Music Basti: Helping at-risk children find their voice

Music Basti focuses on holistic education and personal growth of marginalised children through music.

by Aisiri Amin

Faith Gonsalves, founder of Music Basti. © Music Basti

Breaking the chains of conventional learning systems, Faith Gonsalves founded Music Basti in 2008.  This Indian organisation started as a small volunteer-driven initiative through which musicians got together with an aim to expose the at-risk children in institutionalised child-care to creative learning opportunities that were, more often than not, beyond their immediate access.

It is this vision of blending music with the learning that has today become a full-fledged organisation. In 2013, Music Basti launched the annual ReSound programme in which trained musicians work with students in classroom over the year. In the last four years, ReSound has worked with more than 800 students.

Music is a powerful medium and Faith uses it to bring change in the lives of vulnerable children who often don’t get the chance to  explore their creative potential. Faith Gonsalves talks to INKLNE about her organisation and the way music can be used to learn life skills.

 INKLINE: How did Music Basti come along?

Faith Gonsalves: In 2008, we started out as a small initiative just to connect Delhi-based musicians with kids living in institutionalised child care. It was largely volunteer-driven.  Gradually, after three or four years, we were partnering with a range of institutions, universities, independent artists and we realised that we wanted to offer a more structured and sustained programme for kids that was more outcome driven and would help them achieve something through our programme.

So, in 2013 we launched the model that we are currently developing called the ReSound programme. ReSound is a one year programme where we work with children who are from marginalised or less privileged parts of the society, for instance, kids who come from migrant families or children of daily labourers.

ReSound is an annual concert where the children perform their original compositions. © Music Basti/Facebook

Why them? Because they don’t have access to art or culture programmes. As the government schools are poorly resourced, they can’t offer these options even if they want to. Also because these kids have a learning gap as compared to their peers who have the privilege of going to better schools. The learning gap is so huge that a lot of interventions are required to help them catch up and compete later in life. Now we select musicians every year to become teachers with our programmes.

I:  How did you get involved with this cause? What drew you towards it?

F: When I was in college I was doing some voluntary work at an organisation and I had done part-time work at an international school which helped in. So, during this phase I happened to take a serious look at the educational system. I wasn’t happy with the way things were. There was an imbalance. Children from marginalised backgrounds didn’t have the kind of access that most of us take granted for. I wanted to change that. I explored schooling project after schooling projects and I felt that this was something I felt passionate about. I could see a value in it.

 The trigger for me was when I realised that this kind of learning was very important during the formative years. It’s about making sure that all children have access to the arts, develop alternative way of thinking and have a holistic education. Access is the most important thing. If they are restrained in just the classroom teaching system, their other skills go unnoticed and unexplored.

Indian educational system is complicated and inadequate. We need a lot of efforts from various stakeholders and institutions, and the government to bring about a change. From infrastructure, to pedagogy, to teaching, there are many changes to be made.

I: What made you choose music as your instrument of bringing about a change?

F: I would ask, why not music? It is easy to teach kids other skills and competencies through music. Our programme is not a talent oriented programme, it’s an educational programme. Within the realm of various kinds of performing and visual arts, we feel music offers a lot of incidental learning. We design our curriculum in such a way that a lot of other outcomes are also met such as leadership, creativity, confidence, life skills, critical thinking and of course, musical skills.

The kids get a lot of opportunities to perform, write and compose their own songs. All of that lends itself in helping the kids in developing skills instead of sitting in class lesson after lesson which we feel is a one way transfer of learning. If the focus is just classroom-based learning of facts and theories then the children miss out on imbibing life skills such as how to work with people, decision-making skills, or how to think out of the box.

Also, having a network of people who were into music helped me in this journey.

Trained musicians are selected to teach the children. ©Music Basti/Facebook

I: What was the biggest challenge in your journey?

 F: There are many challenges but the biggest would be the myopic and one-directional educational system. Having to explain to people why holistic education is important. Even in the most evolved education system, there is no space for the arts. There isn’t an immediate understanding of why this is important.

The kind of classroom culture and result mindset we have in India is not producing employable, creative entrepreneurs. Things are changing for sure but change is happening only in big cities to some extent. It’s very important to have alternative programmes for children to access so that they realise there are many other ways of learning.

I: What was the most uplifting moment of this journey?

F: We do an annual public concert where all our students perform their original material which is always a highlight. We can see how the kids have grown and how they can independently perform. When I see that, there is a sense of satisfaction that can’t be described in words.

Also, our teachers in classes are very encouraging and inspiring. Their way of teaching is changing the paradigm about how classroom teaching looks like. And that gives me hope.

I: What is that one piece of advice that you would give to millennials?  

 F: Think of something specific and understand the problem you are addressing.  Spend a lot of time in thinking what the problem really is. Do a lot of research and brain-design a solution. If you have a good idea but it’s not going to help other people then definitely do some problem analysing. Take the first step, rest will fall into place.

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