglect and disregard by societal and Governmental authorities. Working on the streets, the lives they lead are unfit even for adults and instills in them a deep seated resentment against the privileged class, thus raising the chances of them resorting to violence and crime. This emotional volcano has to be recognized and dealt with by giving them a direction by which they can channel their emotions creatively. At times all these children need is a willing ear, a friend who listens to their stories and someone who could teach them to draw flowers and happy faces which are embodiments of the life they would have liked to lead.
The St.ART project began as a spontaneous decision on my part to conduct an art workshop at a school for under privileged children called Sanjan Nagar, in Lahore. The school is based on the premise that children need to be given the tools by which they can discover their talent and their passion. It was in there that I realized how important it was to provide an enjoyable and healthy environment for children from all walks of life. Watching the kids work, I actually felt optimistic about the future of our country.
Knowledge and opportunities to exercise one’s creativity are only given to the children of the upper and upper middle class while the children belonging to an underprivileged background are made to earn a living as soon as they learn to walk and talk. This creates an obscenely enormous mental, creative and emotional gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’- it’s not only grossly unfair, it makes our socio political landscape dangerously divided. Even if the effort involves aiming to bring a few hours of joy to the lives of 20 children out of the estimated 12,000 street children in Karachi alone, it’s a worth a shot.
The project that started off as a social experiment, has now evolved into a regular feature. The St.ART team comprises a group of dedicated professionals who take time out from their own busy careers to teach the children about art, ethics and throw in bits of general knowledge for good measure. What started off as a one person effort has now turned into a organized entity with a core team and volunteers, growing and evolving slowly.
The children know us by names and watching the radiant smiles these children greet us with is the only incentive we need to continue and improve as we go along. One of the girls showed up to one of the sessions singing and dancing. It was the first time she was meeting us. The children have a plethora of stories to tell about the people they see and interact with. One included an uncle who smoked constantly while his nagging wife, nagged and cursed him perpetually. The narrator of this story was a 4 year-old girl named Anaardana. Thanks to her cursing aunt she had learnt a few ‘colourful’ words and could spout them easily with the confidence of an adult. It left us in fits of laughter. Another young boy asked me why we don’t come every day and explained rather sadly that he looks for us at our usual spot every day. His words bore an odd mix of encouragement and heart break for me.
The children are given a goal of earning a few hundred rupees a day and they use their wits to achieve that meager goal. The tragedy is that they have immense amounts of talent and intelligence which could be channelized to achieve so much more. And the hunger to learn and grow, given their circumstances is painful to witness. It doesn’t take a lot to bring about the gleam of happiness in their eyes. The St.ART project is about making them feel like they matter. Many times they have offered us gifts in the forms of flowers as a thank you gesture. Sometimes they even offer food and money. Their generosity and gratitude is all the more precious because they have so little to offer.
More than financial donations, what St.ART actually requires is the giving of time, patience and affection. So if anyone wants to join in please call us. Believe me when I say the experience is truly gratifying.