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Posted at: Dec 2, 2017, 2:10 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2017, 2:10 AM (IST)

Making sense of scrap

Children’s Scrappy News Service has kids taking on India’s biggest problems from their quirky newsrooms

Ashima Sehajpal Batish

Chances are that you’ll miss the metallic mouse hovering on the homepage of Children’s Scrappy News Service. Just like you might not notice, the broken hanger substituting the antenna of the TV set. Or a robot-like bird flying with a banner that has “In the universe of junk, we are in search of the truth” printed on it. Though not intending to do so, the words make for what should be a befitting tagline of the current Indian media, where prime time is slotted for celebrity estranged lovers. 

Run by kids, who aspire to ‘solve India’s biggest problems’, the news service also does a service to adults — “of making them realise that they aren’t doing enough to make the world a better place,” says Padmini Vaidyanathan, director of Children’s Scrappy News Service. A product of Going to School, a Delhi-based NGO, the idea took a tangible shape for a very valid reason.  It’s less philosophical and more realistic, “We wanted kids to develop entrepreneurial skills and learn teamwork.” And you realise they are great at it after watching their videos that force you to play, pause, ponder.

The backgrounder 

It was in 2003 that Going to School was born. Tie-ups with several government schools in Bihar were formalised, and then began “teaching with a difference.” “Not every educated individual can get a job in India, hence we focused on developing their entrepreneurial skills,” adds Lisa. The 

training began with story-telling sessions, a tried-and-tested tool that works well with children. 

On a daily basis, the organisation works with three lakh kids, most of them are from Bihar. It’s from here that they get feedback from children on what should qualify as content of the news service. “We hope that our product serves the same purpose that Sesame Street and The Muppet Show did in America — of educating children but not taking the traditional route to impart it.” 

Content, still the king

In a video shot in Mumbai, three children go around asking people the meaning of scrap. A lot of synonyms come up, both in Hindi and English. In another video, shot in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Bihar, children list the 10 most polluted cities of India. They don’t tell a sob story but state ironies that we might have conveniently ignored. Like, Ludhiana is the 10th most polluted city of India and the largest manufacturer of bicycles. Delhi tops the list and children announce it while standing amid heaps of garbage, vehemently adding, “It is not easy to reach the number one position.” 

“Everything that affects children across India is in the scheme of things. Be it the unavailability of organic, pesticide-free food to kids or absence of playgrounds,” says Lisa Heydlauff, director, Going to School. And it’s not just issues that have videos streaming on the new service, recreational events, too, are covered. A recent addition being Scrappy Race Day that has school students taking part in a car-racing competition, with cars made of scrap. 

Plan next 

The news service has the involvement of 1,500 children in Bihar, the strength is only nine in Mumbai. Padmini says that an MoU with the Maharashtra Government would mean many more participants. Also auditions for news anchors are being conducted in Jalandhar, Punjab. The episodes directed on pollution, healthy street food, etc. will soon be telecast on the channel Rishtey. Also they have a mobile app called scrap. Download it to make the most of scrap around you. 

Web masters

Nothing has pleased the eye in a long time as much as the news service’s website. It’s a riot of colour, quirky elements, so childlike, so vibrant. It was rightly launched on Children’s Day this year, and within minutes, it started trending on Twitter. A slew of celebrities, cricketers, authors,  actors acknowledged its presence, which Padmini says came as a pleasant surprise. “The response was overwhelming. Children were voicing their concerns and the world was paying heed.”  A dedicated design team has created graphics, a welcome break from the usual medium of documentaries to address serious issues. Padmini terms it ‘design-thinking’, “A process of creative problem solving or solution-based approach to solving problems.” The virtual is fascinating; the real isn’t any less fantastic. Children’s newsrooms — be it in Mumbai, Bengaluru or Bihar — are as unconventional. 

In Bengaluru, last month, 22 child-journalists used all that you term scrap — discarded TV sets, tyres, water cans, empty cartons — to build a newsroom. You could even spot tiffin boxes and broken car bumpers. But scrap is used only as hardware, the software or content isn’t scrap. It all fresh, unlike many ‘grown-up’ versions. 

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