Courtesy of Humara Bachpan
“What they make is their dream aspirational map,” says Aishwarya Das Pattnaik, a staff member of Humara Bachpan, the organization leading the campaign.
Humara Bachpan has been advocating for child-led development since 2012. It has organized mapping campaigns in a handful of major urban centers, including Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad. (According to Citiscope, approximately 325 child clubs have been established across the country, with plans to expand.) The initiative mixes activism with adolescent fun; new friendships are made, hands are covered in ink, and leadership and planning skills are nurtured. But this is also serious work, as the long-term health of India’s slums may depend on these maps. As Das Pattnaik notes, children can pinpoint community needs that go unnoticed by adults.
She cites the example of public sanitation infrastructure, which is a glaring concern for the 65 million urbanites—that’s about eight times the population of New York City—that live in slums across India. To combat sanitation woes, the scale of public toilets needs to dramatically grow. But if the bottoms of young slum dwellers do not fit on the new toilet seats, the improvement to public health is marginal. “A child could easily fall into the toilet,” Das Pattnaik told me. On many of the child maps, therefore, dots appear indicating where child-specific public toilets should go.