Poetry in Motion – Using Spoken Word to Change Lives
Jigyasa Labroo is the founder of Slam Out Loud, an initiative through the Arts for Social Change India (ASCI). She’s an Alumna of the Teach For India Fellowship and resides in Delhi.
Your organization, Slam Out Loud, nurtures young poets and spoken word artists. How have you seen this work benefit people?
I co-founded Slam Out Loud to provide access to art-based learning to individuals from at-risk communities: children, youth, and prisoners. We nurture storytellers, poets and theatre artists to enable people to discover their voices through arts. Our students develop their own spoken word poetry in the language of their choice, be it Hindi, English, Bhojpuri or Nepali!
Since I absolutely love this work, and see myself growing in skill and compassion, I think the biggest beneficiary here is actually myself! But one example that comes to mind is Pooja. Years ago, when I was a Teach For India Fellow, she entered my class sixth grade class. Most of the students were very bold. She was painfully shy and wouldn’t interact. Until one day, we decided to write poetry as part of an assignment for Slam Out Loud, and she got really excited. Since any language was allowed, she wrote a Hindi poem, which got a lot of applause in class. She used to write a lot of Hindi poetry so I took her to places where she could perform. She really carved a new identity for herself in the classroom as a poet. Most importantly, she was able to replicate that success in her academics. She started being more open and participative. By the end of that year, she stood second in the class from being at the very bottom. The next year she cleared the Prathibha exam and now studies in the Pratibha school. She now travels alone in Delhi to come to Slam Out Loud workshops and helps others with their poetry and traveling across town. It’s such an incredible turnaround!
This is what I want for all kids: to dream bigger, achieve more and create the future. Slam Out Loud conducts 45+ performing arts workshops in the poorest of Delhi’s communities every month with 22 beautiful artists. Our students teach other children and have even been in TEDx talks!
What inspired you to dedicate yourself to this?
When I was a kid, I was a pain in class. I was a back bencher. Teachers told my mom that I was a child who had “no hope”. Because I was very introverted I took to poetry. My mom noticed and one day took me to a mushaiyara (an urdu poet) and became really interested. I read out one of my poems and he appreciated it. The next day, I was in the newspaper for my recital on that day and I felt so proud about being celebrated. I even won Rs.100! That experience made me more engaged as a student while igniting a passion. I tried to recreate that in my classroom. I told myself, “if I have 60 students, I’ll have to find 60 things–one to make each student feel accepted and appreciated for something.”
While I was a Fellow, whenever I had a long weekend, I would travel. On these trips I visited alternate schools in places like Kashmir, Sikkim and Kalimpong and the only thing I had to offer these kids was spoken word poetry. Through all of these excursions I ended up working with 3,000 kids across the country. I noticed that children in Sikkim were writing poems about really happy things: joy, laughter, happiness. Whereas a lot of low-income children in Kashmir were writing about sadness and anger. I began to understand what they were feeling and realized that there needs to be a space for every child to express themself.
I feel that finding your voice should not be a marker of only the privileged class. These beliefs and experiences pushed me to make arts-based learning the focus of my career.
What have you observed about gender on this journey?
Entrepreneurship, especially being a social entrepreneur has exposed me to the realities of the sector, where again, most founders are male. Entrepreneurship, in itself, is seen as a risky life choice associated with men. The representation of other genders is even lower. I also don’t recall pitching to women, which speaks to the male power structure. Through my day to day work, I have also realised how harmful gender stereotyping is for men. I’ve seen that boys are discouraged from exploring the arts or talking about their feelings, which can lead to problems later in life.
How can education make a difference in the world? How can someone who isn’t a teacher or educator contribute?
I think the bets we place on education today will have the most enduring impact. Most of the challenges that we have in our country go back to the way we raise our children up. Everyone is in a position to contribute, because they don’t have any say in being role models for the younger people around them. What you do directly influences those around you. Choosing every day, to be fair, to be compassionate, to be more aware is one way to make a difference.
The other way to help is volunteering time or resources towards any cause that resonates with you. If it’s education, find out more about Teach for India, Slam out Loud, or the many other organizations that could give you access to opportunities that improve the community around.
What’s the best way to stay engaged and inspired personally?
By working with children directly. No matter what level of management I am at, I feel that working with children connects me to our purpose. The second would be through vipassana meditation every day. It helps me cut off and lower the stakes and expand my heart to more and more people. I can’t separate my life into personal and professional, to be honest. It’s all the same: personal, professional, political!
To learn more about Teach For India, visit www.teachforindia.org.
To apply for the 2018-2020 Fellowship, submit your application at apply.teachforindia.org by March 25th, 2018.