Raaji visits Mithi & Chelhar with partners UNESCO & TEA
Do you believe an animated cartoon character can teach more values, solve more problems and make kids more creative? Do you think an animated character can deliver feminist messages of equality and empowerment to a rural audience? Do you think topics considered extremely taboo such as honor, abuse, harassment, menstrual hygiene can be weaved into animated story lines? Do you think animated content could be customized and regionalised in such a way that watching it would make you think, the character was actually YOU?
We were convinced, animated content could do all that and more! We saw a vision in 2017. We called this vision Raaji, a name very common for girls in areas bordering India & Pakistan. We envisioned that Raaji could teach topics no one would tell girls about. Topics considered taboo!
But how would we do it?
Simple, we’d create short animated videos dubbed in various languages featuring our superheroine Raaji, put them on a USB, get a projector and screen them in classrooms all across Pakistan.
This year, our partners UNESCO & Transforming Education Through Arts allowed us to make this vision a reality.
They gave us 5 schools in some of the underprivileged areas of Sindh. They provided us with a local advisor who spoke Dharki and access inside schools in Mithi & Chelhar so we could meet the kids, parents and their teachers.
And away we went from Karachi with Raaji all the way to Thar. The way was tough. After an 8-hour journey, we arrived in the morning to start on our 3 day experiment. Most of the areas were completely inaccessible by car. Most of Thar’s population lives in chaunras, or straw-roofed mud houses.
Now Tharparkar lies in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and since 2011 almost 2,000 children have died under the age of 5. Famine, lack of clean water, high unemployment, forced conversions and marriages and alarming illiteracy rates keep the men, women and children trapped in the area forever.
Half of the village has no electricity.
The women and girls, who are seen dressed beautifully in bangles and colourful duppattas, live the hardest lives. Married early, pregnant too soon, they often give birth to malnourished babies. Their babies grow up not attending school and herding livestock or accompanying their mothers to fetch water many times a day. Even if they do attend school, the ways kids are taught in schools of Thar leaves a whole lot desired. The courses are outdated, and the kids end up hating school.
How could we encourage them to learn, how could we encourage more attendance?
Going in, we knew that animated content had positive effects on brain development and the palette of colours with music boosted children’s cerebral growth. We also knew that children who watch animation are more expressive than those who don’t watch it. With our animated content dubbed in Sindhi and Dharki, a charged portable projector & speakers, we set out to do our first mobile cinema screening of Raaji.
Painfully shy, beautiful little girls sat in the classroom waiting to meet these alien-seeming guests from Karachi.
We greeted them, they couldn’t understand much of what we spoke, but their smiles at our equipment made us sure that they expected nothing short of miracles.
In some areas, we couldn’t even deploy our projector because there was no electricity at all to charge it. So we used our laptop to show the animated series.
For the city, these projectors and laptops may have been ordinary, but for the girls the ability for a picture to be displayed in their own classroom wall was magical. That’s the power of digitisation, with the help of basic technology, we could bring a whole world of knowledge to them. In total, we directly impacted 5 schools with 500 girls and women.
We would love to replicate our experiment in Balochistan, Punjab and KPK. We’d like to develop more animated content and dub it even more languages. We’d love to work with more partners to bring accessible, entertaining and empowering content to all girls and women.
Especially after many of their teachers confided in us that they also faced similar problems and wished that they had access to such content when they were kids. Many of them invited us to meet their families & show more and more of our content.