Growth and empowerment through the sound of music6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
They say that where words fail, music speaks, and here to teach the language of love to those who need it the most is Faith Gonsalves. The founder of Delhi-based NGO Music Basti, Faith believes in the use of the arts as a teaching tool, and trains children from marginalised communities in songwriting, and performing.
Music Basti’s program comprises about 48 lessons, with each session being approximately 60 to 90 minutes-long. Once students are trained in the basics, they put up a mid-year community concert. At the end of the year, a bigger concert is held for students to perform their own original songs that are woven out of their own unique experiences and the stories of their communities.
Faith spoke to Owliver about her NGO, which she started when she was still a student, in this week’s Trailblazers 2.0 column.
How did it all begin?
I started this program in 2008 while I was still in college. It began as a small project with my twin sister, and a group of friends from choirs in college, as a way to take music into communities and spaces where children simply could not access quality-learning opportunities. The idea originally developed from having done volunteer teaching work in a school for underprivileged children when I was in school and college, as well as summer jobs at an international school where I saw children with the best access to opportunities.
I always enjoyed music growing up, participated in singing and choirs right from primary school. My parents introduced me to different kinds of music, concerts, and other opportunities as children. Today, my oldest brother is even a music therapist in Australia.
This gave me important insights into how as a child, and as an adult, a meeting of creativity and collaboration through a medium like music can help you learn so many skills. It gave me confidence, helped me learn how to be a part of something larger than myself, enabled to learn how to work effectively in a group and team, and was a very positive creative outlet to express myself.
Was working with children always something she were drawn to?
I do enjoy working with children, but more than that I believe that every child has the potential to do great things, if given the right opportunities, encouragement and a nurturing environment. This is true for children from adverse backgrounds who are left behind simply because their family does not have the economic means to give them certain opportunities. This is why I feel programs like Music Basti really matter, they enable this environment for children where they can believe in themselves, and believe that anything is possible.
Do music and arts-related projects help in the overall development of children?
Yes, most certainly. I have been fortunate to have had so many opportunities to see other organisations and projects that use music and arts for child development in India and also internationally in action, and I’m always amazed by their power to transform education.
Are similar models being adopted in school curriculums too?
This is an important question and an issue. Based on my experience, most government schools are managing more fundamental struggles around issues, like infrastructure, training teachers, ensuring student attendance, etc. When it comes to the adoption of programs and pedagogies like Music Basti, it is definitely challenging to mainstream these for many reasons – not only limited to teaching resources like instruments, or trained teachers.
While our programs directly partner with government schools to implement lessons, and most schools and school administrations are by and large supportive of our work, I think it’s safe to say that if we were unable to provide our programmes and interventions to the schools, they would simply not have music programme like ours.
There are still real or perceived funding gaps to make these kinds of programs available to students in government schools, therefore, organisations like ours rely on grants or CSR (corporate social responsibility) funding to sponsor all our work, so that it can be provided free of cost to the schools.
In 2018, Music Basti became part of the global organisation Enabling Leadership, along with Just for Kicks, which teaches leadership skills to children through football, and Build Maya, which also does the same, but through games.
Has working with Enabling Leadership helped reach out to more students?
Definitely. Through Enabling Leadership, we have grown from working in Delhi, to reaching students across Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai and Dharwad, Karnataka. In addition, opportunities for cross-learning through the educational ecosystem of arts or sports are very helpful too.
What are the challenges in working with at-risk children and communities?
Children who grow up facing adversity of different types in their early lives, such as poverty, instability at home, domestic violence, or abuse, will struggle with a range of functions and abilities such as their ability to focus, working together with their peers, problem-solving or managing stress. Many of the experiences these children would need to overcome this adversity and build resilience, such as positive role models and positive relationships, are difficult to come by in their communities or schools. These put them at a systemic disadvantage as learners.
So, there is a need for highly trained teachers who can enable children to work through and possibly overcome these learning gaps and difficulties. We have to invest a lot of resources into building learning tools, lesson plans, classroom innovations, and teacher training and supervision.
In my experience, another challenge with arts or music programs for children living in resource-poor settings, particularly urban settings, is the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ aspiration. In reality, parents in particular need to see value in these programs, in particular in how they will aid their children to be more employable when they are adults, rather than as a gateway into the entertainment industry.
On a positive note, I think as soon as parents really understand what the program teaches, when they see their children perform at our concerts, they do develop quite a profound understanding of why these programs matter for their children.
Watch this video below, which tells you the story of Ritu, a Delhi-based girl who has been part of the Music Basti program for a few years.
Trailblazers 2.0 is a fortnightly column where Owliver features some inspiring adults who are doing great things to make the world a better place.
Photos – By special arrangement from Faith Gonsalves