Author: Eva Cunningham, Tate Soller
Zeba always had a keen interest in work in the development field, but even after her studies in Social Work - like many in this area - it remained unclear to her what road she was to take. Exploring her interests further, she discovered that working with children is where her passion lies. Pursuing her passion for creative learning, Zeba co-founded Arpan in 2010 along with Sneha Thakur. The vision tied to this is that of children being able to learn through innovation, curiosity and exploration. To foster this notion, Zeba facilitates children from underprivileged and low socio-economic backgrounds to engage in the arts via a range of classes, including dance, craft, painting, storytelling and theatre.
'Art', she explains, 'allows children to open up and to grow without boundaries. Art places a focus on the child rather than purely on the education angle itself, granting them greater freedom to explore and learn about themselves and others'. Art, in this context, represents a medium for empowerment and social change. Zeba explained this, drawing on an example of one center, situated in a school for the blind. Despite the array of challenges these children face, they are able to gain confidence through these different art classes. This confidence is something they can then carry through their lives, empowering them.
We met with Zeba at one of Arpan's three project locations, Rainbow Town. This project is based around the idea of “creative Movement therapy’ which seeks to empower the children through encouraging them to use their imagination. The motto for the project is 'Let's paint the town rainbow', which encapsulates the work and the spirit engendered in the place. Here, the program works with children living in urban slums of New Delhi. This rainbow is personified by the children themselves as well. We watch in admiration as the children colorfully twirl around the room in their unique styles, freely embodying their own definitions of themes like air and water, and responding openly to a diverse range of music, showcasing each of their own talent areas.
But the road to reach here hasn't always been smooth sailing for Zeba. She has encountered barriers posed by organizational and legal aspects. But, as she reflects, this wasn't something that was going to stop her from what she's doing. She hasn't encountered any sizeable challenges in permission for children's participation in her classes either. Most parents, as Zeba explains, simply think 'why not? Its art.', without an understanding of the value and development this provides to their children. But the change in these children's lives and the impact it will have will be something others are able to witness with time. She encapsulates this in her explanation “it lets the child grow”, portraying the arts as a means of transformation.
The Changelooms program has also aided Zeba's progress with this endeavor. In her own opinion, the biggest gain from this program has been the people that she has met. Through meeting fellow change-makers in her community she has not only been able to network, but also gain broader insight into the change that others are enacting, and how they can coordinate such efforts. To other aspiring change-makers hoping to follow a similar trajectory, her words of wisdom are to “Just be open to the whole journey” – to see where it takes you, and others with you.
Her ultimate dream is for children to be appreciated for inherently what they're given. “Let the child grow, respect yourself, respect the other person”, she imparts.