Written by Ishita Chaudhry for Music Basti, featured at musicbasti.org
Six years ago, I met a young lady over a cup of coffee. A few features of that meeting stand out in my mind. It was early evening; the lady in question was meticulous, interested, with a cool reserve and friendly interest in exploring not just what was, but the possibilities of what could be. Her notebook, stands out in my mind, for no particular reason, other than the fact that I had nothing to write in and wasn’t quite sure what my answers were going to be, to some serious questions about what The YP Foundation was and how we could work together.
But if you know Faith Gonsalves like I have, the questions are always specific. A blend of curiosity mixed with intent, pure purpose, genuine passion and the seriousness of ability in a conversation that will always challenge you to think and then think again. The stakes are always higher with some people when you work, because they raise the bar, by virtue of how they think the picture can be re-crafted to begin with. They bring a new kind of challenge to the work that you do, force you to move outside your comfort box. They help you grow, in immense outspoken, quiet ways.
Close to nine years of working with more than five hundred young people, in the staffing structure of an organization like TYPF that has worked with over five thousand young people over the past nine years, sometimes it is hard to remember each and every contribution made without needing to peer down the books of memory lane.
Yet sometimes, it isn’t hard to remember at all, for people’s presence is marked so clearly by their contributions, their inimitable footprints in the sand.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Faith grow over the past five years. From the moments of having her with us at The YP Foundation as our Administrative Coordinator, to seeing her work as a Peer Educator on a project that addressed understanding the Indian Education System to taking flight with her own editorial venture The Bridge on ‘Understanding Afghanistan’. At TYPF, Faith never lacked initiative, passion or drive. Somewhere, we also began talking about the fact that she felt that what she was doing wasn’t enough. She felt more, I think, for more and the current picture was incomplete, inconsistent, it needed exploration, challenging and possibly, so did she.
We had some strong turbulent times working together. There is an irrevocable, irreversible bond you create with someone when you build with them, it’s completely addictive, an intense, alive, reactive, explosive process and a big part of why I love the work that I do. Plentiful moments where we agreed and many where we totally disagreed, how she thought systems should come together and what I thought made people tick. What was the most fascinating to me in the disagreements was the manner in which they were dealt with. With Faith, there is no walking away, its confrontational, real, in the most critical ways possible. She gave the work a certain dignity, which it possibly never had before. The Administrative Division of the organization went from being the back-end of an elaborate event mast to being the human resources arcade of how people began to connect and build the energies of social change. This is one of her most critical contributions to The YP Foundation, it fundamentally changed the way we value how we build our work and what sustains the same.
Why am I writing paragraphs describing the girl I have seen grow tremendously? Because I think transitions are important. The changes they mark in journeys are critical. To the kind of people we are, who we become and that directly filters into what we do and create. To say that I am proud of Faith and what she does is an understatement. Like many young people who came before her at The YP Foundation and many who are yet to, she made a series of transitions, for many these are fleeting, for others more permanent. The ones who will not sit idle on what burns them, it is inspiring to watch them create.
The machine of The YP Foundation, I would hope, is oiled to push your thoughts, help you meet people, discover information, resources and above all, light a fire of discontent. Something you could do better, challenge, change and most importantly, the process of internalization, of challenging the ideas of empowerment, equity, justice and the vision of promoting, protecting and advancing young people’s human rights. The organization supports and enables young people to create their own programmes and influence policy, working in the areas of gender, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, education, health, life skills, film and literature, the arts and governance. The twin objective is to increase the leadership skill set and ability of each young person we work with by challenging and developing feminist values and ideology that encourages increasing access to informed decisions, inclusion, gender equality amongst others and understanding the full body of human rights.
How do you understand if one or five years of working with a young person have made a difference to their minds, in a way where they will be inspired enough to challenge the mould you offered them in and do something wildly, unexpectedly brilliant with it? You wait. And as with the many generations of nine years of young people who pass through this wheel of time with many commonalities, often-dual generalists, you notice with alacrity, the people for whom this step has merely been the beginning.
When Faith first spoke to me about starting Music Basti, it seemed a spectacular fit. Not just to challenge the conception of what the ‘needs’ of out of school underprivileged young people are. I’m consistently tired of boxing poverty with the implication that there is never a desire within a child to move beyond the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter and that every programme that addresses the rights of the child must only look at one of the aforementioned three. Rights of course, particularly, sexual and reproductive health and rights, are a mysterious aspect of a dimly lit future. The conception of holistic learning is limited, both in principle and in application. The lens of child, adolescence and young adulthood are not as blurred into each other as they often should be and children are infantilized, puritanical representations of childhood innocence, sans desire, sans rights, or certainly the ability to craft an independent identity for themselves. The idea of Music Basti, a programme that would give children agency, appealed to me immensely.
Further, the gauntlet thrown to a different economic and cultural agenda, a challenge made to the assumptions within the arts of the classist structures they often belong in and who are they are made accessible for. An analogy could be made to three critical habits of an evolving movement, the first, of questioning and reclaiming the status quo. The second where there is developing diverse leadership and sharing power, and three, creating self-sustaining movements that focus on substantive change.
Photo : Shiv Ahuja – The Blending Spectrum Festival: Celebrating Potential. A concert by The YP Foundation and Music Basti, featuring artists with children we have worked with from the Uma Pandey Rainbow Home for Children, Aman Biradari. India Habitat Center, 2009.
The programme has clear elements of all three. Music Basti does not assume that children would like to learn, but rather works with them on defining a common learning goal and works to achieve that target with their stakeholders, rather than for them. The team brings together a diverse group of passionate volunteers that include the home staff of our partner Aman Biradari, working across three of their homes for children, Khushi, Ummeed and Kilkari. The level and definitive sense of skill and change comes from the children, who hold Faith and her team accountable for the highs and lows of learning and working together, in a space where the learner and learnee are equal stakeholders, positioning the arts as a medium for the very same equality and perhaps, equity.
In the ways that The YP Foundation could have supported the genesis of Music Basti, has served to bring both organizations together over the past years. Our doors and our hearts will remain open to them and we have watched them grow over the past two years with deep pride.
In a recent conversation in the Philippines, at a regional youth activists meeting, young people from India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria were describing how very necessary it was, for the youth movement to not just retain it’s identity based on the hierarchies of age and I would agree. The space to build in the youth movement is an inclusive call, for a common dialogue between diversities that claim multiple identities. We are young, that is but one part, of being part of movements that claim disability, feminist, living with HIV, LGBTIQ, sex work, having a religious identity, or maybe not, the list is endless. The highlighted underbelly was that in addition to building a vibrant and inclusive movement, there is need to do more than simply getting young people to the table, there is a need to empower them with information and negotiation skills so that they can make the most of being there.
Our work is interconnected, circular, and then, not so much. In what we do at The YP Foundation, in how Music Basti raises that bar, in how Faith started began us and how we learn from the work she does with children today. To think, of how this movement is enriched, of how the complex fabric of social change is deepened and the multiplicity of building blocks that stretch another year, another layer, another floor, pushing the aspiration level higher.
Photo : Shiv Ahuja – Peer Educators and Staff Members from Blending Spectrum at The YP Foundation, a programme that increases urban street and slum children’s access to life skills, education and health in the NCR.
Faith’s passion is faultless and her vision is absolutely beautiful. A world where children have equity, in the most powerful way and can express themselves as easily in art, as they can in life. Music Basti is a commitment to how children can use the arts to learn and be agents and masters of their own journeys of change and learning. They are living proof that nine years of hard work is not enough and is perhaps just the beginning, but that the journey is far from thankless, not as lonely as it seems and above all, not without the real ability to create honest to goodness change, working in solidarity with fairly spectacular people who make it more than worth it