The Art School in Dharavi Is Helping Kids Let Their Sad Out and Express Themselves | Milaap

The Art School in Dharavi Is Helping Kids Let Their Sad Out and Express Themselves

7-year-old Swati and 8-year-old Priyanka, two sisters were devastated when their mother left them. In the midst of chaos, their father was struggling for ways to comfort his daughters: What to say? How to react?

Life was getting difficult for them with each passing day.

But, what happened next changed their lives altogether.

Coping with tragedy is difficult for anyone, especially for children, who often don’t have the words or emotional maturity to deal with their grief. The Dharavi Art Room helped Swati and Priyanka express their suppressed emotions. When everything failed, paper, crayons, and music became their best friends. In fact, they acted as a great outlet for them. Gradually they also started opening up and talking to their father. This further helped him in the healing process.  

Dharavi Art Room Helps Kids Express Themselves

When one thinks of Dharavi, the image of ramshackle buildings and kids playing alongside open sewages instantly conjures up in one’s mind. However, a visit to the Dharavi Art Room shatters the image.

The Dharavi Art Room was started by Himanshu S, an alumnus of the JJ School of Art, about 10 years ago. Presently it is being run by Himanshu and Aqui Thami, who is currently pursuing her doctorate in social work at TISS.

“I come from a similar background – single parent, financial instability. But, art helped me get through tough times. It worked wonders for me,” Himanshu says.

Besides fostering self-expression, Himanshu has witnessed how music and drawing help kids develop their coping skills. The main purpose is to explore issues through the artistic medium.

“The Art School is all about letting these kids express themselves and their life stories. It gives them a chance to talk about their home, family, and their community,” Aqui says.

The Road to Success Has Been Bumpy

Besides lack of funds, both Himanshu and Aqui had to deal with a lot of problems in terms of convincing parents to allow their kids to attend art classes.

Lack of awareness regarding the importance of art in a child’s life is one of the most common challenges. Parents fail to understand the role of art and think of it as a waste of time, says Himanshu. More often than not, they have to answer their usual question, “Iska kya faida hai?”

However, once they start seeing the difference in their kids and how it is helping them with their academics, they immediately come to us and talk about it, he adds.  They also attend the exhibitions that we organize where we display their children’s work. The pictures clicked by these kids speaks volumes about their life in Dharavi.


“The kids are excited to come to school. Most of the times they are there before us. They are so curious to learn. In fact, the older bachchas even help us with the certification process. This way even we get to learn a lot from these kids,” Aqui says.

The Dharavi Art Room has a curriculum in place. It comprises four important levels. At present, they conduct classes on Wednesdays and weekends, and up till now, they have been able to impact the lives of 6000 children. Presently, they are conducting classes for 330 kids. They are currently working with several community centers, groups, and NGOs too.

What Does the Future Hold for Them

The Dharavi Art Room has largely survived due to contributions from friends and generous donors. Moreover, the program is also being funded by sales of the art in the form of self-published diaries and books, amongst others.

The Art Room is planning to approach corporates and apply for grants. They already have a facilitator training plan in place, and they intend to hire women from the community to run the art room in the near future. More importantly, they want to start two more art rooms in the neighborhood areas within the next two years.

How You Can Help

Following the success of Slumdog Millionaire, Dharavi became a famous tourist attraction. The film depicts the slum in a poor light. The Dharavi Art Room aims to bring it back in the artistic spotlight and also empower children in the process. 

Himanshu and Aqui want to make Dharavi more than simply a labyrinth of dark alleys. They want to bring music to the lives of children in Dharavi and help them discover themselves. Your contribution will help Himanshu and Aqui continue working for this cause. Donate here.

Some of the names of people in the story have been changed to protect their identity.