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Storytelling for Social Change: Nazaria

Nandini Kochar's journey in the non-profit space began at the age of 16, in Botswana, where she grew up. A visit to an orphanage that catered to children battling HIV/AIDS and rape survivors, left an indelible mark on her, propelling her to take action. What started as a small volunteering group of friends grew into Ray of Hope Botswana, an NGO with a team of 50 youth volunteers running after-school programs for 100+ rural children.

Nandini's path led her to pursue her undergraduate studies in film and sociology at New York University Abu Dhabi. However, her passion for social justice, sociology, and pressing questions about gender, caste, and education led her to delve deeper. Her heart called her to India, and after completing her studies, she moved to Mumbai, for the Teach For India fellowship, which would redefine her understanding of social issues.

Being a teacher in a government school transformed Nandini in ways interning at UNICEF never could. Her desire to leverage her expertise in film to amplify unheard voices drove her and Riddhi Samarth (also a TFI Fellow) to establish Kahani Lab in Shankarwadi in June 2022. This small room became the incubator for deep engagement with a group of students, exploring the transformative power of filmmaking, photography, and creative storytelling. It has evolved into a grassroots arts collective called Nazaria since then.

The Circle's Role in Catalyzing Change

In the initial stages, The Circle became a catalyst for Nazaria. With support from The Circle's Innovation Funding Grant, they brought multiple projects to life—zines, rap videos, and photojournalism. The impact was evident in their first arts mela, where 50 youth and women across three communities showcased their stories. The north star for Nazaria has always been clear: empower youth from marginalised communities to become storytellers, equipped with the skills and training to share their narratives with the world.

Nandini emphasises the power of community and media as agents of bottom-up reform. The vision goes beyond Kahani Lab in Shankarwadi; it extends to the dream of having similar labs across the country—a platform where diverse stories from the grassroots are heard and celebrated.

In the spirit of reclaiming the story of their community, the youth of Shankarwadi come together to show you their basti through their eyes. This rap video was produced as part of Nazaria's Artist Residency programme which connected socially-inclined artists to creativity-inclined youth over four months. The rap video was screened at Footprint Film Festival in Delhi last year.

Nazaria Artists involved: Yazdaan, Sufiyan, Yahyah, Muzammil and Sharjeel

Under the mentorship of Nazaria Artist in Residence, Suraj Katra

Representation Matters: Shaping Self-Perception

One pivotal moment for Nazaria was the catapulting of their artwork at a national and global level. This achievement significantly shifted the students' sense of self and potential. It was not just about creating art; it became a symbol of a potential career that could generate income. It sparked a shift in mindset for many, marking a transformative moment for the community. Since then, students have received their first artist salaries, further challenging societal norms about the potential of art as a viable livelihood.

Nandini proudly shares that the students have developed their own creative language, processes, and ways of expression that have evolved many times over since their initial days. The transformative impact is not one-sided though; the team at Nazaria has witnessed its own growth too. 'Learning that what mattered to them was often different to what we perceived it to be was a big moment for us.'

Looking Forward: Empowering Communities Through Storytelling

The journey, starting from a small room in Shankarwadi, has unfolded into a broader vision for youth empowerment and societal transformation. Nandini and her team at Nazaria are not just changing lives; they are creating a movement—one story at a time. The narrative of empowerment, representation, and social justice that Nandini envisioned is now becoming a reality, and the journey is far from over.

Born in India and raised in Botswana, Nandini is a documentary media-maker, educator, and community organizer whose interests lie at the intersection of social anthropology, visual storytelling, and social justice.  With over 7 years of experience working at the grassroots, Nandini is a passionate education advocate for children and youth in rural Botswana and India. She has been a Teach For India Fellow, Global Girls Education Fellow, and TheirWorld Youth Ambassador.   

Trained in anthropology and filmmaking, Nandini uses visual storytelling both as a research and advocacy tool. She has developed written and multimedia content for Teach For India, UNICEF USA, and ROMEA, among other organizations. She is a Dalai Lama Fellow (2023), Global Changemaker (2018), and Fellow at the Royal Commonwealth Society. Nandini is presently pursuing a Masters in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

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