|Be like the bamboo. The higher you grow, the deeper you bow. --Chinese Proverb|
Bowing in Service: A Short Film with Unlikely Stars--by DailyGood Editors, syndicated from youtube.com, Oct 19, 2017
What follows is a brief interview with the filmmaker Divyang Thakkar
Q: What was the inspiration behind making the film?
Divyang: My wife Veronica and I attended a retreat called “Startup Service” by the Moved by Love in Ahmedabad, India. We came into the retreat with an idea of serving which was based on scalable impact on the stakeholders. Through the course of the retreat I realized how, all along, I was following an outside-in approach. I was thinking of the impact before actually tuning to myself and observing the seed of it all. In the retreat, we spoke about ideas about serving from what we had and exploring others forms of capital. Storytelling has always fascinated me and each exploration of its form has always given me a lot of insight. So, the basic idea to get the two together: serving through storytelling emerged and how the focus can be the process of serving with storytelling. The film was in its true sense a hypothesis we wanted to test, that of finding a thread of kind thoughts between the virtue of bowing and the routine of bowing which these women undergo countless times while rag-picking.
Q: Who are the children and women who appear in the video?
Divyang: Manav Gulzar is a program that imparts value based education to the slum children in the Jamalpur area of Ahmedabad, India. All the children in the film are a part of this program.
The women in the film are real life rag-pickers who have been involved in solid waste collection in the city. They have been associated with a waste-collection program, Paryavaran Mitra based out of Ahmedabad which provides them an opportunity for a quality livelihood away from the malpractices that prevail in this field of work.
We didn’t want to script the whole film and hence we left the climax to emergence. We wanted to hold space and see how the children were moved to offer gratitude to these women in their own ways. The children and the film making team together discovered how the act done by these women each night is so selfless and thankless. We all felt a collective need to respect them for what they do. The first step being to not call them rag-pickers and refer to them as friends of the environment.
Q: What was the highlight of working with them?
Divyang: An actor is always trying to live a lie, truthfully. Working with these children made me observe their spontaneity. I realized how experience can lead to ego which in turn takes us away from the truth of the moment.
Q: Scavenging is an unfamiliar concept in many parts of the world. Can you share a little bit more about the work that these women do on a daily basis, and the program that they are part of?
Divyang: A typical day in the life of a friend of environment consists of her heading out to work between 2 and 3 am, walking for nearly 8-10 kms, scavenging in dump sites and alley ways, bending up and down a minimum of 1000 times, to collect nearly 20 kg of recyclable waste from the city’s streets. She sorts and sells the waste to community pitas (waste collection centers), earning nearly Rs.100-Rs.140, enough for hand-to-mouth survival of her and her family. There are 40,000 such women in Ahmedabad alone who collectively pick up 8,00,000 kg of waste every single day. Their work is often looked down upon by society, partly because they are working in an unorganized sector and partly because their work is itself considered menial.
Paryavaran Mitra, launched by a dedicated team of social workers, young professionals and industry experts, focuses on improving the economic, social and physical well-being of these women. They have developed a business model that removes economic exploitation of the women and enables them to earn more. Their research established that volume and sorting are the two major value additions in the entire value chain of solid waste management. So, they have organized 100 women to collect the volume and a team of 10 women do the sorting. Then, unlike other models, they sell the waste directly to the recyclers. This enables them to get better returns, which is returned to the women in quarterly profits. All profits are shared with the women, sometimes in the form of high-quality groceries, school fees, health insurance and more. Through Paryavaran Mitra, we also monitor the women’s health.
They have also taught a few of the women to create beautiful products out of the waste collected by the friends of the environment. From these recycled products, the women can earn additional income and develop their arts skills while the products themselves embody an artistic yet meaningful message for the user. The project has been given the name ‘Gift of Change’.
For more information on their work please visit: www.paryavaranmitra.info
Q: Are there any memorable moments or stories from the filming process that come to mind?
Divyang: While filming, we lost a sense of time. The filming with the women would happen during the night and we would film the sequences with the children during the day. It didn’t matter to us where/how much we were eating or sleeping. There was community of people, known and unknown, who held us through it all. I realized that an intention is all we need sometimes to awaken the motherly instinct of the universe.
Q: What is next on the horizon for Serving Seeds?
Divyang: There is a lot of inspirational video content online but with Serving Seeds our intention is to open up the window of engagement between the watcher and the doer. By doing so we also intend to not define how the engagement should happen. Just connect. Among ongoing explorations, there is a short film that I am working on, on Arun dada: A Gandhian in his 80s who has never sold his labor. I also plan to make a film on organ donation. When we put up the “bowing” film online, we were amazed at how people came forward to offer help even though we never asked for it. We intend to build a community of storytellers hailing from different backgrounds exploring different formats like written, spoken/audio, films, illustrations/art, etc.
Divyang Thakkar is an actor and filmmaker from Gujarat, India. Serving Seeds is his effort to explore stories of “giving” and “givers” in various forms, rooted in a sense of community. Learn more through its Facebook page.
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Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.
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