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Meet the Tech Girls of Dharavi: a group of girls from Asia’s largest slum, right in the heart of Mumbai, solving pressing, real world problems with the help of technology. As part of the Dharavi Diary – a slum innovation project that helps children use technology to become change-makers in their society – these girls have learned how to code and have built apps that tackle crucial issues faced by both their neighborhood and the city at large.
The project was started by filmmaker Nawneet Ranjan in 2014. His connection to the neighborhood goes back to 2012 when he shot a documentary film called Dharavi Diary on life in the slum. The documentary focused on various issues faced by the slum residents, and was screened at festivals around the world.
In 2014, after noticing that female children and young girls in the neighborhood face additional disadvantages due to social barriers, Ranjan felt compelled to move to Dharavi from San Francisco out of where he was based. Worried that their unfavorable circumstances had caused children in the neighborhood to lose aspirations and ambition, he sought to persuade them of the potential power of technology in changing the long-existing status quo.
Ranjan set up a computer lab in 2014 to teach the children how to code, using the open source tool MIT App Inventor, as well as taking help from online video tutorials. The girls were also introduced to Technovation Challenge, a global technology entrepreneurship program that invites teams of girls from around the world to learn and apply the skills needed to solve problems through technology.
Among the many apps built by the young girls is Andoid app Women Fight Back, which aims at making women in the city feel safer with features such as SMS alerts, location mapping and the ability to place emergency calls to contacts. Other innovative apps include the Padhai (Studies) app, which offers lessons and tutorials for those who cannot go to school, and the Paani hai Jeevan (Water is Life) app, which seeks to address water scarcity and management problems by streamlining the water collection process from the neighborhood tap. Another app in the making will enable people to report cases of child labour. Along similar lines, most of the apps built from the program cater to problems faced by the young girls and other residents of Dharavi.
When parts of the slum, including property belonging to the project, were destroyed by a fire in January 2016, Ranjan and his students organized a successful crowd funding program to raise money for reconstruction.