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Giving Back: Aditi Rao | Tasawwur

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Tasawwur is an arts-for-social change initiative that works with a diverse group of teenagers in Delhi across lines of caste, class, gender, refugee status, and disability. You can watch a short video on our work here and read more about us here.  Tasawwur was founded by Aditi Rao who is an award-winning poet and an educator and who has worked in peace education for many years. You can see her website here.

Tell us about yourself 

I like to describe myself as a writer, educator, and dreamer.

I have been working in the youth development and social-justice-education arenas for almost a decade, including at Pravah and the Gandhi Fellowship in India, SEDEPAC and UNITONA in Mexico, and the Possibility Project and Student Press Initiative in the USA. At the same time, I have been pursuing my own artistic practice, particularly as a poet, for just as long, having done my MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and won several awards for my poetry, including the Srinivas Rayaprol Prize for Poetry, TheTFA Creative writing in English Award, and the Muse India-Satish Verma award for my first book, The Fingers Remember.

Tasawwur was the coming together of these different strains of my life— my answer to the question of where the artist in me meets the social-justice-educator in me. In the past couple of years, I have been awarded the Change Looms within fellowship and the World Learning Advancing Leaders fellowship to support the growth of this fledgling initiative.

When was the organisation established?

We have been running as a volunteer collective since November 2014. We became a registered non-profit in August 2016.

Which cities are you operating from?

New Delhi

Why was the organisation set up? What prompted you and the founders to set up the organisation?

I love teenagers  In over a decade of different kinds of work with young people between the ages of 13 and 19, I’ve been convinced of the power of this demographic group — old enough to question all received wisdom, young enough to be open to all kinds of growth and new experiences.

At the same time, many teenagers I see around me in New Delhiare struggling with violence, bullying, self-harm, discrimination based on their caste or religious status, substance abuse, and a general sense of not being taken seriously by adults on even these issues that most directly impact teenagers. I wanted to create a safe, empowering space where teenagers across lines of diversity and inequality would be able to examine and receive support on the social issues that most affect them, while developing their own capacities for leadership and supporting others.

I was also very bothered by how segregated our society is along lines of class, caste, gender, religious group, disability, and so on— and by how few children or teenagers ever have access to meaningful relationships across these social strata. Our schools, neighbourhoods, and even most NGO-programming tend to restrict themselves to one or another demographic group, and while this is often critical to supporting individuals from marginalised communities, I also wanted teenagers across these lines to be able to learn from, teach, and make friends with each other. Tasawwur was therefore created as a space that deliberately brings together young people from different socio-economic groups, uses the very democratic methodologies of theatre and story to enable them to teach each other about the issues in their lives, and focuses on empathy, leadership, and positive social change.

What’s your involvement? 

Currently, I am the lead facilitator and head of curriculum at Tasawwur. Since we are such a new organization, I am also straddling many other roles, such as fundraising, organisational development, accounts, and so on. My goal, though, is to create a robust, sustainable organization within the next 3-5 years so that I am no longer at the centre of all organisational activity. I would like Tasawwur to take on a life of its own at the earliest, and I am therefore working on creating a second line of leadership from the very beginning.

Aditi Rao Tasawwur Founder

Aditi Rao, Tasawwur Founder

What is the mission of the organisation?

Tasawwur uses the arts to support and empower diverse groups of teenagers in leading positive change, in their own lives, and in the world.

What are your short term goals?

In the next 1-2 years, we aim to run at least two new cycles of our existing program, expand the number of organisations and schools we work with, and lay the foundations for grounded, rigorous, and enjoyable curriculum we can eventually share with other schools and youth programs across the country. Alongside this, we seek to create sustainable revenue streams, develop our organisation, and start creating a second line of leadership.

Our goals for the teenagers who participate in our program are:

  • Foster the positive development and commitment to social justice of teenagers from different social identity groups and backgrounds.
  • Create a platform for inter-group dialogue and collaborative work with the goal of challenging stereotypes and building a more harmonious society.
  • Build capacities for empathy, listening, self-regulation, and non-violent communication.
  • Build broader dialogues and advocacy platforms around the social issues teenagers identify as most important to them.
  • Build a base of knowledge and resources around adolescent personal development and pedagogy for social inclusion.

What are your long term goals?

Over the next 3-5 years, we intend to compile a comprehensive arts-based curriculum for social justice education and to circulate this widely to teachers, NGOs, and others who work with teenagers. This curriculum builds upon not only our teenagers’ stories about the issues that matter to them but also the observations and reflections of both, the facilitators and the youth leadership team, around the delicate process of relationship-building across diversity and power lines that we observe and facilitate. We hope that such a document will prove useful in widening the scope of similar work by other institutions and organisations, especially as the 25% EWS category students enter high school and schools are confronted with new challenges of integration amongst adolescents.

Over time, we will grow our programming to include different types of activities with teenagers as well as stakeholders in teenagers’ lives, such as parents, teachers, counsellors, youth development workers, policy makers etc. We would also like to establish an online and offline multilingual library and resource centre, focusing specifically on the issues of adolescent personal development and education for social justice at the
high school (Class 9 – 12) level.

Throughout the process, Tasawwur’s concerns and curricula will continue to maintain a deep grounding in larger social justice movements across India and South Asia, such as the feminist movement, the Dalit movement, the queer movement, etc., focusing always on solidarity rather than splintering. While we may not actively be involved with each of these movements, we will seek to locate ourselves in this politics of social justice, and to incorporate learnings from these movements into our curriculum and facilitation work.

How can others help?

We are running crowdfunding campaigns till the 21st of September. Here is the link for donors in India. Here is the link for donors outside India.

Other ways in which you can support is by partnering with us, providing us with an in-kind donation or spreading the word. To know more, email us at [email protected]

Who are the faces behind the organisation: Founders, Directors, Board Members

  • Aditi Rao: Writer and Founder of Tasawwur, lead facilitator and head of curriculum
  • Kanika Batra: Dancer, Movement therapist, facilitator and co-creator of curriculum
  • Vivek Vellanki: part of the first facilitation team, currently pursuing his PhD in the Sociology of Education, curriculum advisor and general sounding board for everything Tasawwur
  • Niranjani Iyer: Actor, Director, Choreographer, and all things awesome about theatre
  • Kandala Singh: Independent Researcher and Writer
  • Akshay Saxena: Co-founder of Avanti and Ashoka Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, and so on.
  • Samina Mishra: Filmmaker, Children’s Book author
  • Neha Buch: CEO, Pravah
  • Anita Vasudeva: Writer, Editor, Coach
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