It all began in 2014 when Shreya Soni was on her way to watch a movie. At a traffic signal, she met a group of street children (with whom she had already built a rapport and used to often share her food) who asked her where she was headed that day. She clearly remembers that their response to her movie plan was that they had never seen a movie.
“This sentence of theirs stayed with me for weeks and it truly bothered me that in a city like Delhi, these kids had such minimal access to the cultural diaspora,” says Shreya, who has spent one decade in Hyderabad, one decade in New Delhi, half a decade in London and is now back to being a Delhi-dweller.
So instead of sitting on this, the Economic honours graduate decided to set up a learning workshop on an experimental basis and bring the movies to these children, if they couldn’t go there, and thus was born Picture Wala, “a moving entertainment circus that travels to different parts of the country to entertain the kids on streets and slums”.
Aimed at providing disadvantaged children access to mediums like movies, music, sports, stories, theatre, art, craft, and comedy, and help channelise their energy and thoughts towards something meaningful, the Picture Wala organises entertainment workshops that are designed to be effective tools and mediums of subtle education, awareness and inspiration.
“After a screening process and having conversations with the children and their parents, we adopt a basti for 12-18 months. During this period, we organise workshops that would help children develop soft skills,” Shreya says, adding that they have adopted two bastis till date – one near Safdarjung Development Area, and other in Andrews Ganj (both in south Delhi) – and work with children from 4 to 15 years of age.
She, however, adds that they first try to build a relationship with the parents and earn their trust before going ahead with their project in the area. The parents too have full access to their sessions and workshops.
“Initially the parents did not see the benefit of sending their children away for three hours when they could earn some money by begging in that time, and were slightly challenging to convince. But tons of persuasion and reasoning got some parents to cave in and we had 35-40 children at the first Picture Wala movie screening,” Shreya says, adding that the number of children has only increased with every progressive skill building workshop.
Shreya, however, clarifies that they do not impart education to the children and only help children develop social skills. “But if the children need help with their studies, we are always there to help and guide them,” she adds.
Elaborating on the type of movies screened, she says that “the children love watching inspiring movies Iqbal, Hawa Hawai, Bhoothnath, and Fandry, where the underdog comes out as a hero despite his challenging circumstances.” She shares that they were recently also shown Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal, which the children thoroughly enjoyed.
The children are also taken on excursions, and have been to the Science Museum, Delhi Photo Festival and an ISL football match.
Ask her about her experience and association with the children and Shreya says, “It has been a wonderful 18-month association with the children in Andrews Ganj and we will soon be hosting our last workshop of this tenure this month. This has saddened the parents, some of whom have told me how they have observed changes and reforms in their children over time. Some of the kids we have worked with have also shown great improvement at school, which is a wonderful thing.”
“Most of the children used to be shy and kept to themselves initially, but now express themselves with ease and confidence. This was the ultimate goal, and it feels great to achieve it.”
That’s not all, the Picture Wala has also identified five children from the Andrews Ganj who have shown fantastic skills and potential. “We are committed to sponsoring their higher education once they graduate from school,” says Shreya.
To know more about Picture Wala, visit their Facebook page here.