Dr. Priya Virmani - Founder of " Paint Our World "
We were privileged to be able to interact with Dr. Priya Virmani - a lady with a kind heart, running an organization Paint Our World for the underprivileged children. She is also a consultant, helping organizations improve their efficiency; an international speaker, sharing her insights and mobilizing people for a better cause; a writer - vividly painting the imagination of her readers for a better world ! Do read her full interview below:
1. How would you describe Dr. Priya Virmani in a sentence?
A lady who sees her life as a journey towards her best self, with the realisation that in the process of realising our best selves we are best placed to help others too.
2. Take our readers through your education and professional journey so far?
I was awarded a PhD in Media Economics from the University of Bristol. My working journey has seen me wear the hats of a University Lecturer; a Consultant; a Mentor; and a Political and Economic Commentator. As a commentator I write for publications across the globe including The Guardian, London and The New Statesman, London. It has been most heartening receiving life affirming feedback from my readers such as a lady who wrote to me about how, after reading my article about dowry in The Guardian, she found the courage within herself to stand up to her in-laws who were harassing her about dowry.
As an International Speaker I have had the privilege to share my passion and expertise via talks in various countries including China, the USA, the UK, Ireland, India, Austria and Puerto Rico on topics ranging including psychology and motivation; globalisation; political economy; entrepreneurship; women's rights and the non-profit sector. Most recently I gave a Tedx Talk on 'The Power of Healing - how we can heal from trauma': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Kq6bRsXRYI
I also founded Empower Art, a trailblazing initiative providing corporate consultancy and training with a new methodology based on an experiential process to maximise company efficiencies. The workshops have been stupendously popular with companies in sectors ranging from hospitality to media and PR to software companies.
3. You are the Founder and Director of "Paint Our World" - an initiative for underprivileged children. Tell us more about this initiative and how did it start in the first place?
Paint Our World (POW) works to emotionally empower underserved children who have been through trauma - this includes child sexual abuse and becoming orphaned. What we don't realise is that in India, according to the Government figures (released by the Child and Women Ministry in 2007) we have 150 million abused girls and 73 million abused boys. This equates to more than the combined populations of the UK, France and Germany. To achieve the dream of an India that is a lodestar of progress and meaningful development, these children can't be left out of the 'growth' story.
At POW we provide child sensitised, psychologically verified activity therapies (story-telling, dance and movement therapy, music, skits, and art among others) that make a meaningful intervention and help the children to process and overcome the trauma they have been through. The story of Paint Our World began in a dilapidated building in the heart of Sonagachi – Kolkata’s notorious red light district. The children there had the saddest of stories of absent childhoods because of which they were grappling with myriad behavioural difficulties. The workshops I began – which the children nicknamed ‘masti zones’ (or fun zones) – started, over time, to bring about a visible transformation in their lives. What I discovered was very simple. The children had begun feeling good about themselves and when you feel good about yourself, you see the world more positively and your interaction with the world around you changes and becomes more energetic and purposeful.
4. What are the different ways in which children benefit at Paint Our World?
First and foremost, POW helps to restore the lost childhoods of the most vulnerable children in our society and help them heal so they grow into adulthoods that are happy and purposeful. How do we go about doing this? We use a model of emotional empowerment workshops together with special activities and events.
Our curriculum is designed by India’s leading child psychologists and experts. Our activity therapies, in subtly therapeutic and imaginative ways, teach the children safety, trust, care and the like. As we have measured, this mitigates the emotional stress commonly found in the lives of the children and in so doing translates into better self esteem and focus and facilitates the development of key skills, enabling the children for the school curriculum. The workshops also become a space for children that is associated with security and fun, that are essentially what childhoods ought to be about.
With the special events and outings we organise we give the children unforgettable experiences. The idea is to invest in them, in ways that parents do in their children. It is often the best and the worst times from our childhoods that stand out. Our aim is to give the children some of the best times. Special experiences have included cinema trips, rock climbing, Birthday parties, days out to parks, fun fairs and even a Cruise Party. One POW worker was especially touched when a child came to them after the collective Birthday party in a Delhi farmhouse and said, ‘I had never dreamed I could ever have so much fun’.
5. How do you think the curse of poverty be eradicated so that children and adults can live a dignified life worthy of a human being? No one chooses to be poor and yet millions of children are condemned to a very hard life at birth itself when they are born in a poor family.
I feel that the most fundamental aspect that needs a shift in our society is our mindset. Children are the future of our society. If we want to positively change our society in any meaningful way, it is crucial that we realise the importance of investing in ALL of our children. The first and foremost way we can achieve this is by providing equal access to opportunities, the first opportunities being that of proper nutrition and education.
6. Apart from caring for children, what other social causes do you feel strongly about and stand up for?
I believe that being a 'civilised race' is about creating a world where individuals may not be born equal but yet have access to equal opportunities and most importantly, have a right to dignity of life. Therefore, I feel very strongly about the issues currently faced by the marginalised – I am referring of course to underserved children, but also to women and to people with physical or mental disabilities.
7. Did any event in your life inspire you to work for social causes? Can you kindly share with our readers?
The image of that morning is still so vivid.
It was an early morning in Kolkata. It had been raining. Flood waters had receded leaving behind muck dotted with green coconut shells and dead cockroaches. Their corpses lay belly up. I was walking to school and saw street children eating out of a rubbish bag. Street dogs milled about. The children, unperturbed kept emptying the rubbish bag rummaging for food. An older child gave a younger one something discoloured. The little child chewed on it. Perhaps it was a vegetable peel or a scrap of paper. That night, I asked my parents and their visiting friends ‘why can’t these children sit on a table like you and me and eat?’
I was only four then.
Over a decade later I moved to the UK and over two decades later I had completed my PhD and was living a fulfilling life in the UK. But I still remembered that morning so clearly. The image from my four year old self had become a reel of reminder in my mind; a reminder that I wanted to reach out to children in the country of my childhood who were severely deprived.
The work I did during my studies in Bristol, to support high-risk psychiatric patients and with children from dysfunctional homes, also reinforced my belief that there was a way to apply all I was learning to change the life of the children of India.
8. Who is your role model in life?
My role models are from among the beautiful people I meet in my everyday life - people who navigate through their imperfections and challenges towards beauty and meaning. This includes 'little people' too, like the children of POW. It is very inspiring to witness the powerful and beautiful energy with which these children are working to positively transform their lives.
9. What does women empowerment mean to you?
Empowerment belongs to each one of us on this human journey. It belongs to men as much as to women, to the rich as much as to the poor and to the abled as much as to the differently-abled. In that vein then it belongs to women as much as to men, to the poor as mmuch as to the rich and to the differently-abled as much as to the abled. To me, each one of us is a 'celebrity' - that is, a unique being to be celebrated for what we are. The empowerment of women, like the empowerment of any other imperilled denomination of society will come about first with the above awareness and realisation. Secondly, ofcourse the pragmatic implementation of this realisation is necessary, and this will happen by society making shifts towards equal access of opportunity for all.
10. Women face so many challenges in society. Which problem would you like to fix?
The very fact that women are commonly commodified, almost as though they are a hair conditioner on a shelf as compared to a real person - with a conscience and consciousness, with feelings. When this mindset that objectifies women so blatantly, so crudely, starts seeing a 'real' shift, social issues relating to women - how they are given a subaltern space in education; in the home; the workplace; the bedroom; will begin improving.
11. In what ways can one help your organization and how can someone connect with you?
Anyone, wanting to make a difference, however little or small they might think it to be, can help - from baking a cake to sponsoring part of a special event, we can all together meaningfully change the lives of more of our most vulnerable children.
Some examples of contributing include:
1. Providing your/your company’s expertise – whether you are good at financial modelling, graphics, data analysis, PR and communications, graphics, legal consultancy, tax and auditing capabilities etc.
2. Volunteering with us if you are an educationist or work in the area of child psychology. You can volunteer in training activities or in giving up your input in specific areas/stages.
2. Making a monetary contribution. All details of how you can contribute can be found on www.paintourworld.org_donate. You can sponsor workshops for a child for the cost of a coffee and a piece of cake a month.
3. Include POW in your company's CSR initiatives.
4. Sponsoring part or all of POW’s special events such as ferry rides, cinema trips, magic and puppet shows etc. for the children.
5. Buying a POW child’s painting.
6. If you are an art auction house/exhibition gallery - exhibiting the artworks of the POW children.
7. Buying a POW postcard or retailing them if you are a retailer/online retailer.
8. Joining us on FB and follow us on Twitter and spread the word to your friends and family
(FB: Paint Our World; Twitter: @paintourworld; web: www.paintourworld.org; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)