Imagine living in a place where you have to walk an hour, sometimes two, just to collect safe drinking water for you and your family. A place where an open canal of sewage, pesticides, trash, litter, automobile pollution, and a plethora of harmful bacteria run dangerously close to your home. A place where politicians seem to only care about the issues of the marginalized during the month of the local elections, and the journey to school each day- if you are so lucky- could take hours. Now imagine this story taking place currently in the tenth largest city in the world, with not only a few but millions of people sharing this experience.
Since 1996, Amlan Kusum Ganguly and his team at Prayasam have attempted to not only aid the marginalized in these slum communities, but to also provide lasting solutions that pick up the slack where the government has been inadequate. Salt Lake City Prayasam, an NGO located in Kolkata, India, works in a holistic manner to provide resources to those whom are in need of it the most. The staff at Prayasam teach computer literacy courses, English “tuition” lessons, organize community action oriented festivals and marches, in addition to sports, dance, and music activities.
One of the most recent developments that has arisen out of the NGO has been its partnership with Matt Berg of the Millennium Villages Project at Columbia University. Utilizing about a dozen smart-phones, the youth that volunteer and intern for the NGO canvas their communities gathering data about health, political promises and more.
Furthermore, since their community had not previously been listed on Google Maps, they decided that they would make a map of their community themselves. Through a project known as Map Your World, the youth began utilizing GIS mapping technologies within the smart-phones and digital cameras. As a result, the community teams have been able to successfully track polio vaccinations, government sponsored trash pick-ups, as well as water sources and other essential information.
Recently, their work garnered the attention of a pair of documentary filmmakers from Stanford University and the Sundance Institute. Released earlier this summer, the film, The Revolutionary Optimists, follows their successes and struggles as they work to spread the word about the change that each person can enact. They have also been featured on TEDxChange 2012, a recent interview with HuffPost Live, and at the Skoll Urban Forum in the UAE.