“Toddlers, aged 1-2 years old, sing before they speak, draw before they write and dance before they walk. Art is natural to human existence and if restricted, will find its way through any medium,” said Mridula with a powerful voice while sharing about her journey of working in SOL.
Mridula Reddy is a Senior Program Manager & Program Lead, for the Jijivisha Fellowship in Slam Out Loud. She has been working in the education sector for 6 years and has been a part of SOL for 2 years. She works on designing and implementing the Jijivisha Fellowship across 4 cities (Pune, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. She's working with Fellows and different stakeholders with a mission to empower children and create safe space for self-expression. Her journey is a demonstration of the power of art as a medium which can transform lives and the world as a whole. Mridula’s journey of working in SoL is indeed inspiring and impactful but her experiences from her childhood and TFI fellowship tells a lot about her decision to join Slam Out Loud.
Mridula shared that, she had a close contact with violence and everything she had faced brought her to engage in art forms like dance, drawing and singing, which helped her in navigating these difficulties and not to lose her mind during tough times. By that time, she realized the impact of art on emotional resilience. Reflecting on her own struggles, she emphasizes, "I do see the value that art brings and how it gives you a voice to say things and be able to express them."
Her role as a TFI fellow, in making transitions in the lives of 70-kids for two years, has uncovered a lot of systemic issues that were faced by her students. She shared that her students were not able to read or write and faced difficulties with literature. Some of them have supportive parents while others do not. While sharing about her student’s journey, she added her personal experiences from school.
She shared that, “When she was a kid, she wasn't doing great in school and her teacher thought that she wasn't working hard or maybe didn't want to. People didn't have that sensitivity to understand and support her with what she was going through.”
While she shared about her experiences, she shared her motive behind joining SoL and designing and implementing programs.
“Being able to design and implement programs that lead to children being able to express themselves and creating safe spaces for them in the classroom, at school, at home and in the community- is extremely fulfilling. It is something that makes me sleep peacefully at night and also makes me feel like the painful experiences I went through were not for nothing. They are helping me create spaces that cater to the varying emotional needs of children today,” she shared with a proud smile on her face.
As we dived more into the challenges she has been facing, she shared a lot of things regarding stakeholder alignments, measuring progress of socio-economic skills, differing cultural context among the states, schedules and timelines between cities to cities and from school to school, and decentralized programs.
“Aligning a program between what a child needs, what fellows can offer, what we are capable of doing and what the donor expects is often a delicate balance to strike. There are times when one of the factors is prioritized more than the other. While running a fellowship, it is important that every individual (student, parent, teacher, team mates and donors) are involved, engaged and motivated.”, she shared.
“As it takes a village to raise a child, we must take every angle into consideration.", she added.
"Socio-emotional skills are difficult to measure and there is always an error margin (due to limited reading comprehension, literacy and limited logistical bandwidth/ time to work on possibilities such as oral assessments). There is a lot of progress that goes uncaptured. If a parent and child have a different relationship/ way of speaking to each other, how much of that can we attribute to ourselves and how do we measure something like this?”
While she told us about the challenges she has been facing, she has also shared how she has been working on them.
“Something that I really care about is ensuring that each city lead is represented in decisions made nationally. This means that we meet every week to talk about tasks of the week, decisions that need to be made locally/ nationally. We make decisions in a way that all cities follow a similar outline but each one gets to customize it based on their city’s context.”, shares Mridula.
As Mridula shared about her learnings from her journey, she said that she can now understand the difference between “Tell v/s Show”. Expressing ourselves through words and expressing ourselves through art forms and by showing them has a lot of differences and they matter. Mridula while working in SoL has realized that every person on-ground in a team should have a seat at the decision-making table. She also said that, “Everyone should have a voice” to ensure diverse perspectives. Mridula Reddy's journey from adversity to advocacy shows transformative power of art through which we can change the world and express ourselves. Through her incredible efforts in Jijivisha Fellowship, she's not just designing programs but the lives of 50,000+ young children.
As she says,
"In our education system, children are equipped with knowledge to navigate this world but not the skills in which they will be able to express themselves and feel good about themselves."
Her hardwork in the designing and implementing the programs are big steps to transform the education system. For Mridula, the satisfaction lies in knowing that her efforts creates safe spaces, where children can find their voices and, in turn, find peace – just as she does before every night.
This profile has been written by student journalists of the Re-Imagining Media Program. We are thankful to Ms. Mridula Reddy from Slam Out Loud for her time and for answering all our questions patiently.