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How a mouse can change your life

By Huned Contractor

The documentary film Chhoti Si Asha shows how teaching school dropouts computer skills can help them find new livelihood opportunities

chhoti si asha

If a graph of the lives of Delhi-based Sanjay Kumar, Jyothi Kumari, Shabnam Hassan, Sunita Rajput and Pooja Kushwaha, among others, were to be plotted, they would all run parallel to each other. Starting with a tiny dot right at the bottom, indicating their impoverished status just a year ago, the curve would rise to a point where they can all proudly claim to have become self-sufficient earning members of Indian society, thanks to their newfound ability to use a computer.  

How did this come about?  

As can be seen from Usha Albuquerque’s 30-minute documentary titled Chhoti Si Asha, produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PBST), the remarkable turnaround was due to the efforts of the Habitat Learning Centre (HLC) that has its offices in New Delhi. 

Not a film on the HLC per se, the documentary peeps into the lives of several youngsters who had no hope of either finding a job to sustain themselves or to become successful entrepreneurs. “My father died when I was still a child, and my mother wasn’t able to earn enough to support our family of three people, including my sister. Therefore I dropped out of school in Class VIII and began to help my sister stitch clothes for the women in our area. I also started giving private tuitions to supplement this meagre income. And then, one day, I came across a lady from the HLC who said that I could learn how to use a computer for free,” says Shabnam. Today, Shabnam is studying mass communications at a reputed college in Delhi and wants to become a broadcast media journalist. 

For Sanjay, his growing years as a teenager had no meaning other than trying his hand at odd jobs to help sustain his parents and six siblings. His maximum earnings every month did not exceed Rs 1,000. Then, the world of computers opened up a door to entrepreneurship. Sanjay now runs his own Avsar Computer School. “Learning how to operate a computer changed my life and I want to do the same for others. What I have realised is that those without computer skills will have no place in tomorrow’s world. There will come a day when even autorickshaw drivers will necessarily have to learn computers,” he says.  

Pooja’s story is no different from the others. Earlier, she would not even dare to dream beyond her job as a petrol pump attendant. But she now has the skills and confidence to draw up her own CV, using Power Point, and go for interviews. “Apart from learning the basics of computers, I also picked up English speaking skills. I used to shy away from attending to customers who spoke in English. Now I can converse with foreigners and understand what they want,” she says. Pooja currently earns Rs 3,000 per month and is exploring various career options.  

The interesting thing about HLC is that it does not run a computer institute that doles out certificates and diplomas. As R M S Liberhan, Director, HLC, puts it: “Our prime objective is to provide a meaning and an edge to young people who otherwise have no options to move ahead in life. Providing them with computer skills gives them the ability to take that leap forward and fill the deficit in their lives.”  

Set up in February 2002, the HLC also trains facilitators working in slums so that they are able to impart IT education to children. It has recently begun to partner with other NGOs working in the field of child education to push its initiative of spreading IT. “We have been collaborating with 60 NGOs so far to identify smart children and youngsters and train them in the use of computers,” Liberhan explains. 

In that sense, Chhoti Si Asha portrays the link that has been formed between the HLC and Delhi’s young and underprivileged. That’s because Albuquerque has taken her camera into the homes of the beneficiaries and interacted with them to understand how exactly their lives have changed for the better. A familiar face because of her earlier stint as an English newsreader on Doordarshan, Albuquerque has produced and directed several documentary films and serials including The Professionals, aired on Doordarshan, and Hum Honge Kamyaab on Zee TV. Her film Seeds Of Life won the national award for Best Agricultural Film in 2004, and her short film Silent Killing, on foeticide, was a finalist for the Child Rights Unicef Award. 

What this documentary does is to provide a ray of hope. Even as technology pushes forward at an amazing pace, leaving many floundering and hopelessly out of sync, HLC’s ambitious project shows that even the most illiterate may yet stand a chance of entering the race. So far, HLC has trained over 1,300 children and 250 facilitators. And the count goes up with each passing day... 

To place an order for the documentary, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(Huned Contractor is a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Pune)  

InfoChange News & Features, May 2009