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Revolutionary optimists bring their message to UNICEF

By Priyanka Pruthi

Young activists armed with loudspeakers and mapping devices go from door to door, looking to transform the slums of Kolkata.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 3 April 2013 – Armed with loudspeakers and mapping devices, young activists who call themselves ‘the Daredevils’ have amplified the concerns of their communities in Kolkata’s slums loudly enough for the world to hear.

They call themselves 'the Daredevils'. Young activists from Kolkata's slums are changing their community, one household at a time. Their stories are captured in the film The Revolutionary Optimists, which was screened and discussed at UNICEF New York headquarters.  Watch in RealPlayer


The teenagers are subjects of the feature film The Revolutionary Optimists, which was screened at UNICEF headquarters in New York.

Changing lifestyles, door to door

“Revolutionary Optimists is part of a larger story of innovation, collaboration and a strategic approach to both technology and communications that is transforming the way in which we meet the challenges of global health and development,” said Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Geeta Rao Gupta.

The film tracks the journey of teenagers brought together and trained by Amlan Ganguly, a lawyer turned social entrepreneur, and founder of the NGO Prayasam.

Salim Shekh and Sikha Patra, both 14, are among the children featured in the film. Going from door to door in the slums of Kolkata, they say, they’ve managed to double the immunization rate for polio in their neighbourhood – which now stands at 80 per cent.

© UNICEF Video
Sikha Patra, 'Daredevil' and advocate for girls' rights and vaccines, and Salim Shekh, 'Daredevil' and advocate for clean water, seen here in the film The Revolutionary Optimists.

“My main work is to organize children in different slum communities so that they can bring about lifestyle changes within their own community,” explains Mr. Ganguly. “The focus is on preventive health, education and environment.

Children are more transparent and open-minded, and I don’t consider them as the future citizens – they are the citizens of today. They hold 40 per cent of our population, so they shouldn’t be the recipient only – they should be the contributors, too.”

Real-life heroes

The Daredevils began by mapping their neighbourhood on paper, as the area was not mapped at all. Today, with help from smart phones, they’re able to track every single household for vaccinations and collect data about the problems their community faces.

“They are the real-life heroes in their communities who are fighting for basic rights, clean water, polio vaccines and other access to their fundamental rights...[T]heir determination even took them to the Indian parliament. Out of millions of children, UNICEF pushed for these children to testify along with our Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake about the lack of potable water in their communities. The spirit and action of Salim and Sikha and other children featured in this film embody what UNICEF is about,” said Ms. Gupta.

© UNICEF Video
At the screening, Amlan Ganguly, Founder and Executive Director of NGO Prayasam, whose work inspired The Revolutionary Optimists, talks about the importance of giving children a voice and a role in changing their society.

Sikha joined the Daredevils four years ago and has since risen to become one of the most powerful voices in her community on girls’ rights. She says their strength as a team lies in their ability to access people of all ages: “The young generation is very strong. Children can go to every house, make new friends and talk about different issues. Every one, of every age, is comfortable with young boys and girls.”

Revolutionary optimists

With their determination and enthusiasm, the Daredevils have made deep inroads in changing mindsets and improving the health and sanitation conditions in their community. And The Revolutionary Optimists presents the visible impact of Mr. Ganguly and his organization that places children at the frontline of battles in health and development.

“Poverty lies in your head, not in your hands,” says Mr. Ganguly. “[S]o I always tell [the children] that, if you have the will, there will be way.

“Don’t succumb to your surroundings; make the surroundings your product.”



Photo Essay: Reaching every child

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